LONDON, England – The Red Cross will begin a new initiative this winter to collect and distribute food to the hungry in Britain, the first time such actions have been taken at a national level since World War II. The charity’s renewed activity in Europe stands as a sobering reminder of the humanitarian impacts of the global economic crisis. The Red Cross announced its plan to help the UK’s hungry shortly after releasing a report that found a 75% increase in reliance on food aid across Europe over the last three years. This translates to approximately 43 million people across the continent who do not have enough to eat on a daily basis.
Within the UK, the Trussell Trust Food Bank network found that over half a million people sought assistance from food banks over the past year. With winter approaching and an expected increase in fuel costs, the number of those who need help to keep food on the table is expected to go up as well. Accordingly, the British charity FareShare approached the Red Cross for help in supporting these food banks. As part of the initiative, the British Red Cross and FareShare will send volunteers to Tesco grocery stores across the country at the end of November to ask shoppers for donations of nonperishable foods. These donations will then be distributed to charities that help those struggling with hunger and poverty.
Many charities and opposing politicians believe that the country’s increased reliance on food aid is a direct consequence of the government’s austerity measures. They point to changes enacted by the Welfare Reform Act 2012, such as reduced child support and the infamous “bedroom tax” – a measure that will penalize those on welfare who are deemed to have spare bedrooms in their property. Many senior government officials have dismissed such claims, with the Department for Work and Pensions saying that there is “no robust evidence” that welfare reforms caused the increased demand for aid. Several senior Tories have likewise dismissed the problem. Education Secretary Michael Grove caused quite a stir last month when he claimed that food bank users were there because they could not handle their finances properly.
Looking beyond the political debate, however, most everyone seems to agree that steps need to be taken to counteract the growing number of hungry families and individuals in the UK. The involvement of the Red Cross, one of the most recognizable relief organizations, will hopefully increase awareness of the problem. Chris Johnes, the UK poverty director for Oxfam, points to their presence as indicative of the importance of the situation. “They don’t do things for reasons of grandstanding at all,” he says. “The fact that they are doing this…is a very clear signal how serious things have become.”
– Rebecca Beyer