Hot meal compromised by exploding grocery and energy prices
[SPECIAL: WINTERSE MAALTIJDEN] NEW BOAT – It promises to be a hard winter. That is to say: It is unknown whether frost and snow will prevail, but it is certain that it will be a difficult time for many people. Gas and electricity prices are skyrocketing and groceries have never been more expensive. It is expected that many Dutch people who managed to survive until recently will become dependent on food aid this winter. Food banks in the Netherlands even count on at least 40 percent more customers. This is also worrying, according to Leo Wijnbelt, chairman of Food Bank Holland.
First some numbers. At the time of writing, inflation in the Netherlands is 14.5 percent. Consumer goods and services are now 14.5 percent more expensive than a year ago. Inflation is largely due to the sharp rise in energy prices. Keeping warm – and eating hot – has become a major challenge, especially for low-income consumers. Meanwhile, food prices have also risen. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), it was an increase of more than 11 percent in June. The Central Planning Bureau (CPB), meanwhile, has calculated that the number of poor Dutch people would rise from over 1.1 million (6.7 percent of the population) in 2022 to almost 1.3 million (7.5 percent) in 2023. The number of children living in poverty would increase from 301,000 in 2022 to 306,000 in 2023 (respectively 9.2 and 9.4 percent of all children in the Netherlands). Will, because to counter this increase, a number of measures were announced on Budget Day to increase purchasing power. These are a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, social assistance, AOW and WW, an increase in rent and health benefits, a reduction in income tax and energy allowance. The measures will come into force on 1 January 2023 and will reduce the number of people living in poverty.
No hot meal
Good plans, but for now it is still 2022 and in the months before the turn of the year there is also a need to eat and drink. What does this mean for Dutch people who can no longer cope? There are government food aid initiatives to support people, temporarily or otherwise, in the difficult months ahead. At the beginning of October, Minister for Poverty Policy Carola Schouten introduced the measure to immediately provide free breakfast at 500 elementary schools, so that vulnerable students can start the day with a full stomach. Better for their development and learning performance, the minister believes. The measure is valid for four months. Dirk van den Broek responded by distributing apples to elementary schools near one of the branches for two days. A reaction to the news that more and more children in the Netherlands are going to school with an empty lunch box, let the formula know.
It is not only children who increasingly need food aid. The nutrition center recently had a study done together with the elderly organization Anbo. The study was carried out by the analysis agency Flycatcher among 2,057 Dutch people aged 65 and over. More than three-quarters of them said they were (somewhat) worried about rising food prices. These concerns are greatest (83 percent) among low-income seniors. Among seniors with high incomes, 59 per cent It is very unfortunate, but what is worse is that sometimes the elderly cannot actually buy healthy food. Almost 1 in 3 low-income seniors indicate that they have too little budget for healthy food. While 18 percent of this group indicate that they want to eat healthy. 1 in 10 low-income seniors report even skipping a hot meal now and then to save money.
More and more people are forced to use food aid. This is also confirmed by the association of food banks in the Netherlands. “Since 1 January 2022, the number of people we provide food aid has increased by 22 percent. At the start of this year, 90,000 people per week came to the food banks, which has now increased to 112,000. 30 percent of these are children under the age of 18. And we expect the growth to continue in the coming months. The energy compensation will not limit the influx either,’ says Leo Wijnbelt, chairman of Food Bank Holland. Not even after the government’s measures come into effect next year?
Wijnbelt: “We don’t yet know what effect it will have. Currently we are assuming 40 percent growth and we hope to limit that growth to 20 percent in the first four months of 2023. Still a staggering figure indeed. And don’t forget: deep human suffering lies behind it. These people never thought they would have to knock on the door of the Food Bank for food. It is actually the middle incomes who are now joining us; people with a normal job and a normal salary. We are also seeing an increase in the elderly whose pension is not indexed. Proud people who have worked hard all their lives and can no longer take care of themselves.”
Wijnbelt’s stories are poignant. He talks about parents who feed their children but have nothing for themselves. About the elderly in London who have a free subscription to public transport and use it all day long because at least it’s warm in the bus. And he hasn’t heard it yet, but is actually convinced that many people take less showers and stop cooking a hot meal to save energy.
In the same letter to the Folketing, where Minister Schouten announced the free school breakfast, she indicated that she was committed to supporting the Food Banks in various ways. For example, in food safety for the Food Banks in the long term. A very important point because the Food Banks have seen their influx for a while now, partly because supermarkets and manufacturers work more efficiently. Think, for example, of initiatives like Too Good To Go and the dynamic discounting of Albert Heijn, with which the formula has just started. The system ensures less loss, which is fantastic, says Wijnbelt.
At the same time, there is therefore less and less left for the Food Banks. Another difficult problem is the type of food. “We want to give our customers healthy food. It is of course very nice to be able to give a bag of chips and a bottle of soda, but it must be a supplement to a healthy diet,’ says Wijnbelt.
More customers and less influx of food is one reason why the traditional Dutch brands Unox, Iglo, Hak and Bolletje provide extra support to the Food Bank. They have joined together in the Winter collective and come with extra donations from their own range.
Wijnbelt is happy about it and hopes that other producers will join in so that even more people can be helped with a nutritious meal this winter. He is currently in talks with a number of supermarket formulas that want to contribute in the coming cold months. And a lot is already happening, he emphasizes: “It is fantastic to see what is already being done in the area of food aid. There are 13,500 unpaid volunteers working at Food Banks Holland. In addition, there are countless initiatives from private individuals, churches and companies. For my part, a structural solution therefore lies in the cooperation between all these parties and the government. We are all responsible for poverty reduction. Let’s not forget that poverty can happen to all of us, as the current cocktail of high inflation and exorbitant energy prices proves.”
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