Poverty

Health crisis has exacerbated poverty in France, says food charity

A food distribution centre in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris run by Restos du Coeur. The French charity begun its 37th donation drive on Tuesday 23 November, 2021.
A food distribution centre in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris run by Restos du Coeur. The French charity begun its 37th donation drive on Tuesday 23 November, 2021. © Thomas Giraudeau/RFI

The French charity Les Restos du Coeur has begun its 37th annual winter fundraising campaign warning that the health crisis had exacerbated existing poverty levels.

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The charity organisation Les Restos du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart), founded in 1982 by the French actor Coluche has helped 1.2 million people since November 2020, 59,000 of those people with babies.

It has distributed 142 million meals compared to 136 million the previous year.

It  also says the number of people lining up for food handouts continues to increase as the Covid-19 epidemic persists.

"We can really see the situation is getting worse, but particularly for those who are already vulnerable," charity president Patrice Douret told French news agency AFP.

Fifty-three percent of those receiving aid said they had lost income because of the health crisis, while 15 percent said the crisis had forced them to turn to charities such as Les Restos du Coeur for help.

"We are very worried about young people and single mothers," Douret said, adding that 40 percent of those receiving the charity's help were under 18 years-of-age.

On social media, the organisation says one of its roles, besides food aid, is to provide social contact for people who have become isolated due to their circumstances.

Difficult choices

Douret says the government's recent positive rhetoric over the pick up in the economy doesn't factor in those who are living those with uncertain incomes.

With presidential elections next year, President Emmanuel Macron is keen to valorise his economic performance. He has been reminding his potential opponents that his policy of "whatever it takes" be it unemployment benefits or handouts is paying off.

He pointed to estimates by the Insee - the French national statistics agency - body showing that poverty levels for November this year were on a par with 2020 despite fears that they would spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, in the field, charities and NGOs are warning that those in the poorest bracket are having to make difficult choices. With the rise in fuel and gas prices, some are having to choose between paying their electricity bills or eating properly, Douret noted.

Last week, the Secours Catholique charity also underlined the gravity of the situation in their annual report, saying that nearly 10 percent of the population needed food aid.

The Federation of Food Banks, which is organising its annual national food collection campaign 26th-28th of November says they saw a six percent increase in handouts in 2020, with the numbers of needy families up again this year.

In a bid to adapt to changing situations in society,  Les Restos du Coeur have also started a service where volunteers go out to seek those who might be afraid to ask for help or not physically able to come and collect food, especially in rural areas.

With 30 mobile units in the field now, they are hoping to double the number in the coming months.

The distribution of food from stalls in the street has also shot up by 25 percent in the last two years.

More help from EU

Although one meal in four provided by Restos du Coeur is paid for by European funds, the charity says it is appealing to  Brussels to better manage aid for the poorest members of society.

"There's a problem concerning tinned vegetables, notably green beans, and there's no supplier responding to the tender put out by the state to provide these products," Patrice Douret says.

Despite the widening of the gap between rich and poor, French people have shown themselves to be "very generous," he says, "but we'll need them to keep giving."

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