The Morning Brief – 10.21.20

By Bruce Carson


The Daily Struggles beneath the Pandemic Headlines

Dealing with Food Insecurity during the Pandemic

Dealing with Domestic Violence during the Pandemic

Dealing with Mental Health issues during the Pandemic

Time for MPs to do the job they were elected to do a year ago

Beneath the health care and economic headlines dealing with COVID-19, there are related struggles affecting the daily lives of real people. These are not matters that garner day to day notoriety such as government debt, deficit, issues of confidence in the Trudeau government or whether there should be a fiscal anchor, but in many cases they may trench on health care, personal finances and the day to day challenges of obtaining COVID-19 testing.

In the last few days the issues of food security, domestic violence and mental health matters directly related to the pandemic have broken through the noise in the form of reports or polling shining a light on these matters and Canadians who are attempting to cope with them.

On September 29, a report entitled “Beyond Hunger: The Hidden Impacts of Food Insecurity in Canada” was released by Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC). Its major finding was that one in seven Canadians is experiencing food insecurity.

Before the pandemic it was estimated that 4.5 million Canadians experienced food insecurity but during COVID that number has increased by 39%, disproportionately affecting Black and Indigenous Canadians as well those living in Norther Communities.

Food insecurity means an inability to find enough food, or being worried about running out of food without the means to buy more. It’s rooted in poverty and impacts health, severs relationships and impinges on happiness and self-worth while chipping away at employment opportunities.

According to a survey, the results of which are contained in the report, the effects of food insecurity are far reaching.

81% of respondents said it takes a toll on physical health

79% of respondents said it impacts their mental health

64% of respondents said it erodes relationships

59% of respondents said it affects their relationships with their children

57% of respondents said it makes it more difficult to find and keep a job

Nick Saul, the CEO of CFCC, quoted in an article by Laura Brehaut said “these are key things that add up to people being pushed further to the margins and their lives being diminished and shortened.” He went on to say “people are working overtime to try hard to make ends meet for themselves and their families.”

Saul cites low wages and precarious jobs, low social assistance rates, rising cost of living, colonization and recession as well as unaffordable food in Canada’s North, regardless of federal food plans, as at the root of the insecurity problem.

The report recommends creating an income floor, which people cannot fall beneath.

It is Saul’s view that “food won’t solve hunger, income will. If you frame the issue as hunger, you get food responses and you get charity. If you frame the issue as poverty, you get policy responses and you get the right to food. That’s where we need to be, it’s not about supply.”

It is suggested that governments at all levels track food insecurity and set targets to reduce it- and ensure a ‘race equity lens’ is put on all poverty and food security policies to ensure the most impacted will benefit.

“Making sure everyone has a dignified place at the table” should be number one, in Nick Saul’s opinion.

Another negative affect of COVID-19 is that calls to Canada’s domestic violence help lines have increased. Angela MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver says they received double the calls in March from a year ago. Tensions relate to social isolation, and concerns over health, safety and income security.

The situation was described in an article by Brenna Owen as being like a pressure cooker with no release valve. The increase in calls for help has been termed a “shadow epidemic. Women who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have been kicked out by the abuser or alternatively confined at home, cut off from all avenues of support. With public health restrictions in place, they are even more isolated.

Polls conducted recently by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Angus Reid and Morneau Shepell all point to strained emotions, seven months into the pandemic.

CAMH found higher levels of anxiety in women than men and families with children less than 18 feeling depressed. The effects of concern over COVID are emotional exhaustion, less motivation at work and a struggle to concentrate. Most concerns centre on jobs and financial security.

Angus Reid found “the desolate,” those suffering from both loneliness and social isolation had increased from 23% to 37%. Even in summer most made an effort to avoid personal contact with others. The survey found that for many the issue was too much time alone and for others, no time alone. Many found they were struggling between being overly cautious and under cautious. Those suffering the most were those living in poverty, some racialized and Indigenous groups and those with pre-existing mental health problems.

On October 14, Morneau Shepell released a report on the mental health of Canadian workers which suggested loneliness for many people is felt to be worse than the fear of dying from COVID. The financial impact of COVID and getting ill with COVID were the most prevalent concerns.

Sharon Kirkey who writes for the National Post on health and medical issues quoted Dr. Gordon Asmundson, a psychology professor at the University of Regina as saying “the psychological footprint of the pandemic is likely as big, if not bigger, than the medical footprint.”

The three issues raised here, food security, domestic violence and mental health issues are matters that fall within the purview of all levels of government; federal, provincial and municipal. As they rarely make headlines, they may be either ignored or fall into second place, behind seemingly more pressing issues.

The problems outlined here however, directly impact the daily lives of Canadians and as Dr. Asmundson points out, may impact our lives far beyond the end of COVID-19.

Later today, members of the House of Commons elected only last October will meet to decide whether Canadians should endure a federal election during this pandemic which has caused such great havoc on the lives of so many.

MPs will not be serving the interests of those who are hungry, those who suffer abuse or those who suffer from mental illness by plunging the country into a general election at this time. Those who are suffering as a result of the pandemic need action and support from those MPs, not an election.

To Come

  • CPI numbers for September to be released
  • Retail sales numbers for August to be released
October 22
  • Presidential debate
October 24
  • B.C. provincial election
October 26
  • Saskatchewan provincial election
  • Two federal by-elections in Toronto
October 28
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates and releases its Monetary Policy Report
October 30
  • GDP numbers for August to be released