Food Aid and cost-of-living crisis in Europe
The increase in cost of living is the most pressing worry of 93% of Europeans, mainly the rise in energy and food prices. In 2022, the Austrian Red Cross increased its food aid operations by 50%, delivering a total of 5,000 tons of food to people in need across the country. Similarly, there was a 40% increase in Italy, where nearly 300,000 people were supported by the Italian Red Cross. In the Netherlands, 51,000 children are expected to receive food aid from the Netherlands Red Cross in 2023. The demand for deliver food aid in Finland is also increasing while it is not possible to use EU funds for food since early 2022. In France, nearly half a million people received food support from the French Red Cross, representing a 26% increase from the year before. from the figures are similar in Spain, where more than half a million people are supported by the Spanish Red Cross.
Across Europe, National Red Cross Societies continue to provide food aid to a wide range of people in need of food, including people without legal status. In the last decade, 20 National Red Cross Societies have used the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) to deliver food aid and material assistance. Since it was introduced by the European Commission in 2014, nearly 13 million Europeans have benefited from the existence of this funding instrument. After a long transition period when the European Commission launched several packages and instruments to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis, the initial timeline for the implementation of the new European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) has been delayed until 2024.
FEAD now fall inside the ESF+, with the use of vouchers normalised in many Member States. While the effectiveness of accessing vouchers in rural areas remains to be seen, the continuous increase of transportation and logistics costs (over 7% in some Member States) represents a risk for non-for-profit organisations to deliver basic products. In the same vein, current increases in food prices continue to reduce purchasing power, especially for households using vouchers or e-vouchers.
To discuss food aid and the consequences of the increase of cost-of-living crisis in Europe, the Red Cross Eu Office and Eurodiaconia organised a roundtable at the European Parliament on 13 April. The event brought together local, regional and national stakeholders, including representatives from the National Red Cross Societies of Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands and Spain.
Co-hosted by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) David Casa (EPP, Malta) and Brando Benifei (S&D, Italy), the event was an opportunity to discuss different challenges experienced by service providers: difficulties in accessing EU funds; logistical issues to include new beneficiaries with the same or reduced resources and the struggle to increase the quality of the products delivered to meet the needs of end users. Along these lines, Ronan Mangan, Red Cross EU Office Head of Social Inclusion, stressed the severe impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having on not-for-profit organisations, like many National Red Cross Societies, where less food is available due to the increase in prices, while the number of beneficiaries has skyrocketed.
On the ground, staff and volunteers from National Red Cross Societies across the EU are responding to the growing needs of the most vulnerable people. During the event, Mayi Mukuna, Food Aid Advisor from the Belgian Red Cross said: “Supporting people that are in need of food and helping provide dignity to those struggling the most is part of the Red Cross’ identity, but we should not forget that food aid is not a solution to growing poverty, but an immediate response. We need to keep thinking about more long-term solutions to solve underlying problems.”
In the upcoming years, we will continue to monitor the development of the food aid under the new ESF+ and asses together with National Red Cross Societies how the current food aid architecture can better support households in need of food or struggling to meet their monthly payments.
 European Parliament (2022) EP Autumn 2022 Survey: Parlemeter. Online: https://europa.eu/eurobarometer/surveys/detail/2932
 European Commission (2020) FEAD reaches almost 13 million people in the EU including many children. Online: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=89&newsId=9700&furtherNews=yes
 European Commission (2021) REACT-EU. The REACT-EU package. Online: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/funding/react-eu_en
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