OpEd: New data shows inflation is hitting Canadians hard this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Dan Clement, President and CEO, United Way Centraide Canada


This year in Canada, we have experienced the impact of higher food costs, with a9.9% increase in grocery bills compared to 2021, while inflation soared to 8.1% in June, reaching a 39-year high. While everyone in Canada grapples with record levels of inflation, low and moderate-income people are especially affected. The household budgets of people with fixed or stagnant incomes have little to no room to accommodate the soaring costs of necessities like food, energy, and housing.

Monday was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Let’s take this opportunity to acknowledge that poverty and economic stability is one of the essential determinants of health, and commit to exceeding Canada’s goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2030.

United Way Centraide’s 211 helpline shows the human impact of these rising costs. In the first half of 2022, calls to 211 saw a 19% increase in those seeking food assistance, in comparison with the same period in 2021. A recent University of Toronto study on food insecurity in Canada noted that in 2021, 15.9 per cent of households across all 10 provinces experienced some level of food insecurity, and that the problem has not improved in the past three years. And food prices aren’t the only cost increase that people in Canada are struggling with. Calls to 211 for assistance with housing and shelter were up 16% in the first half of 2022, and the number of individuals looking for mental health counselling services was up a staggering 34%.

Meanwhile, the end of summer brought even more new challenges to families across the country. United Way Centraides struggled to fulfill the significantly higher need for 2022 school supply donations as families on fixed or low income just couldn’t cope with the rising cost of meeting their children’s essential education needs. In Edmonton, the 30-year-old Tools for School program experienced a 5,000-gap in the number of backpacks they anticipated for students in need.

“This year, we’re getting requests from schools we haven’t seen before, and increases from schools that have had fewer requests previously,” said Suzi Medhurst, United Way Alberta Capital Region’s Program Lead for Engagement Delivery.

United Way Alberta Capital Region called on the community to help them fulfill the back-to-school need – and will continue to do so as new challenges arise.

Millions of people in communities large and small across Canada rely on community service organizations to fill the gaps left by inadequate incomes. Canada’s local community services have proven essential through the pandemic and will be critical for an equitable recovery. Inflationary pressures mean that these organizations are also facing an enormous challenge in providing services in the context of flat-lined funding, staffing shortages and rising demand. 

The federal government’s recent inflation support package provides important targeted, time-limited support for low and moderate-income people. United Way Centraide Canada’s recommendations for the 2023 Federal Budget are grounded in our call for an equitable recovery from the pandemic. This means making important investments in expanding the Canada Housing Benefit, strengthening income support programs to deliver on the promised Canada Disability Benefit, and direct investments in Canada’s essential community services.

Canadians can also make a difference to address poverty and support our local community services in the face of rising costs through sustained giving and volunteering to local services, and through existing campaigns focused on poverty reduction and inclusion like United Way and Centraide. This giving is essential to ensure our neighbours can continue to depend on local support and services. As reported by Angus Reid Institute, 37% of Canadians report reducing charitable donations in the face of rising costs, and it is essential for those who can to continue to give. Let’s work together to ensure an equitable recovery for everyone in Canada.