TEHRAN, YJC. -- Poverty is rising all over Europe, but in response to the financial crisis, the EU is adopting austerity policies.
As a result, an increasing number of people are facing difficulties getting clothing, receiving medical care, and simply accessing food. About 116 million Europeans are now at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and about 50 million are unable to afford a healthy meal every other day. More and more diverse segments of society are now concerned; including workers, as well as retirees and students.
While poverty is drastically rising all over Europe, the European Food Aid Program is currently under threat. This program, which was launched in 1987 to support the most deprived people, could experience substantial cuts. The program’s funding may be cut by around 40 percent in 2014. European deputies have voted on a decision on February 8 which aims to reduce the food aid by €200 million. The €500 million annual budget will be reduced to €300 million from 2014 to 2020.
This cut is in line with the austerity policies supported by several European countries like Germany, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the United Kingdom. With the economic crisis seriously hitting ordinary people, this measure will affect 18 million Europeans now benefiting from the aid. Ahead of the situation, NGOs are trying to make their voice heard. Julien Lauprêtre, Chairman of the French charity Secours Populaire, declared in an interview with the ‘Voice of Russia’, "Our reaction is a reaction of fear, because we observe a tidal wave of misery and poverty currently afflicting France.”
The increase in poverty is common to the entire European Union. About 116 million Europeans are now at risk of poverty or social exclusion and about 40 million are suffering from severe material deprivation. One of the main features of this material deprivation is the inability to access food in appropriate quantities or quality. The number EU residents unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish, every second day, was more than 43 million people in 2010. Since then, the situation has continued to worsen.
As Julien Lauprêtre noted, two important figures have to be mentioned: "Over the past few years, we have been helping about two million people a year. Last year, we helped two million five hundred thousand people. Two million five hundred thousand people came to us first asking for food. Their first complaint was to get something to eat.” Food insecurity is a reality in France. It concerns 12% of the population, that is to say three to four times more than people receiving aid. Lauprêtre continued, "There are people who do not eat their fill in our country. I’ll give you an example. Secours Populaire has a great campaign aiming to offer holidays to the people in need. When families came back from vacation this year, we asked them what they’ve enjoyed the most, and what they would remember of it. I was thinking that I would be told about the Eiffel Tower or the color of the Mediterranean Sea. No, all the families told us that the thing they have enjoyed the most was that they had three meals a day. That means they do not have such a habit.”
The situation is no better in other European countries. In the UK, for instance, Steven Hawkes, from Food Cycle, a British charity that prepares healthy meals for the most deprived people, reported during an interview with the ‘Voice of Russia’ that more than 4 million people are affected by not having access food across the country. This global rise of poverty, and hunger in particular, across the European Union is causing anxiety among the organizations supporting the most deprived and a misunderstanding of Europe’s decisions. According to Julien Lauprêtre, "We must say that we are very concerned about the decisions made at the European level, which will hopefully not remove food aid, but will decrease it by almost 30%. Those that I call the ‘European notables’ are taking the responsibility of contributing to the death of people who’ll have nothing to eat. It is a huge responsibility.”
This responsibility is all the more huge now that poverty is affecting more and more diverse segments of society. As Steven Hawkes stated, "We have 4 broad target groups of different ages: older people suffering from hunger, people with mental health problems, refugees and homeless people.” The profile of the people suffering from hunger is thus difficult to define. Julien Lauprêtre observes the same situation in France: "People who come to ask for help are essentially single parent families, that is to say, women with children. The number of poor workers is also increasing. They are people, who have a paid job, but their salary does not allow to live properly all month long, and who come to us on the 15th or 16th, each month.”
The issue of hunger concerns not only the unemployed, but also people with low-paying jobs or an insufficient salary. As Lauprêtre continued, with the crisis, new categories of people in need are also emerging: small shopkeepers, craftsmen, but also managers, students and retired people. "Last year, we helped 150,000 young people who dared to ask for food. In reality, there are many more young people in need, but they don’t dare to come. Another new phenomenon is the elderly. This is perhaps the most poignant for us because these are people who have worked all their lives and they are now asking for food. And the demand is constantly increasing.”
Other problems are related to food poverty, as Steven Hawkes noticed: "The cheapest food is the unhealthiest food.” A poor diet is often associated with a bad diet, and provokes serious health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Steven Hawkes, whose organization aims at offering healthy meals to people in need, explained to us the causes of bad nutrition: "One reason is a lack of income; some people can’t afford healthy food. Another reason is a lack of knowledge about healthy food; people are unsure how to cook vegetables and it’s easier to buy things that are already cooked. There is also a problem of access. There are communities in the UK where there is not really good access to healthy food in local shops, which don’t really stock quality food, or if they do, prices are really high.”
However, hunger is only one aspect of a broader crisis situation. As Julien Lauprêtre told us, "People are coming to receive food but we discover lots of various related problems: medical care problems of course, especially dental care and eye care, but also clothing and cultural needs.” NGOs are thus tackling a wide range of issues, but the fight against hunger remains a priority. In 2012, the volunteers of Food Cycle in the UK served over 13,946 nutritious meals and Secours Populaire in France offered about 181 million meals. Citizens remain mobilized to support those most in need. Europe’s decision to cut food aid has led to strong reactions, such as the Air Food Project, which aims to raise awareness about the need to extend the European food aid program and not to abandon the rising number of people in need.
Voice of Russia