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Food bank use by B.C. children up 42 per cent

CTV, Canadian Press, various media throughout Canada, November 11, 2004

VICTORIA - A national report on the use of food banks by children in Canada has put British Columbia on its trend watch.

The B.C. Liberal government said it's concerned about the results which found 41.7 per cent Read More ..ildren needed emergency food in B.C. in 2004 over 2003 - some 8,000 Read More ..ds. Human Resources Minister Susan Brice, however, said the conclusions in the Canadian Association of Food Banks' annual report reflect a North American problem.

The association's annual national HungerCount survey also found that in Saskatchewan nearly 2,000 Read More .. children needed food banks in 2004, an increase of 24 per cent from 2003.

In Ontario, where food bank use increased by five per cent in 2004, children account for 40 per cent of the province's almost 323,000 food bank users, the report found.

B.C. NDP leader Carole James blamed the B.C. Liberals.

James said government cost-cutting policies that included tightening welfare eligibility requirements and increasing medical service premiums put pressure on families.

"In one year, to see that kind of jump, 8,000 children using the food banks, that's unconscionable in a province like ours," she said.

But Brice disputed James comments.

"It's a little misleading for NDP leader Carole James to basically imply that it's something that's unique to British Columbia," she said.

"It's a North America-wide issue."

The social policy goals the Liberals are striving to achieve revolve around finding jobs for people who are currently receiving government assistance, she said.

"The $300 million that's been invested in helping get people ready for work and matching them with jobs out there has been a good investment and it's paying off," she said. "There's absolutely no attempt to have people who truly need assistance not be given the kind of help they need."

The government recently increased funding for people with disabilities and increased the funding threshold for people receiving day care subsidies to help families, Brice said.

But, she added, the issue of children needing food banks remains a concern.

"That is always distressing when you feel that people aren't in a position to care for their families," she said.

But, James said, despite recent social spending announcements by the government, the Liberals "have not addressed the issue of dealing with people in need in our province and as much as (Premier) Gordon Campbell will try and convince people that he's found a heart six months away from the election, these statistics prove once again that they haven't addressed this issue."

The next B.C. election is set for May 17, 2005.

The B.C. section of the food bank association's report cited food bank operators who noticed increases in anxiety and depression among food bank recipients during the period where Victoria was attempting to reform welfare eligibility and disability pension regulations.

"When you lose hope, you lose the will to survive," said Robin Campbell, B.C.'s HungerCount co-ordinator in the report.

The B.C. government's plan it is to provide hope for every family by helping people find meaningful, family-supporting work, Brice said.

The food bank association survey reported that 841,640 Canadians used food banks in 2004.

Of those people, 317,242 or 39.75 per cent were children. In 1989, 166,242 Canadian children used food banks.

As a percentage of the provincial population, Newfoundland food banks assist the largest amount of people in Canada at 5.67 per cent.

Manitoba is second at 3.64 per cent, followed by Quebec at 3.16 per cent and Ontario at 2.64 per cent. B.C. is at two per cent.

Canada's first food bank opened 22 years ago in Edmonton.