This week the European Commission held a conference to launch the FEAD Network – a community of practice designed to support the implementation of the European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived Persons (FEAD). Often this European fund is used to support food distribution and other basic material needs but it is also possible to use the fund to support targeted social inclusion initiatives. Many of our members are involved in the programme and we were delighted to see members from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, France, Czech Republic and from Salvation Army Europe attend the launch conference.
The FEAD network wishes to encourage exchanging best practice in meeting the needs of the most deprived in Europe and encourage collaboration among the different organisations who are involved in the programme. Some of our members present at the conference already started to make such connections so the network could well be on its way to success.
Yet there is another issue that needs to be addressed. Why are our members having to do this work in the first place? Why are their increasing numbers of people who face extreme deprivation and exclusion in our societies? I was asked to address the conference on this issue and how our members are engaged locally. One of the points I raised that there was a danger that we were beginning to normalise services such as food banks or clothing distribution within our welfare systems and indeed in our collective consciousness. I am not sure we are shocked any longer to see the rise in the number of such services. Although the services are needed, they are needed often because of fundamental structural inequalities and weaknesses in our economic and social systems. Weaknesses that engender conditionality that present people getting the support they need from the state, weaknesses that create gaps in our welfare systems through which some people fall through, weaknesses that mean people facing sudden social risk are not able to get assistance quickly and so a cycle of poverty begins. It is not enough to treat the wounds, we have to treat the cause.
What struck me once again at this conference was that our members are doing both – treating the wounds of injustice and putting a spoke in the wheels of injustice – and that is what will bring about the structural change we need to fight extreme poverty and destitution.
Have a good weekend,