Exclusive: Red Cross launches emergency food aid plan for UK’s hungry

Welfare cuts and the economic downturn send soaring numbers of people to soup kitchens and food banks across Europe

Brussels

The Red Cross will this winter start collecting and distributing food aid to the needy in Britain for the first time since the Second World War, as welfare cuts and the economic downturn send soaring numbers of people to soup kitchens and food banks across Europe.

In what could be the start of an increased role in Britain for the Geneva-based charity best known for its work in disaster zones, its volunteers will be mobilised to go into supermarkets across the country at the end of November and ask shoppers to donate dry goods. The British Red Cross will then help FareShare, a charity working with the Trussell Trust and Tesco, distribute the packets and tins to food banks nationwide.

Britain is just one of many countries where families are struggling to put food on the table. In a report released today into the devastating humanitarian impact of Europe’s financial  crisis, the Red Cross recorded a 75 per cent increase in the number of people relying on their food aid over the last three years. At least 43 million people across the Continent are not getting enough to eat each day and 120 million are at risk of poverty.

Red Cross officials called on European governments to try and find new ways to address to the crisis, as austerity programmes plunge millions into poverty and hunger.

“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.

In May charities revealed that more than half a million Britons are now turning to food banks, with that number expected to have increased over the summer. Many charities and opposition politicians say government cuts to welfare have made the situation worse, with families struggling to make ends meet with the rising prices, the economic downturn and a benefits squeeze.

Some senior Tories have dismissed the problem, with Lord Freud claiming in June that families using food banks were simply after free meals, while Education Secretary Michael Gove said last month that users were often those who could not manage their finances properly.

With winter approaching and fuel bills expected to rise, charities are struggling to meet the demand, and FareShare asked the Red Cross to step in. Juliet Mountford, the Red Cross head of UK Service Development, said they agreed to assist FareShare on the basis of “strong evidence of an increased need for support on food poverty issues”.

“For British Red Cross it’s a toe in the water,” she said. “It’s the first step in considering whether we ought to be doing more on today’s food poverty challenge.”

FareShare’s CEO, Linsday Boswell, said that in the past year the number of charities they were assisting had risen from 720 to 910. “We need to be able to operate differently to be able to front up to a crisis like this,” he said.

While the Red Cross has in the past provided food to refugees and also to victims of the flooding in Cumbria in 2009, it would be the first time it has helped with the nationwide collection and distribution of food aid since the end of the Second World War.

Chris Johnes, the UK poverty director for Oxfam, said he was “genuinely shocked” that the situation had got so dire that the Red Cross needed to step 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.”

Mr Johnes said that reduced child support and benefits and the introduction of the controversial “bedroom tax” were making the situation worse.  “We’ve actually got the government reducing the amount of income going into the pockets of a number of people and that is leading to in even greater use of food banks,” he said.

Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, said: “This warning... about the growing number of families facing a lack of nutritious food in Britain should be a wake-up-call to David Cameron over his failure to tackle the cost of living crisis.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said there was “no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks” and said the Government would be supporting vulnerable groups with cold weather payments and the winter fuel allowance.

Red alert: How austerity is hurting Europe

From the Red Cross report:

Greece

After two bailouts, Greece has the most stringent austerity programme in the eurozone. This is having a devastating impact on health and well-being, the Red Cross says; the suicide rate among women has doubled since the start of the crisis.

Spain

Austerity cuts are causing soaring unemployment in Spain, where a quarter of young people are now out of work. The Red Cross said unemployment in Europe was “a ticking time bomb” increasing the risk of social unrest and upheaval.

Russia

Migrants from all over the world who move to Europe for jobs get no social support. The report tells the story of Meerby from Kyrgyzstan, who went to Russia to work but ran out of money and was offered $3,000 to sell her newborn baby. She refused and fled.

Italy

Up to 150,000 small businesses have closed, sending homelessness soaring. Some 50,000 people in Milan alone are receiving food aid. The Red Cross tells how Maurizio, whose business went bust, now lives in the camper van which was once his holiday home.

Moldova

Human trafficking is also rising because of the crisis, the report says, as more people are desperate to move to places where they can earn more money. Moldovans pay up to €3,800 (£3,200) to be smuggled to another country, putting women and children at risk of exploitation.

Luxembourg

Even in the richest nation in the EU, with a per capita income of about £67,000, the Red Cross is running a programme providing food to the needy. France, meanwhile, has seen 350,000 people fall below the poverty line from 2008 to 2011.

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geotechnical Director of Engineering

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Renewables Grid / Power Systems Specialist

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Wind Package Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: T...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices