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Health Unit dietician advocates for wage increases, affordable housing to lower cost of living

The best way to ensure that people can afford to pay their living expenses without cutting back on food is by paying them a “living wage,” according to Registered Dietician Danielle LaBonte. 

LaBonte works with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, and helped create the organization’s latest “Nutritious Food Basket” report

The report examines the cost of living in our area and found that, after paying rent and a month’s worth of nutritious food, the average family in our region only has $87 left to pay for all other expenses. 

“That’s everything,” LaBonte explains. “Hydro, transportation, insurance, basic phone and internet, childcare, any clothing, footwear or household supplies, medications, any extracurricular activities for children, and even just minimal recreation and entertainment.” 

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She says when people can’t afford their living expenses, they spend less money on food, which can lead to health complications from eating less balanced diets or skipping meals. 

LaBonte says there needs to be “broader society changes” to reduce food insecurity, because it’s primarily an income problem.  

She says business owners and companies in the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark areas should become “living wage” employers. 

“A living wage is the minimum hourly wage that a worker needs in order to cover their basic expenses, and participate fully in their community,” LaBonte says. “In 2023, [the Ontario Living Wage Network] found that the living wage in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark is $20.60. Last year, this number was $19.05, and currently, minimum wage is $16.55.” 

She also advocates for increasing the minimum wage and expanding affordable housing initiatives and says residents should call their MPP and MP about the cost of living. 

We’ve contacted Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MPP Steve Clark and MP Michael Barrett for comment. 

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