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Viewpoint: Rising costs decreasing Canadians’ access to basic human needs

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere
The trend of rising food costs parallels an increase in the number of Canadians experiencing food insecurity. (File photo)

Food, water, shelter.

I remember being taught in elementary school, oh so many years ago, that these are our basic needs, the things humans require to survive.

Different groups/organizations have their own lists of basic human needs. NASA’s includes air which, after recent smoky, wildfire-filled summers, is something I can appreciate.

It makes sense basic needs are important to an organization that sends humans into space.

“If any one of these basic needs is not met, then humans cannot survive,” says NASA.

On other expanded lists you may find sleep, clothing, education, sanitation and health care. These too make sense.

In no way should it be taken for granted any of these needs can be easily accessed at all times by everyone – even in Canada. For example, despite a 2015 commitment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves in five years, we still have 28 Indigenous communities under long-term water advisories. According to The Council of Canadians, there’s also a funding deficit for the maintenance and operation of drinking water systems on reserves, amounting to about $138 million per year. It’s interesting these advisories persist given how much of an uproar is stirred by news stories about private companies paying little for, and profiting from B.C. water they bottle and sell.

In 2010, the United Nations reasserted the human right to receive “safe, affordable and clean accessible water and sanitation services.” Regarding affordability, the cost of water should not be prohibitive, requiring one to sacrifice one’s ability to access/provide for other basic needs.

Not surprisingly, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists needs everyone has a right to, to ensure a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. It includes food, clothing and housing. Canada’s own National Housing Strategy recognizes the right to “adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law,” and that housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person and to building sustainable and inclusive communities.” Another basic need, and right, we as a nation are struggling to provide, is leaving many without adequate accommodation. Meanwhile, the shelter biz continues to be very profitable. In 2021, real estate, rentals and leasing accounted for about 20 per cent of B.C.’s gross domestic product. Coming in second place was construction at 10 per cent.

Read more: Sicamous housing report shows lack of rentals forcing residents into ‘unsafe’ housing

Read more: B.C. rent rates highest in Canada, Vancouver remains country’s most expensive city: report

While there’s been some change to B.C. housing prices since 2021, home ownership continues to be an unattainable goal for many. Meanwhile, long-term rentals are in high demand and low supply, seemingly throughout the province, and continue to go up in price (as of March 2023, the average rental rate for a one-bedroom place in Vancouver was $2,600 – up by about 18 per cent over the same time in 2022).

As everyone knows, food prices have also been steadily rising, resulting in more prudent shopping habits and greater use of food banks. According to a University of Toronto study, in 2021 about 15.9 per cent of Canadian households (about 5.8 million people) experienced some level of food insecurity.

At least the past few years were kind to Canadian billionaires who, according to a report by Oxfam Canada, saw their wealth grow by 51 per cent during the pandemic.

Insatiable human wants are absolutely a barrier to the provision of fair and equal access for all to basic human needs. As such, enshrining these needs as human rights seems a futile gesture.
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