Published: our working paper on food banks and the right to minimum income protection


Working Paper The making of a European Social Union: The case of food banks and the right to minimum income protection

Johanna Greiss,  Karen Hermans and Bea Cantillon – EuSocialCit researchers affiliated with the University of Antwerp – published a working paper on the role of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) as last resort social protection.

With the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the European Union (EU) is involved in the field of last resort social protection. The fund supports local initiatives across Europe, mainly by subsidising charity food aid. Recently, the fund became part of the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the EU’s main funding instrument to support the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The question arises whether FEAD might become an instrument in the making of a European Social Union and, if so, how.

The paper addresses the following questions. First, how important is FEAD funding and to what extent is it geared towards poor Member States with greater social needs? Second, how important is food aid in general and FEAD in particular to supplement insufficient minimum income protection for the poor? Third, to what extent is food aid embedded in and supported by (welfare) state institutions? Fourth, how important are FEAD ‘accompanying measures’ for the strengthening of individual power resources? The paper builds on primary and secondary data and includes case study research covering eight European countries and four European cities.

FEAD organises an – albeit very limited – form of pan-European solidarity. There is a positive correlation between countries’ budgets and national social needs. Moreover, although FEAD budgets are very small, in some poorer countries they are not trivial compared to, for instance, national unemployment and social exclusion spending.

The relatively limited budgetary size compared to needs and the loose pan-European solidarity involved become also apparent in the monetary value of aid packages for needy Europeans. While in general, food aid is not insignificant for social assistance recipients, FEAD’s share in food aid packages is small. Moreover, by taking a pan-European benchmark, it becomes apparent that, compared to the efforts needed in order to lift minimum incomes to the EU-wide poverty threshold (defined as 60% of European median incomes), the funds are relatively smaller in poor countries than in the richer ones. Likewise, a theoretical distribution of FEAD aid among severe materially deprived European citizens suggests that the funding per deprived person is significantly higher in rich countries than in poor countries.

There are relevant ties between food aid organisations and public actors. The latter not only subsidise food aid but, in various European countries, provide food aid themselves. Our findings indicate that many food aid users are not outsiders of welfare state institutions: Many of them are social assistance recipients and low wage earners. Our findings suggest that FEAD plays a not insignificant role in what might be labelled as an increasing penetration of food aid in welfare state institutions.
FEAD also promotes social inclusion measures to complement food aid. By supporting food aid users and referring them to competent social services, FEAD could contribute to the strengthening of instrumental power resources. However, since FEAD budgets are small and food aid is often associated with issues like stigmatisation and the dependence on the professionals’ discretion, it is questionable whether the overall FEAD programme is able to strengthen social rights.

Nonetheless, the question arises whether and how FEAD might be used as a stop-gap measure in a political strategy aimed at the implementation of the right to adequate minimum income protection for European citizens. For this purpose, as a first step, funds should be increased and distributed more according to Member State’s social and economic needs, and the use of funds should be revisited (e.g. by focusing more on accompanying measures and by encouraging the use of food vouchers). If, in this process, the EU wants to avoid shifting responsibilities from the national to the European level, binding agreements on minimum income standards would become a necessity. Hence, FEAD could ultimately foster social citizenship by contributing to structural improvements of rights-based social protection.