December 6, 2023
Ahead of the Dutch elections, food banks are highlighting the cost of living crisis, a key campaign theme

VOORBURG, Netherlands (AP) — Cans of fish, jars of pasta sauce and bags of beans are stacked in blue boxes. In this prosperous Dutch city meat, dairy and bread are kept cool in a giant freezer and walk-in refrigerator. There are supplies available to feed the new poor in one of the world’s richest countries.

Needy families are lining up for free distribution at food banks across the Netherlands, underscoring how poverty is taking root even among lower middle-class families and why tackling it will become a major topic in next Wednesday’s parliamentary election. Has gone.

If it gets even worse, “then it really becomes a scandal for society,” said Rob Kuipers, a 70-year-old retired senior civil servant who is chairman of the local food bank in Leidschendam-Voorburg, within easy cycling distance. Are. Parliament in The Hague.

The crisis of the cost of living, chronic shortage of social and affordable housing and limitations on access to affordable health care have combined to create what has become known as “survival security” in the election campaign and is a topic that all parties are addressing . In their election programmes.

“We have had people living in poverty for a long time, but relatively speaking it was always a small group and a fairly marginalized group and now it has spread to the lower middle class. And, I think, that’s why we’re talking about it so much now,” said Maurice Krull, a sociology professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

“This was always a topic that progressive or leftist parties had on their agenda,” he said.

That centrist “moderate party” is personified by Peter Omtzigt, a former Christian Democrat who founded the New Social Contract in the summer. There is already so much voting going on that after the votes are counted he will play an important role in the coalition talks.

Tackling poverty is one of his two main campaign themes, after years of campaigning on behalf of marginalized members of society and exposing government scandals.

“There’s a long list of things we need to do to challenge the cost-of-living crisis,” he told reporters at a campaign event. His party’s manifesto states, “We will make the primary necessities of life affordable,” taking measures including reforming taxation and welfare rules to give people more disposable income.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD – traditionally seen as the party of the rich and a supporter of a free-market economy – is also promising to help.

“We will raise the minimum wage to ensure that people who work full-time can make ends meet,” the party’s manifesto promises. “To tackle childhood poverty, we will provide targeted support to families with children.”

Underscoring how the issue transcends traditional party lines, a centre-left two-party bloc led by former EU climate chief Frans Timmermans proposes some similar solutions. It advocates raising the Dutch minimum wage to 16 euros ($17.40) an hour. For employees over the age of 21, the current minimum is 12.79 euros for a 36-hour working week.

For some workers and others living on welfare benefits, that’s not enough.

The national umbrella organization of 176 Dutch food banks says they serve a total of 38,000 households – 100,000 people – each week and 1.2 million people live below the poverty line. The number is slightly lower than a year ago when inflation was rising in the Netherlands and around the world.

Just 18 months ago, the food bank in Leidschendam-Voorburg, a municipality of about 78,000 people that was recently ranked fifth in a survey of the Netherlands’ most “liveable” cities, had 140 clients. It reached 250 as the cost of living crisis swept across the world and did not spare even the wealthy Netherlands. Kuipers said there are 700 people in those 250 houses.

The actual number of people on the breadline may be much higher. The Leidschendam-Voorburg Food Bank overseen by Kuipers estimates that the actual number of people eligible for food aid may be two to three times higher.

Now he is waiting to see how the elections are held and the new group of parties coming together to run the country.

Party programs, he said, are “full of beautiful words and relatively few precise actions.”

He is looking forward to seeing how “those beautiful words will be translated into concrete actions” after the election.


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