Ten years ago, this city’s powerful and the poor sat down and agreed to tackle poverty together. The needle has twitched some, but it hasn’t really moved. But those committed to poverty reduction are in it for the long haul. And they insist the groundwork has been laid.

The Spectator has launched a seven-part series into how poverty has — and has not — changed in Hamilton.

The cost of food is rising, making it harder for the region’s most vulnerable to access healthy food options.

According to a new report, released at the region’s community services meeting last week, the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket in the region for a family of four increased more than five per cent last year. It outpaced inflation by five times. The total cost is now almost $195 a week.

In the last five years, the food basket, which is a surveillance tool used by the region to look at food security, increased 13.5 per cent.

A hunter-gatherer is defined as follows by dictionary.com:

“A member of a group of people who subsist by hunting, fishing, or foraging in the wild.”

Single welfare recipients in the city of Toronto have become modern hunter-gatherers that subsist for up to three weeks per month foraging in the ‘wilds’ of Toronto’s soup kitchens, food banks and clothes exchanges.

Despite more than a decade of yearly rate increases and small policy adjustments, people who rely on social assistance are hungrier today than in 1995, when the former Mike Harris Conservative government gutted the province’s welfare system, according to a new report.

Officially, inflation since then has been 45 per cent. But when Toronto social policy expert John Stapleton took Tsubouchi’s sample shopping list to the grocery store recently, he noticed the cost of the so-called “welfare diet” had spiked by 107 per cent, to $189.91.

Meantime, welfare rates — including November’s 3.8-per-cent hike for singles on Ontario Works — have increased by just 31 per cent, to $681 a month.

Imagine a Canada where everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs all the time, no matter what.

Sound like some socialist utopia? It’s not.

It’s called a basic income guarantee, or BIG, and some of its biggest supporters come from the right of the political spectrum. Why? Because it makes good economic sense.

It’s a simple idea that has been discussed for a number of years and even piloted in Dauphin, Man. from 1974-79.

The Manitoba experiment revealed people fare much better when they have a secure income. From a decrease in hospitalization rates, less domestic violence, higher secondary school completion rates to a decline in teenage pregnancy, a basic income offers people stability that translates into improved social and health outcomes.

Ontario’s minimum wage creeps up today, from $11 an hour to $11.25. But the boost won’t give much relief to the province’s growing number of precarious and low-wage workers, according to a new report.

That’s because current minimum wage levels would have to increase by a full 25 per cent in order to meet the standard set in 1976, when a minimum wage job lifted a worker above the poverty line.

In Toronto, minimum wage is still 61 per cent less than the hourly sum needed by a working family to scrape by, the research by left-leaning think tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows.

Food insecurity is about income. It’s about inadequate social assistance rates and increases in low-wage jobs, as well as part-time and contract employment, which make it hard for families to have adequate stable income. It’s about a lack of affordable housing — which forces many families to choose between paying rent and buying food. It’s about not having enough money to afford one’s basic needs on a consistent basis.

It’s time to move beyond the predictable results that come from emergency responses and look to more effective and dignified ways of addressing hunger and poverty in Canada and our community.

This is why a growing number of community organizations, academics, doctors and leaders across party lines are calling on governments for bold leadership and solutions. Solutions such as implementing a basic income guarantee, increasing investments in affordable housing and developing a national food strategy, as part of a broader anti-poverty plan.