Ahead of the Dutch elections, food banks are highlighting the cost of living crisis, a major theme of the election campaign

VORBURG, Netherlands (AP) — Cans of fish, jars of pasta sauce and bags of beans are stacked in blue bins. Meat, dairy products and bread are kept cold in a walk-in freezer and freezer in this affluent Dutch city. Supplies are available to feed the new poor in one of the richest countries in the world.

Families in need are lining up for free aid at food banks across the Netherlands, highlighting how poverty is rooted even in lower-middle-class families and why tackling it has become a major issue in parliamentary elections scheduled for next Wednesday.

Parliament in The Hague, said Rob Kuipers, a 70-year-old retired senior civil servant and head of the local food bank in Leidssendam-Vorburg, a short bike ride away.

The cost of living crisis, chronic shortage of social and affordable housing and restrictions on access to affordable health care have combined to become known by the umbrella title “security of existence” in election campaigns, a topic addressed by all parties. in their electoral programmes

“For a long time, we’ve had people living in poverty, but this has always been, relatively speaking, a smaller group and quite a marginal group, and now this has spread to the lower middle class. I think that’s why,” said Maurice Kroll, professor of sociology at Vrije University Amsterdam. Which makes us talk a lot about it now.”

“This has always been a topic that progressive or left-wing parties put on the agenda,” he added. “But you now see that right-wing populist parties and the Center Party are putting this on the agenda in a big way as well.”

This centrist “middle party” is embodied by Peter Omtzgut, the former Christian Democrat who founded the New Social Contract over the summer. Polling has already risen to the point where he will do that Play a major role In coalition talks once the votes are counted.

After years of campaigning on behalf of marginalized members of society and exposing government scandals, tackling poverty has become one of his main campaign themes.

“There is a long list of things we need to do to challenge this cost of living crisis,” he told reporters at a campaign event. “We will make life’s basic necessities accessible to all,” his party’s manifesto says, with measures including reforming taxes and welfare rules to give people more disposable income.

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

“To make sure people working full-time can make ends meet, we will raise the minimum wage,” the party’s statement said. “To address child poverty, we will provide targeted support to families with children.”

Highlighting how this issue transcends traditional party lines, it is led by two centre-left parties Former EU climate chief Frans Timmermans He suggests some of the same solutions. It calls for the Dutch minimum wage to be raised to 16 euros ($17.40) per hour. For employees over 21 years of age, the current minimum is €12.79 for a 36-hour work week.

For some workers and others living on welfare benefits, this is not enough.

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

Just 18 months ago, the food bank in Leidschendam Vorburg, a municipality of about 78,000 that recently ranked fifth in a survey of the most “livable” cities in the Netherlands, had 140 clients. This number rose to 250 as the cost of living crisis swept around the world, and the wealthy Netherlands was not excluded. Kuipers said that these 250 families number up to 700 people.

The real number of people on the breadline may be much higher. The Kuipers Food Bank in Leidschendam-Vorburg estimates that the real number of people eligible for food aid could be two or three times higher.

He is now waiting to see how the elections will end and a new constellation of parties will join forces to run the country.

He said the party’s programs were “full of beautiful words and relatively few precise measures.”

He is watching to see “how these beautiful words will translate into concrete actions” after the election.

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