Budgets bite as EU homeless go hungry

Europe's social welfare programs, the EU's pride for decades, face the axe as the economic crunch bites deeper. Among them are poverty safety nets which provide food and care for the homeless.

­A new motion in the Europarliament claims that homelessness can be ended in the EU by 2015. But those on the frontline helping people living on the streets say this is fantasy, with the numbers of people without a roof over their heads soaring. With the EU itself about to stop a scheme providing free meals, things are expected to get worse.

“The European Union is ending its food aid program, which feeds millions every year. Yet more people than ever are coming through our doors,” Jean-Pierre Gueguen, head of the Secours Populaire soup kitchen told RT.

Protestors are angry that spending cuts target the poor. But they are also furious saying they are being lied to. With elections next April, the Sarkozy administration claims poverty on his watch has dropped below 14 per cent.

Charities on the ground say the real figure is higher and rising fast claiming that one in seven French people now live below the poverty line, with state austerity moves to blame.

At a soup kitchen outside Paris, social workers say they are shocked by how many now call this their only meal. The most common reason given is government cuts in social spending.

The income below which people are defined officially as living in poverty in France is just under 1000 euros a month, but the state safety net is well below that meaning many are desperate.

“500 euros a month is what I now get from the government. That puts a roof over my head, not enough to eat,” said Helen, one of the unemployed in France.

Cash-strapped EU governments elsewhere across the EU are under pressure to get more people off benefits.

“If they don't search for a job or not enough, we can close or make an end to unemployment,” stated Hugo Boonaert, head of the National employment service.

With jobseekers being squeezed out of social security, the face of Europe's homeless is changing.

“We've got many young, able-bodied people coming to us for the first time. With the end of EU funding we just can't feed them anymore,” explained Gueguen.

Economists say skimping on the poor is not even good business. The price of treating health and crime problems linked with life on the streets far outweighs whatever is saved by cuts.

“Social benefits systems should support people who are very poor,” maintained economist Zsolt Darvas.

France's four main charities are warning of a, “humanitarian crisis”, as homeless numbers spiral out of control.

In their parallel world meanwhile, EU chiefs congratulate themselves that homelessness is coming to an end.