Nearly half of all Canadians say that they are finding it difficult or very difficult to feed their families amid spiralling inflation that has sent grocery bills skyrocketing, a new survey has found.

The Angus Reid Institute surveyed 1,992 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum about their household finances and what they believe the Bank of Canada should do in response to a rate of inflation which is now at a 31-year high.

It found that 49 per cent of respondents now report finding it difficult or very difficult to feed their families due to food prices that rose 8.7 per cent year-over-year in March.

That number is up from only 36 per cent the last time Angus Reid conducted a similar survey in April, 2019.

It also appears that Canadians have an increasingly pessimistic outlook when it comes to their finances.

The survey found that 36 per cent of respondents reported being in worse financial shape than one year ago, compared to 24 per cent who said that their finances had improved over the last 12 months. Another 39 per cent said that their finances were about the same, despite the rising cost of living.

The proportion of respondents who believed their financial situation would be worse one year from now (28 per cent) also exceeded those who believed it would improve (24 per cent). While a plurality of respondents still felt their financial situation would be about the same (38 per cent), Angus Reid said that the number of Canadians who anticipate a deterioration in their financial situation represents a “peak in financial gloom for Canadians” since 2010.

The results were particularly pronounced among those who said that they were “struggling” with the cost of living.

Among that group, 63 per cent said that they expected to be worse off financially a year from now and only six per cent expected their situation to improve.

“At this stage, you know, jobs are abundant. What the challenge is, of course, is people's ability to access disposable income in a way that they have relative to years past. So you're feeling squeezed because your grocery bill is now more or you are blanching at the cost of a litre of gas, it is all of those things layered on top of the potential either for rising mortgage rates down the road or higher credit card debt rates down the road,” Angus Reid Institute President Shachi Kurl told CP24 on Tuesday afternoon. “It all represents a period of real uncertainty.”

What should Bank of Canada do?

While the Angus Reid survey found that a significant proportion of respondents are struggling with the cost of living, there was little consensus on the course of action that the Bank of Canada should take as it aims to bring inflation under control.

However, the plurality of the respondents (45 per cent) to the Angus Reid survey said that they would like to see the bank’s key overnight lending rate kept at one per cent for now, until it becomes clear how several recent hikes will affect inflation. Another 27 per cent of respondents said that they would like to see the bank continue to raise rates to battle inflation while 13 per cent said they would like to see rates lower to protect the housing and investment markets. A further 15 per cent were unsure about the best course of action.

Support for raising rates further was highest among households with an annual income of $100,000 to $150,000 (34 per cent) but much lower among the lowest income households (16 per cent).

There was also a bigger appetite for more rate hikes among the youngest respondents, between the ages of 18 and 34.

Approximately 34 per cent of that group said that they support further increases compared to only 24 per cent of the oldest Canadians (55 and up).

“Admittedly, the Bank of Canada does not make decisions based on public opinion. But we're seeing about half of Canadians saying look, if it were up to them, they would have the Bank of Canada stand pat, maintain the status quo for now, rather than raise interest rates further,” Kurl said. “If you are already somebody who's feeling squeezed by the grocery bill, by the gas bill, by the cost of everyday living you are perhaps looking out at a mortgage that's coming due in the next year, in the next two years and your eyes are getting wider and wider, saying what is that going to cost me.”

The survey was conducted between May 4-6 among a representative sample of Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.

The pollster says that a probability sample of this size would typically carry a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.