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COVID-19 IMPACTS: Families and Housing in Canada

Nadine Badets, Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams

July 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families and family life across Canada, with economic lockdowns and physical distancing measures affecting the social, economic and environmental contexts associated with family well-being. Housing is no exception: prospective homebuyers are seeing a real estate cooling down in the face of uncertainty, while physical distancing measures are not easily actionable for many families living in crowded or unsuitable housing.

The COVID-19 lockdown has considerably slowed Canada’s real estate market

Most major cities in Canada (16 of 27) had little or no change to new housing prices in April 2020. However, sales of new homes and resales of older homes across Canada all declined significantly during the height of the pandemic. Builders surveyed by Statistics Canada in April 2020 reported a decline of almost two-thirds (64%) in sales of new homes when compared with the same month in 2019. The Canadian Real Estate Association reported a 58% decline in home resales in April, year over year.1

In light of the closure of economies and significant loss of jobs, the provinces and territories have issued eviction bans and payment suspensions to support renters. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) has also urged all landlords, including those with CMHC insurance or financing, to abstain from evicting renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.2 However, as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift, many people and families in Canada could be faced with evictions and/or owing large amounts of money for missed rent.

Demand for homeless shelters increased dramatically during lockdown

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges with housing accessibility and affordability was unequally and excessively prevalent among certain groups within Canada, including newcomers and refugees, racialized groups, LGBTQ2S people, seniors, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities and/or mental health conditions.3

Homelessness4 is particularly concerning during the pandemic, as it exposes people to unsafe living conditions with severe consequences for physical and mental health, and makes it challenging to abide by new public health orders such as physical distancing.

Whether people are moving from home to home (often referred to as “hidden homelessness”), spending time in shelters,5  living transiently and sleeping in various places, or a combination of these, those experiencing homelessness are often in close proximity with multiple people and with little to no access to the necessary resources for recommended hygiene practices.6

In 2014, it was estimated that at least 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in a given year and around 35,000 are homeless on a given night. Individuals usually spend an average of 10 days in shelters, and families usually spend twice that amount of time.7 Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, shelters in Canadian cities have reported increased use by new and familiar clients;8 however, due to physical distancing restrictions, shelters have had to drastically reduce the number of beds and spaces they offer, which has left many without a place to stay.9, 10

Increases in reports of domestic violence,11 abuse12 and mental health concerns13 have also left many individuals and families with no place to stay. Many shelters have increased support to the homeless by creating spaces in community centres, hotels and permanent housing, though they lack the financial capacity to meet the increased demand for shelter services.14, 15

Housing issues in First Nations and Inuit communities are related to increased COVID-19 risk

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Indigenous leaders and peoples have been calling attention to the continuing devastation from tuberculosis in First Nations and Inuit and communities, reminding Canada that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic they are facing.16, 17

In 2017, Inuit had a rate of 205.8 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people, and First Nations (on reserve) had 21.7 cases per 100,000. Tuberculosis was also high among immigrants, with a rate of 14.7 among those born outside of Canada, whereas for Canadian-born non-Indigenous people the rate was 0.5 per 100,000.18 As of April 19, 2020, the only Inuit region to report COVID-19 cases is Nunavik, with 14 cases (5 recovered and 9 active).19 Among First Nations, data collected through communities show that, as of May 10, 2020, there were 465 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths.20

In 2016, Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat21 (the Inuit homeland) were more likely to live in crowded households22 (52%) and in homes in need of major repairs23 (32%).24 Unsuitable housing is also prevalent in some First Nations, where issues such as household crowding (27%)25, 26 and homes in need of major repairs (24%)27 are much higher than for non-Indigenous people in Canada (9% and 6%).28

Household crowding aggravates the risk of catching infectious respiratory diseases like tuberculosis and COVID-19, the latter of which is considered to be even more contagious than tuberculosis.29 Poor housing conditions have been directly associated to quality of health and well-being, with studies showing increased risk of the spread of infectious and respiratory diseases, chronic illness, injuries, poor nutrition, violence and mental disorders.30 Household crowding also complicates – and potentially negates – physical distancing and the isolation of sick people within a household. Homes in need of major repairs can pose health hazards in a variety of ways. In particular, the ongoing lack of sufficient access to water infrastructure in some First Nations poses additional risks of infection and transmission.

Multigenerational households face more obstacles to physical distancing

Multigenerational households are an important part of many families in Canada, as they can facilitate care and support between generations and allow some parents to save money on child care, and facilitate intergenerational learning.31 Between 2001 and 2016, multigenerational households were the fastest-growing household type in Canada, increasing by 38% to reach nearly 404,000 homes.32

These types of households may face unique barriers to social distancing, taking into account the seniors within the home who are considered among the populations most vulnerable to the virus.33

In 2016, 11% of immigrants lived in multigenerational households,34 as did 5% of non-immigrants.35 Indigenous children aged 0 to 14 years were often more likely to live in multigenerational households36 with 13% of First Nations children, 13% of Inuit children and 7% of Métis children, than non-Indigenous children (8%).37

Sustainable Development is intertwined with housing

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of housing in Canada, and intensified pre-existing inequalities among marginalized communities across the country. As Canada has committed to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address factors such as poverty (SDG 1), health and well-being (SDG 3) and reduced inequalities (SDG 10), housing will be an important component of policy responses and conversations on this topic, which is of particular importance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.



  1. Statistics Canada, “New Housing Price Index, April 2020,” The Daily (May 21, 2020). Link: .
  2. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, “COVID-19: Eviction Bans and Suspensions to Support Renters: The Latest Updates on Eviction Moratoriums Related to COVID-19” (March 25, 2020). Link: .
  3. Homeless Hub, “Racialized Communities” (n.d.). Link:.
  4. Homelessness can be described as being very short-term (being unhoused for a night or so), episodic (moving in and out of homelessness) or chronic (long-term). For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link:.
  5. Shelters include emergency homeless shelters, violence against women shelters and temporary institutional accommodations. For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link:.
  6. Jennifer Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless,” CTV News (May 22, 2020). Link:.
  7. Stephen Gaetz, Erin Dej, Tim Richter and Melanie Redman, “The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016,” Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (2016). Link: (PDF).
  8. Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
  9. Nicole Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally,” CBC News (April 17, 2020). Link:.
  10. Matthew Bingley, “Coronavirus: Toronto Officials Call for Provincial Pandemic Plan for Shelters to Avoid ‘Mass Outbreaks,’” Global News (April 20, 2020). Link:.
  11. Cec Haire, “Increase in Domestic Violence Calls Persists Throughout Pandemic, Says Non-Profit,” CBC News (July 2, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/32eJp3p.
  12. Public Health Ontario, “Rapid Review: Negative Impacts of Community-Based Public Health Measures During a Pandemic (e.g., COVID‑19) on Children and Families” (2020). Link: https://bit.ly/307gxY8 (PDF).
  13. Aisha Malik, “CAMH Expands Virtual Mental Health Services Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” MobileSyrup (May 4, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3gVt73i.
  14. Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally.”
  15. Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
  16. Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say,” CBC News (April 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3doVTr3.
  17. John Borrows and Constance MacIntosh, “Indigenous Communities Are Vulnerable in Times of Pandemic. We Must Not Ignore Them,” The Globe and Mail (updated March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2YYhTDY.
  18. M. LaFreniere, H. Hussain, N. He and M. McGuire, “Tuberculosis in Canada, 2017,” Canada Communicable Disease Report (February 7, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2CrvRq9.
  19. Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, “COVID-19: 14th CONFIRMED CASE IN NUNAVIK,” News Release (April 19, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2OnScIb (PDF).
  20. Courtney Skye, “Colonialism of the Curve: Indigenous Communities and Bad Covid Data,” Yellowhead Institute (May 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/37W5kgi.
  21. Inuit Nunangat is composed of four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northern Northwest Territories). Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “Inuit Nunangat Map” (updated April 4, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2WgN4de.
  22. Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) calculates crowded households as an indicator of the level of crowding in a private dwelling. It is calculated by dividing the number of persons in the household by the number of rooms in the dwelling, and dwellings with more than one person per room are considered to be crowded. Statistics Canada, “Persons per Room,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2AZDJyT.
  23. Major repairs are defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as including defective plumbing or electrical wiring, and dwellings needing structural repairs to walls, floors or ceilings. Statistics Canada, “Dwelling Condition,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3erBnam.
  24. Thomas Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada,” Census in Brief (October 25, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/316qpmR.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Statistics Canada, “Housing Conditions,” Aboriginal Statistics at a Glance: 2nd Edition (December 24, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/37Ue8ne.
  27. Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada.”
  28. Vanier Institute of the Family, “Indigenous Families in Canada,” Facts and Stats (June 2018).
  29. Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say.”
  30. Housing as a Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health” (2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2DoQ3JV (PDF).
  31. Asfia Yassir, “Having Grandparents at Home Is a Blessing,” South Asian Post (March 4, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2WhlrR5.
  32. The Vanier Institute, “2016 Census Release Highlights Family Diversity in Canada” (October 25, 2017).
  33. Caroline Alphonso and Xiao Xu, “Multigenerational Households Face Unique Challenges in Battling Spread of Coronavirus,” The Globe and Mail (March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2O9ss24.
  34. Defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as households where there is at least one person living with a child and a grandchild.
  35. Statistics Canada, “Admission Category and Applicant Type (47), Immigrant Status and Period of Immigration (11B), Age (7A), Sex (3) and Selected Demographic, Cultural, Labour Force and Educational Characteristics (825) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories and Census Metropolitan Areas, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/312VGHv.
  36. Defined as living in a household with at least one parent and one grandparent.
  37. Statistics Canada, “Family Characteristics of Children Including Presence of Grandparents (10), Aboriginal Identity (9), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3), Age (4B) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 0 to 14 Years in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: .


Food Insecurity and Family Finances During the Pandemic

Nadine Badets

June 12, 2020

The COVID‑19 lockdown and ensuing economic repercussions have created a significant amount of financial stress for families in Canada. Between February and April 2020, about 1.3 million people in Canada were unemployed, with approximately 97% of the newly unemployed on temporary layoff, meaning they expect to go back to their jobs once the pandemic restrictions are relaxed.1

Research has shown that financial insecurity can severely limit access to food for low income families and exacerbate socio-economic inequities.2 Other factors, such as health and disability status, level of social support and the limited availability of certain food products, also contribute to food insecurity during the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Financial inequities intensified during physical distancing and economic lockdown

Overall, 5.5 million adults in Canada have either been affected by job loss or reduced work hours during the COVID-19 lockdown, meaning these people and their households have a significant reduction in income for necessities such as food and shelter.3 In 2018, about 3.2 million people lived below Canada’s official poverty line,4 and the economic impacts of the pandemic have likely increased these numbers.

The pandemic is also amplifying existing financial inequities.5 In Canada in 2015, the national prevalence of low income was 14%, however it was much higher among some groups, such as immigrants (Arab, West Asian, Korean, Chinese), Indigenous Peoples (First Nations people, Inuit, Métis), and Black people.6, 7 These groups were more likely to be living with low income before the COVID‑19 lockdown, and have been more likely than others to report that the pandemic has had a negative effect on their finances. According to recent survey data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association of Canadian Studies and Leger,8 over half of visible minorities (51%) had a decrease in their income during the lockdown, and Indigenous peoples (42%) were most likely to report having difficulty meeting financial obligations, such as being able to pay bills on time.9, 10

Food banks across Canada have seen surges in use since the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic

Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, Food Banks Canada estimated that food bank use across the country had stabilized, with 2019 having almost the same number of visits as 2018, remaining at levels similar to 2010. In the month of March 2019, there were close to 1.1 million visits to food banks across Canada, with more than 374,000 visits for feeding children.11

Statistics Canada estimates that in 2017–2018 about 9% of households (1.2 million) in Canada were food insecure, meaning  they struggled financially to get food and did not have enough for all household members to eat regular and nutritious meals.12, 13 As with financial insecurity, food insecurity disproportionately affects certain population groups in Canada. For example, in 2014 food insecurity among Black people (29%) and Indigenous people (26%) was more than double the national average (12%).14

Research has consistently found that people living in remote and Northern communities are more likely to experience food insecurity, such as Inuit communities in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland.15 It has also been found that Indigenous populations living in urban areas experience high levels of food insecurity. In 2017, 38% of Indigenous peoples 18 years and older living in urban areas were food insecure.16

Since the COVID‑19 pandemic started, Food Banks Canada reported that there has been an average increase of 20% in demand for services from food banks across the country, alarmingly close to the 28% increase seen during the Great Recession. Projections by Food Banks Canada estimate that demand could continue to rise to between 30% and 40% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Some food banks – such as The Daily Bread in Toronto, one of the largest food banks in Canada – have seen increases of over 50% in use.17

Increases in grocery sales associated with the receipt of financial support through CERB

Early in the pandemic (late March to early April 2020), 63% of people reported that they stocked up on essential groceries and pharmacy products as a precaution.18

Grocery sales across Canada saw a sharp increase in March 2020, rising 40% toward the end of the month and continued to remain high in mid‑April.19 The delivery of federal financial supports for unemployed people, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB),20 appear to be directly linked with an increase in grocery sales, which is likely helping to mitigate food insecurity for some Canadians.21

However, CERB currently only allows recipients to claim the benefit four times for a total of 16 weeks. As July 2020 approaches, many Canadians will be using up their final installment of CERB, and not all will be eligible to be transferred to EI, which could have a serious impact on food insecurity in Canada.

Single parents and seniors with low levels of social support struggle the most to get groceries

Physical (social) distancing measures have also created new barriers for individuals and families trying to navigate new rules of when, how and with whom they can or should buy groceries. For some, such as seniors, single parents, people with disabilities and those who have (or are caring for someone with) compromised immune systems, having limited finances and little social support can seriously restrict access to food.

In 2017–2018, single parents with children under 18 years reported the highest levels of food insecurity in Canada. Female single parents had the highest rate of food insecurity at 25%, followed by male single parents at 16%.22 This compares with 12% among men and women living alone, 7% of couples with children under 18, and 3% of couples without children.23

Physical distancing measures can be particularly complex for single parents without access to child care, who may have to decide between bringing children to grocery stores, thereby breaking physical distancing rules and potentially exposing children to the virus, or turning to organizations like food banks for support.24

Seniors living with low income are less likely to have a high level of social support (77%) compared with seniors living in high income (89%). In periods of isolation such as the current lockdown, access to essentials like food can be challenging, especially for low income seniors who are ill, concerned for their health or unable to get groceries on their own due to physical or financial restrictions.25

Hoarding of certain foods limits supply and access for low income families and food banks

The COVID‑19 pandemic brought a series of panic-buying trends around the world, most notably of hand sanitizer and toilet paper.26 Many grocery stores and pharmacies have had their stock of certain food items depleted several times during the pandemic.

In mid-March 2020, sales of dry and canned foods in Canada surpassed those of fresh and frozen foods. Rice sales rose 239% compared with the same period in 2019, sales of pasta rose by 205%, canned vegetables by 180% and sales of infant formula by 103%.27 Shelf-stable foods such as these are usually a major part of food bank products,28 but are more difficult to come by during the pandemic and thus limit supplies for food insecure families.29

More research is needed to better understand the effects of the pandemic on hunger, nutrition and food insecurity in households across Canada in order to support and develop programs aimed at reducing inequities in access to food.

To find a food bank nearby or make a donation, visit the Food Banks Canada website.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada



  1. Statistics Canada, “COVID‑19 and the Labour Market in April 2020,” Infographics (May 8, 2020). Link: .
  2. Visit the PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research website for more on food insecurity and social inequities. Link: .
  3. Statistics Canada, “COVID‑19 and the Labour Market in April 2020.”
  4. Statistics Canada, “Health and Social Challenges Associated with the COVID‑19 Situation in Canada,” The Daily (April 6, 2020). Link:.
  5. Learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inequalities in Canada, see Canadian Human Rights Commission, Statement – Inequality Amplified by COVID-19 Crisis (March 31, 2020).
  6. Statistics Canada, “Visible Minority (15), Income Statistics (17), Generation Status (4), Age (10) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link:.
  7. Statistics Canada, “Aboriginal Identity (9), Income Statistics (17), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3), Age (9) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link:.
  8. The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, on March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12, April 17–19, April 24–26, May 1–3 and May 8–10, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples, with the exception of those from March 10–13 and April 24–26, also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. In addition, from about May 1 to 10, there was an oversample of 450 Indigenous peoples. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  9. It is important to emphasize that there is a great deal of diversity within visible minority groups and Indigenous populations, all groups have unique and distinct experiences of financial and food insecurity, as well as histories, geographies, cultures, traditions, and languages.
  10. For more on the impact of the COVID-10 pandemic on immigrant families and First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, see Laetitia Martin, Families New to Canada and Financial Well-being During Pandemic (May 21, 2020) and Statistics Canada, “First Nations people, Métis and Inuit and COVID-19: Health and social characteristics,” The Daily (April 17, 2020). Link: .
  11. Food Banks Canada, “Hunger Count 2019.” Link: .
  12. Ibid.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Household Food Security by Living Arrangement,” Table 13-10-0385-01 (accessed May 27, 2020). Link: .
  14. Health Canada, Household Food Insecurity in Canada: Overview (page last updated February 18, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/30JLCDh.
  15. Valerie Tarasuk, Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner, “Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014,” PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research (updated May 12, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3eJ0mpl (PDF).
  16. Paula Arriagada, “Food Insecurity Among Inuit Living in Inuit Nunangat,” Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X (February 1, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2maW9oN.
  17. Paula Arriagada, Tara Hahmann and Vivian O’Donnell, “Indigenous People in Urban Areas: Vulnerabilities to the Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID‑19,” STATCAN COVID‑19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (May 26, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2zuTgWT.
  18. Beatrice Britneff, “Food Banks’ Demand Surges Amid COVID‑19. Now They Worry About Long-Term Pressures,” Global News (April 15, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3boEHRe.
  19. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID‑19 Situation?,” Infographic (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2WKdx21.
  20. Statistics Canada, “Study: Canadian Consumers Adapt to COVID‑19: A Look at Canadian Grocery Sales Up to April 11,” The Daily (May 11, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3cj58Jz.
  21. In April 2020, Canada’s federal government established the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides $2,000 every four weeks to workers who have lost their income as a result of the pandemic. This benefit covers those who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID‑19. It applies to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed individuals who are unable to work. The benefit also allows individuals to earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting CERB. As a result of school and child care closures across Canada, the CERB is available to working parents who must stay home without pay to care for their children until schools and child care can safely reopen and welcome back children of all ages. Government of Canada, “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.” Link: https://bit.ly/2AhY1DD.
  22. Statistics Canada, “Study: Canadian Consumers Adapt to COVID‑19: A Look at Canadian Grocery Sales Up to April 11.”
  23. Statistics Canada, “Household Food Security by Living Arrangement.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ottawa Food Bank, “COVID‑19 Response Webinar – The First 5 Weeks” (May 13, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2AWXF55.
  26. Kristyn Frank, “COVID‑19 and Social Support for Seniors: Do Seniors Have People They Can Depend on During Difficult Times?,” StatCan COVID‑19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (April 30, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3biLMmp.
  27. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Consumers Prepare for COVID‑19,” Price Analytical Series (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2WO1r86.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Food Banks Canada, “Support Your Local Food Bank.” Link: https://bit.ly/3gqmYwG.


In Focus 2019: Food Insecurity in Canada

Food insecurity in Canada is an issue deeply intertwined with the health and economic well-being of families. While there is no single cause for food insecurity, research shows that both economic insecurity and geographical isolation (in particular, the higher food costs in Northern communities resulting from a lack of year-round rail, road or marine access) contribute to families not having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy life.1

Food-insecure families are more likely to experience adverse effects to their health and well-being, which include restricted mobility and chronic conditions, poor mental health and mental distress.2 This impacts individuals, families and communities, and incurs considerable costs on the health care system – it’s a matter of family well-being and public health.

In recognition of Hunger Action Month, which raises awareness on national, provincial and local levels about hunger in Canada, this edition of In Focus highlights data on food insecurity across the country.

Many Canadians – including children and youth – continue to experience food insecurity

  • In 2018, 1 in 4 children and youth under 18 (23%) say they go to bed or school hungry at least sometimes because there is not enough food at home.3
  • In 2018, children and youth under 18 accounted for 20% of the population in Canada but 35% of those who accessed food banks in March of that year.4
  • In 2015–2016, approximately 16% of households in reporting provinces and territories across Canada5 experienced food insecurity.6

Northern populations and marginalized groups experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity

  • In March 2018, six in 10 people who accessed food banks (59%) were on social assistance or disability-related supports.7
  • In 2015–2016, more than half (51%) of households in Nunavut were food insecure – by far the highest rate in Canada and more than three times the average rate of the remaining reporting provinces and territories (11%).8
  • In 2015–2016, nearly three-quarters of the children in Nunavut (72%) and one-third of the children in the Northwest Territories (32%) lived in food-insecure households, compared with 16% to 23% among the remaining reporting provinces and territories.9
  • Despite the launch of Nutrition North – a food retail subsidy designed to improve food access and affordability in isolated communities – annual rates of food insecurity actually increased in Nunavut between pre-implementation (33% to 40% between 2007 and 2010) and the years following implementation of the program (46% to 56% between 2013 and 2016).10, 11
  • Research from 2014 showed that rates of food insecurity among Black people (29%) and Indigenous people (26%) were more than twice as high as the national average (12%).

Data gaps leave us without a clear picture of the prevalence and impact of food insecurity among diverse groups

  • The Canadian Community Health Survey (the main source for information on food insecurity in Canada) doesn’t collect data from First Nations reserves, resulting in approximately half of all status First Nations peoples (approximately 300,000) being left out of the picture, and thus underestimating the prevalence of food insecurity.12
  • Other diverse groups, including full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, people living in institutions and the 235,000 Canadians who experience homelessness in any given year are not represented in national food insecurity data (despite the latter being more vulnerable to food insecurity than the general population).13


  1. Paula Arriagada, “Food Insecurity Among Inuit Living in Inuit Nunangat,” Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X (February 1, 2017). Link: .
  2. Ibid.
  3. UNICEF Canada, Where Does Canada Stand? The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being: 2019 Baseline Report (September 3, 2019). Link: .
  4. Food Banks Canada, Hunger Count 2018 (February 5, 2018).
  5. Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Yukon opted out of food insecurity measurement in 2015–2016.
  6. PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, Latest Household Food Insecurity Data Now Available (June 25, 2018).
  7. Food Banks Canada, 2018.
  8. PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, 2018.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Research suggests this may be the result of the program’s focus on perishable, nutritious foods, as well as the exclusion of most non-perishable foods and all non-food items from the subsidy.
  11. Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain, Tracey Galloway and Valerie Tarasuk, “Food Insecurity in Nunavut Following the Introduction of Nutrition North Canada,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191:20 (May 21, 2019). Link:.
  12. PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, Household Food Insecurity in Canada: A Guide to Measurement and Interpretation (November 2018). Link:.
  13. Ibid.


A Snapshot of Families and Food in Canada

Food is at the heart of family life. A biological necessity for our survival and well-being, food is also much more than that. What we choose to eat is often more than just a matter of personal preferences and whims; in many instances, what we eat reflects our cultural, community and family identities. Sometimes, our choices are made for us based on the availability and accessibility of food.

Regardless of the context, families adapt and react to ensure that dietary needs are being met. Some families have many opportunities to eat together, and these family meals provide a setting where family dynamics and relationships often “play out,” whether it’s in the delegation of cooking roles, discussing an upcoming family vacation or arguing over who has to do the dishes. Sometimes families – particularly those with busy schedules or high mobility – opt to eat meals “on the go.”

explores the evolving relationships between families and food in Canada, including research and statistics about family meals, eating patterns, nutrition, food security and more.

Highlights include:

  • More than 6 in 10 Canadians (62%) surveyed in 2017 said they eat dinner as a family at least five times per week.
  • More than one-quarter (26%) of Canadians surveyed in 2017 agree with the statement, “My work–life balance does not permit me to prepare and/or eat my meals at home.”
  • The most recent data indicates that 12% of households across Canada (1.3 million) experienced food insecurity in 2014, home to 3.2 million people.
  • More than half (52%) of Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat1 aged 25 and over lived in food-insecure households in 2012.
  • In 2015, households across Canada spent an average $8,600 on food, an increase of 9.9% since 2010.
  • 4 in 10 of those who said it’s become more difficult to afford groceries said they’ve been choosing less healthy options in the aisle to manage the rising prices.
  • According to a 2017 study, more than three-quarters of Canadians aren’t meeting Canada Food Guide recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, with a resulting estimated economic burden to society of is $4.39 billion per year.
  • More than 863,000 people across Canada accessed food banks in March 2016 alone (40% of whom lived in family households with children), 28% higher than in 2008.
  • Research shows that the widespread malnutrition experienced by Indigenous children in Canada’s residential school system has had (and continues to have) a multi-generational impact on the health and well-being of their children and grandchildren, contributing to higher rates of chronic conditions.

This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.


This Statistical Snapshot publication is dedicated to David Northcott, CM, OM, retired Executive Director of Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank and a founder of both the Canadian Association of Food Banks and the Manitoba Association of Food Banks. David recently completed his second full term on the Vanier Institute Board of Directors, where his enthusiasm, dedication to family well-being and generous heart has had an impact on the entire Vanier Institute team.



  1. From Statistics Canada: “Inuit Nunangat is the homeland of Inuit of Canada. It includes the communities located in the four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern coastal Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), the territory of Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories. These regions collectively encompass the area traditionally occupied by Inuit in Canada.” Link: .

When Cupboards Are Bare: Food Insecurity and Public Health

Nathan Battams

(Updated September 6, 2017)

Food security is an issue that is deeply intertwined with the health and economic well-being of families. It is a serious social, economic and public health concern, felt not only by the estimated 1.3 million households in Canada that reported experiencing food insecurity in 2014 (12% of households, home to 3.2 million people), but also by the communities in which they live. When families face obstacles in securing the quantity and quality of meals they need to thrive, it becomes all the harder for them to be healthy and live productive, happy lives.

When the Canadian Medical Association consulted Canadians about public health issues in a series of town hall meetings in 2013, food insecurity was identified as one of the main social determinants of health. Without a stable and healthy food supply, people are more likely to develop a range of health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, stress and even food allergies.

While there are multiple contributing factors to food insecurity, including geographic isolation, food literacy and transportation issues, economic insecurity is at the heart of the matter.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, families have increasingly depended on food banks and other community supports for essential support securing the quantity and quality of food they need. According to Food Banks Canada, the number of people who accessed food banks across the country in March 2016 (863,492) was 28% higher than in 2008, and more than 40% of households receiving food were families with children.

Some individuals are more likely than others to experience food insecurity. Food insecurity rates were higher than the national average in 2014 for people with an Aboriginal identity () and for Black people (29%). A 2016 study also found that some households are more likely than the national average to experience food insecurity, including (but not limited to):

  • Households with children under age 18 (15.6% versus a 10.4% food insecurity rate for households without children)
  • Lone-parent families headed by women (33.5%)
  • Households in Nunavut (60%)
  • People living in rented households (25%)
  • Households with an income below the Low Income Measure (29.2%)

Research from Statistics Canada has suggested that adults experience food insecurity at higher rates than children (8.2% compared with 4.9%) because parents are protecting their youngsters from food insecurity by reducing the variety and quantity of their own meals so their children can eat better. Despite this, children across Canada are affected by food insecurity, with children and youth accounting for 36% of those helped by food banks in March 2016.

Food banks and community supports were never intended to be permanent solutions to food insecurity. Many organizations providing food to families are feeling the pressure resulting from the economic downturn. Faced with increased demand, some food banks have had to reduce the assistance they provide – a reality with serious consequences for the health and well-being of families in Canada.

There are multiple contributing factors to food insecurity, including geographic isolation, food literacy and transportation issues, but economic insecurity is at the heart of the matter. Families can’t eat when they don’t have the power to buy. Rates of food insecurity vary widely across Canada, reaching as high as 47% in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in 2014. Some people face disproportionately high rates of low income, such as sole-support mothers and Indigenous people, and are therefore also more likely to experience higher levels of food insecurity.

Food bank users typically make do with limited financial resources, which is reflected in patterns of food bank use: nearly half (45%) of households who accessed food banks in March 2016 relied on social assistance as their primary source of income. However, Canadians who earn the majority of their income through paid labour are also accessing food banks, accounting for 15% of those assisted in the same month.

Whether it comes as a result of improving the health or increasing the wealth of Canadians, access to the quality and quantity of food we need is essential for living well and reaching our full potential.

This is an edited and updated version of an article that was originally featured in Transition magazine in spring 2013 (Vol. 43, No. 2).

Nathan Battams is responsible for publications, communications and social media at the Vanier Institute of the Family.