A long time has passed since, supported by the words of ‘We are the world’, the first world hunger campaign was launched. At that time and in that particular context, ‘world’ was conceived as some far away lands, and Africa was often one of them. With the advent of globalization, world hunger surely became more visible. However, it is only with the recent financial crisis that European countries recognized to be ‘hungry’ and were consequently forced to question their welfare as well as their labour model. Indeed, among the people who can today be categorized as ‘hungry’, working poor are clearly a rising number.
The European situation
Food poverty is on the rise in Italy. However, it appears that this phenomenon is not only spreading in our country but even in those that possess a solid economy. The report on the European economic crisis, published in october 2014 by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, relates that in Europe, 43 million people do not have access to sufficient food resources. Explained by rising unemployment rates but also by the increase of working poor, the number of people sustained by local Red Cross committees has risen by 75% from 2008 to 2012.
In Germany, during the last five years, the number of people that turned to food banks and to soup kitchens has doubled and reached one and half million. According to the Paritätischen Gesamtverbandes, from 2006 onwards, the number of people that live under the poverty line (848 euro per month for a single, 1278 euro for a couple) has risen from 14% to 15,2%. In particular, more and more students (who, in average have a monthly revenue of 864 euro) have started to turn to food banks. If we consider the growing number of migrants, it is possible to understand why charity organizations face some difficulties when trying to feed everybody. In fact, to compensate the expenses and survive, some of these organizations had to start asking a small contribute to consumers. Beside the number of consumers, multiple are the causes that complicate their functioning. Public and private donations have become insufficient for financing the food, the rent and the transport of goods. At the same time, supermarket chains as well as smaller shops have bettered their planning skills in terms of food storage and have managed to cut excesses which were normally donated to these organizations. As such, less food is received from external sources.
The situation is similar in France, where, according to the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), 12,2% of adults – around 6 million of people – experience food insecurity due to financial reasons. Compared to the number of people who eventually decide to resort to food banks, these numbers still are much higher. This shows that this type of help still is accompanied by a fear of ‘stigmatization’. Interestingly, 6% of French people who experience food insecurity live above the poverty line and are as such categorized as ‘new poor’, usually less comfortable with requesting assistance. To accentuate the attention on the problem, campaigns such as the Restos du Cœur have been conducted. Founded by the actor Coluche, the latter consists of a network of food-oriented associations, which distributes food but also helps people to find a place to stay and to look for a job. The rise of consumers occurred in parallel with diminishing support. For example the number of donors – mainly workers and employees who usually contributed with 50 or 100 euro per year – declined by 8%. It came up that, due to retirement or job loss, these people had to interrupt donations because they were themselves unable to sustain their own expenses – however little recovery is shown in the 2014-2015 annual report.
Following the same pattern, food poverty has risen among UK’s working poor. According to the Trussell Trust, food bank use in the UK rose to record levels in the past 12 months, challenging claims that the dividends of Britain’s economic recovery are being equally shared. The latest figures presented by the organization show a 19% year-on-year increase in food bank use, demonstrating that hunger and poverty continue to affect large numbers of people, including rising numbers of low-paid workers and people affected by social benefit cuts. Indeed, about 44% of the users have been affected by benefit changes or delays. The result is confirmed by a recent Oxford University research, that has linked increasing food bank use with UK areas that have seen greater unemployment and welfare spending cuts. But food banks are also spreading in areas such as South London or Westminster, which were renown until some time ago for being well-off areas. In the North, the situation is much worse. In Hull – where unemployment subsidies are at its highest and one children out of three live under the poverty line – the local bank is supported by an associ-ation which, until 4 years ago was responsible for providing food exclusively to developing coun-tries. Today, the same association provides 80% of its resources for UK’s assistance only. Even if national unemployment decreased by 7,4%, it appears that having a job affects food-access only to a certain extent: more than a fifth, 22%, of food bank users were referred because of low in-come, including people in low-paid, zero-hours or part-time work who were forced to turn to food banks.
Food poverty is rising everywhere in Europe and is even attaining solid economies. It is clear that that the problem cannot exclusively be faced by charitable associations, which are already experiencing some difficulties in sustaining current requests. Indeed, solid policies which ensure that labour is able to guarantee an economic autonomy are needed. As a matter of fact, if some years ago rising assistance demand was mainly explained by foreign migration issues, today european working poor are more and more common and are indeed highly contributing to this demand.
The Trussell Trust’s UK foodbank network, Emergency food for UK people in crisis, 2015
Food bank use tops million mark over the past year, The Guardian, 22 April 2015
Increased food bank use linked to areas where unemployment is higher and benefit cuts are deeper, Mirror, 8 April 2015
Storming the Food Banks: Charities Struggle with Growing Demand, Guido Kleinhubbert, Spiegel, 3 January 2014
Six millions d’adultes victimes d’"insécurité alimentaire", Catherine Rollot, Le Monde, 23 November 2013
Germania, raddoppia il numero di chi mangia grazie alle mense per i poveri, Marco Quarantelli, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 6 January 2014
As the Working Poor Become More Common in Britain, So Does Hunger, Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times, 2 January 2014
Rapport Annuel 2014-2015, Restos du Cœur