Austerity measures and the economic downturn in the UK have prompted the British branch of the Red Cross to begin formulating an emergency food aid plan for Britain – the first the charity has set up for the country since WWII.
The Geneva-based charity is to start gathering and distributing
food with the help of fellow charities and a supermarket chain,
allocating donations to Britain’s needy.
The Red Cross is traditionally recognized for its work in disaster-struck regions rather than in developed countries, and the move appears to be a by-product of “indiscriminate cuts in public health and social welfare,” according to Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross, who spoke to the UK’s Independent.
An announcement on the website stated that “Struggling families and individuals across the UK will benefit from [the partnership].”
Surplus perishable food from supermarkets is to be redistributed to charities, lunch clubs for ageing sectors of the population, and food banks. While FareShare, which is participating in the Red Cross scheme, has been undertaking this action since roughly 2004, it has to now cope with increasing demands from food banks.
“Unbelievably, 3 million tonnes of food are wasted in the UK every year while thousands go hungry. We’re delighted to help FareShare give much-needed support to people in crisis,” said Simon Lewis, Red Cross head of emergency planning and response.
It “should be a wake-up-call to David Cameron over his failure to tackle the cost of living crisis,” Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary told the Independent.
The UK poverty director for Oxfam charity Chris Johnes, said that he was “genuinely shocked” that Britain was struggling to feed the poor and that the Red Cross is stepping in. “They don’t do things for reasons of grandstanding at all,” he told The Independent. “The fact that they are doing this... is a very clear signal how serious things have become.”
Trussell Trust charity estimates that around 500,000 people in the UK needed support from food banks last year.
A Red Cross report published on Thursday indicated that Europe as a whole was spiraling into a cycle of poverty as some 120 million are at risk of poverty while around 43 million people across Europe are hungry every day.
The charity concluded that austerity measures taken during Europe’s economic downturn have further contributed to snowballing poverty and unemployment, and identifies weakening health; a toughening stance on increasing migration; and a steep rise in unemployment alongside a poverty spiral.
“We do not have all the answers, but we encourage all stakeholders – including ourselves – to think in new, different and creative ways to deal with the crisis. Whereas we all hope this will end soon, we need to face reality and take action, so that this humanitarian crisis does not turn into a social and moral crisis for Europe,” says Anitta Underlin, the IFRC’s Director for Europe.
The UK is not the only country turning to charity to feed its struggling population. As austerity continues to wreak havoc for families in Portugal, people are turning to volunteer charities, such as Re-Food, which employs similar methods, using surplus food from restaurants involved in the scheme for food parcels. Charities are now essential in the lives of increasingly deprived sectors of the population.
In Europe, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have increased their domestic relief programs. In 2012, the Red Cross claims, it handed out food to some 3.5 million Europeans through 22 National Societies, that is an increase of 75 percent compared to three years ago.
“The amount of people depending on Red Cross food distributions in 22 of the surveyed countries has increased by 75 percent between 2009 and 2012,” the report says.
In Latvia, the Red Cross is engaged in handing out food to more than 140,000 people in a country of around 2 million people. Meanwhile the Spanish Red Cross is now helping more than 2.4 million people Spaniards. Some 50,000 people in Milan alone are receiving food aid.
“While we fully understand that governments need to save money, we strongly advise against indiscriminate cuts in public health and social welfare, as it may cost more in the long run,” said Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross.