The COVID-19 pandemic has hit low-wage workers and people of colour much harder in Toronto in terms of food security and non-profits are struggling to keep up with demand, according to a new report by a charity called the Toronto Foundation.
The research, titled the Toronto Fallout Report, also examines how community organizations that work to provide a social safety net for those groups are struggling to meet their needs, as fundraising has declined in the last few months.
“My sense is it’s quite possible that we’re heading into the biggest food access crisis that the city’s ever seen,” Paul Taylor, executive director at Foodshare, said on CBC’s Metro Morning Thursday.
Foodshare is a non-profit organization that supports community-based food initiatives and public education around food insecurity. Taylor is quoted in the Toronto Foundation research.
In particular, food insecurity has been a major symptom of job loss in Toronto that’s disproportionately affected people of colour, and non-profits are struggling to keep up with demand, the report says.
Dozens of community foundation leaders were interviewed for the research, which found that those earning less than $30,000 a year were 5.3 times more likely to be affected by COVID-19 than those with an annual income of $150,000.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating for low-wage workers, who have no choice but to leave home each day for their jobs, the researchers said.
Low-wage workers have been much more likely to lose a source of income over the course of the pandemic. Those in the bottom quarter of earners in Toronto, who make less than $17.50 per hour, have seen their total work hours reduced by 30 per cent since the pandemic began.
More specifically, women with young children, people of colour, and young people were the most likely to lose jobs due to COVID-19, the report found.
Those in the top 25 per cent of earners in the city, making at least $36 an hour, instead saw their hours boosted in the last several months by 21 per cent.
Taylor said he’s seen many people opt to eat less in order to pay bills like rent — a problem that has become worse as people of colour in the city have been more likely to lose their jobs or see hours reduced due to the pandemic.
“It’s been terribly difficult. People are having to make really challenging choices when it comes to food.”
More Torontonians who are people of colour experiencing food insecurity
Researchers point to data from Statistics Canada published in May that found 14.6 per cent of households reported food insecurity. That’s higher than the 10.5 per cent who reported having trouble gaining access to food in their 2017/2018 report, they said.
Overwhelmingly, it’s Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour who are dealing with more issues accessing food, said Taylor.
Statistics Canada data compiled by PROOF, a food insecurity policy and research group out of the University of Toronto, and Foodshare, found that Black households in Toronto were 3.56 times more likely to be food insecure than white households.
People of colour are more likely to live in dense, low-income neighbourhoods in the city due to a systemic lack of access to social supports and discrimination within education and hiring markets, the researchers found.
That makes it more challenging to break poverty cycles and in turn increases the likelihood of food insecurity being an issue, particularly during this pandemic, the foundation’s report shows. But non-profit organizations trying to support those in need are missing key donations they would have garnered in the past through large charity events, Taylor explained.
This coupled with the difficulties of supplying food in-person to those in need during a pandemic, when staff often have a lack of access to personal protective equipment, makes distribution even more complicated, Taylor said.
“I’ve heard stories about organizations having to stop their regular food programming as a result of decreasing revenues,” he told Metro Morning.
He said he’s seen a concerted effort on the part of the city to provide funding for food — but to tackle the root cause of the issue, Torontonians in need should not have to rely on charity.
“We’ve let our social safety net wither away,” he said. “We’ve had our governments turn increasingly to charity to deal with these issues, and we ultimately are allowing it to happen.”
In June, the city announced $4.97 million in funding towards community organizations that support those hardest hit by the pandemic, including groups that tackle food insecurity. Another $1.9 million was announced last month to support non-profit social service agencies.
But Taylor says all residents have a right to food, and the municipality should build more resilient housing and food structure programming, instead of relying on charity.
“This is a crisis and it’s been a crisis since before the pandemic, so we’ve got to deal with it.”.