Britain’s Conservative government is facing a wave of criticism for refusing up to $36 million in EU food aid. The decision has prompted accusations the government is sacrificing the needs of the poor in favor of championing an “anti-EU ideology.”
Earlier this week UK officials declined an offer from Brussels for a donation from the European Union’s billion-dollar aid fund. The money would have been channeled into financing food banks which have become more and more widespread across the UK since the onset of the economic crisis.
PM David Cameron’s government maintained that such aid would be better administered by Britain itself.
“Measures of this type are better and more efficiently delivered by individual member states through their own social programs, and their regional and local authorities, who are best placed to identify and meet the needs of deprived people in their countries and communities,” the Department of Work and Pensions said in a statement leaked to The Guardian.
Cameron’s government faced a barrage of criticism from the opposition Labour Party following the decision.
“In Britain we’ve got a government with a very anti-European ideology that seems more keen to not want the EU to get credit for something, than to get money that can help to feed hungry people,” Labour MEP Richard Howitt told RT correspondent Laura Smith. “If you are starving, you need some food on your plate today, and this government’s decision to refuse EU cash is literally taking food out of the mouths of the hungry.”
Instead of accepting up to 22 million pounds ($36 million), the UK has opted for a 2.9 million pound ($4.7 million) handout. However, this money will not be spent on food banks, but instead it will be invested in a push to help the unemployed find jobs.
In a climate of economic crisis, the UK’s food banks are becoming more widely used as people struggle to make ends meet as the cost of living rises. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) released an annual report at the beginning of December showing that incomes had fallen in the UK by $2,600 in real terms since May 2000.
In contrast, living costs have been on the up, with energy bills set to increase by up to 10 percent. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major spoke out against the increase, calling it unacceptable that some would have to make the choice between “heating and eating.”
The Labour Party has called on the government to take measures to reduce the use of food banks in the country. In a House of Commons debate Wednesday, Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said that 500,000 people, a third of them children, have used food banks since April 2013.
Charities have also ratcheted up aid going to food banks, where 90 percent of the food is provided through citizen donations.
“As a humanitarian organization we are more and more concerned about people suffering from food poverty within our services,” Juliet Mountford, Director of UK Service Development at the British Red Cross, told RT. The Red Cross has announced the launch of the first emergency food aid plan since WWII in the light of rising poverty in the UK.
Andrew Fullik, a food bank user, spoke to RT about his situation, describing it as “humiliating” that he has had to claim food aid six times in the last 18 months.
“I felt as though I'd had the rug pulled from beneath my feet. I had to go to someone else to try and help me survive. And it's not a nice feeling. I nearly ended up in tears... I nearly ended up a nervous wreck,” he told RT correspondent Polly Boiko.