As poverty spreads in the Netherlands, soaring interest rates and energy prices make it harder for people in Groningen to make ends meet or even afford basic needs.
A recent report published by the Government predicts that 1 in 13 people in the Netherlands will be affected by poverty in 2023.
Meanwhile, in his annual speech to the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives, King Willem-Alexander announced the government’s plans to invest 18 billion Euros to combat inflation and install energy price caps.
These measures have arrived too late according to Erik Meij, who has investigated poverty in the north of the country on behalf of the Groningen Institute for Social Research. “The government’s plans were very last-minute and the damage may already have been done. People have been hit already.”
Experts like Erik Meij fear that the cost of living crisis will be felt in every layer of society. “A whole new group of people with previously steady financial backgrounds are now vulnerable. And just look at what happened to a big company like Aldel in Delfzijl that could not pay its energy bills and had to lay off hundreds of people already. This coming winter will be a hard one.”
Households all over the Netherlands are affected by an energy price increase of 30-50 % or more, as well as an inflation rate of 17 % that is unprecedented by Dutch standards. International sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine have caused Russian oil and gas, on which the Netherlands largely rely, as well as grain to be in short supply, making prices surge.
Poverty causes stress and often goes hand in hand with feelings of shame. Not every one will admit that they are struggling with it.
“It is very difficult to determine the exact number of people that cannot make ends meet, also because there are people who will be affected who never have been before. Local authorities like municipalities should know, but they don’t,” according to Erik Meij.
Hilde Timmer from the municipality of Groningen confirms the picture is incomplete, but remarks that “ we do receive significantly more requests for financial aid from people who can no longer pay their bills, or have nothing left for recreational purposes or clothes and food.”
People who struggle to get by increasingly shop at thrift stores or get help from food banks. Maria Jongsma, director of Foodbank Groningen, sounds the alarm: “the situation is very, very bad at the moment. We get 30 new cases every week, which is definitely a lot more than it ought to be in a city like Groningen.”
The goods distributed by foodbanks are mostly surplus from supermarkets or other businesses, meaning there are few supply problems. The same cannot be said for charity shops that rely on donations.
Second hand goods shops like Mamamini in Groningen fear they may soon have empty aisles. “We have definitely more demand than supply right now. People are not buying new things at the moment because they cannot afford them due to the energy prices and so on. So that means they don’t bring us their old stuff,” says Lianne Stoltenborg from Mamamini.