Child hunger in Hungary must be solved together says Timea Szabó

November 10, 2015


“The rate of poverty among single earner households which was 10% in 2005-2012 was 25% in 2014.  While 21% of families with three or more children lived in poverty in 2010, by 2012 this had already grown to 41%, and by 2014 to 50%.  The TÁRKI study ordered by the government calls attention to the fact that in our country child bearing carries with it the risk of impoverishment.” – Timea Szabó, co-chair, Dialogue for Hungary

Dialogue for Hungary (PM) co-chair Timea Szabó has written an open letter to Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog in the wake of opposition on the part of governing party politicians to parliament taking up the issue of ending child hunger for fear that it would make the political opposition look good.

Below is our translation of the letter:

Open letter to Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere regarding child hunger

Dear Minister, Dear Undersecretary:

Over the past few days an embittering debate has taken place in connection with child hunger in Hungary.  The Minister and Undersecretary personally met with the civil initiators of the National Minimum proposal.   Everybody—all the historical churches and small churches sought out, civil organizations, researchers, local governments, and the two of you as well—agreed that the problem is serious.  The draft national assembly resolution, which is supported by the research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Maltese, and TÁRKI, the product of a long and thorough work, was accepted by politicians on September 26th on the stage of the Minimum (charity) Concert which they signed without modification.  There was nothing in it that was unreachable or unrealizable.  It merely states that the issue of child hunger … be a matter of a national priority (minimum) whose elimination we would all work towards regardless of differences in organizational forms or religions, and political allegiance.  So that every child and pregnant mother could eat at least one hot meal a day.  This is a gesture, an open hand from the many hundreds of artists who can no longer bear to watch as tens of thousands of children suffer.  Who believe that more can and should be done than the present efforts.  This is an initiative that offers peace in the political war, a proposal which many, including we opposition politicians, believe it is not possible to say no to.  And I know that you also think so.

Then came the Social Welfare committee meeting.  The governing party alliance representatives came who, perhaps not understanding but certainly killing the spirit of one year’s work, started speaking about the National Minimum in an entirely different way.   Instead of understanding and cooperation, they cheapened it in an accusatory and stigmatic tone of “left-wing attack”.  I will not go into the details, as the Minster and Undersecretary saw and heard what happened. 

Nor will I detail the extent to which this is not a left-wing matter, since Katalin Csöbör (Fidesz) and Dóra Dúró (Jobbik) also signed the proposal.  Furthermore, the Minister and Undersecretary certainly know that the proposal does not come from myself or any other politician.   All I personally had to do with it was that the initiator, Péter Horgas, called me last December after the governing party representatives sitting on the budget committee voted down my proposal that would have provided children food during the winter school break.  Péter said that as a civilian and a musician, he felt that he had to do something.  By that time I had actively dealt with the issue of child hunger for three years, and when the civil initiative came together, I myself offered to step back from the issue as a politician until the date of the concert precisely because I did not want anyone to stigmatize their work. 

And, just to show how much this is not an opposition matter: the organizers informed all the politicians that there will only be a formal resolution if the governing parties also sign it.  If only opposition representatives, then there will be no National Minimum.  And that is precisely what happened.

Dear Minister, Dear Undersecretary:

I know that ending child hunger is important for you, and I know that you have done things towards this.  I also know that over the past five years top government leadership has changed the political culture in order to kill any kind of cooperation between us, even if previously we could work together.   I am now asking that we do something against this.  Let us show that we have had enough of being torn apart and of division.  Let us show them that we know that child hunger is neither a “left-wing” nor a “right-wing”  issue.  There is just child hunger which we are collectively working (to resolve).

Because there is much to do.  50,000 children go hungry every day.  Those are also seriously deprived who eat for free at nursery and kindergarten because many among them get nothing to eat between 4 pm and 8 am the next morning.  Half a million children participate regularly in child protection assistance, who at the weekend and during school breaks do not receive a hot meal every day.  The child feeding taking place during the summer only reaches a third of poor children.  The winter, spring, fall break is an enormous problem, with feeding only taking place in a few settlements where the local government solves the problem.  Many tens of thousands of children attend no institution from the time they are babies to the age of three, and in this way receive no real assistance, not even from the local child protection officer.   And then there are the expectant mothers, the unresolved logistical problems of feeding, and the exhaustion of local governments. 

The amount of money allocated to feeding children has actually increased over the past years (from HUF 38 billion in 2010 to HUF 71 billion in 2016).  But at the same time poverty has also drastically increased, unfortunately.  According to TÁRKI data: the rate of poverty among single earner households which was 10% in 2005-2012 was 25% in 2014.  While 21% of families with three or more children lived in poverty in 2010, by 2012 this had already grown to 41%, and by 2014 to 50%.  The TÁRKI study ordered by the government calls attention to the fact that in our country child bearing carries with it the risk of impoverishment. 

Dear Minister, Dear Undersecretary:

The National Minimum Program does not involve an additional expenditure of HUF 8 billion as the Undersecretary told ATV, but much more than that.  A complex program does not only assume additional state sources exceeding tens of billions of fortunes in addition to existing sources (minimally an additional HUF 50 billion would be necessary annually).  It is also necessary to systematically reorganize child feeding, solve the logistical problems, interconnect child and family helping organs, and many other tasks.  This must be solved together.  As you accepted previous recommendations of mine, such as the one pertaining to the relaxing of criteria with regard to local government tenders, surely we can also work together on this.  I request that when the National Assembly meets on November 16th to discuss the National Minimum proposal, that you support it!  It is not too late to say that once again you stand with the civil organizations.   Do not sweep it aside by claiming that you are already taking care of matters while the opposition “goes off at the mouth”.  Especially as you know this is not true.  Political debate are not devilish.  They do not debase the subject of the debate, but improve it.  Don’t be afraid of it!  Over the course of the debate you can say what you’ve done so far, and we on the other hand will say what we think is still necessary to do.  Let us not look backwards, but forwards.  

But I will say something else.  If you do not succeed in persuading your fractions to support the common proposal, then I will join other opposition members by offering to retract my signature from the submission.  Submit it as your own and I will support it.  I am certain that the civilians will understand that this does not constitute a real retreat from the topic, but precisely the opposite.   Let us be remembered in history as those who really wanted to solve the problem of child hunger, and did not bite the extended hand of help.  Wouldn’t it be great for you to be able to claim that during your government you eliminated child hunger in Hungary?

Because this national shame must be urgently resolved.  Not in 2017.  Now.  

Relying on your cooperation, respectively,

Timea Szabó

PM co-chair, member of parliament

Budapest, November 8th, 2015