Hungary’s hungry: “We will starve to death”

December 26, 2014


The ability of Hungary’s poorest, including children, to survive is threatened by government changes to child support, kindergarten support, social supports and the free children feeding program.

Today some 3.3 million people are living in poverty in Hungary.  Social exclusion and child poverty are growing and deepening.  However, the numbers have lost their weight and are repeated more frequently in vain.  The government either does not hear them are does not want to hear them.  According to Network Against Poverty, a Hungarian NGO devoted to helping the poor, the government is conducting a war against the fallen and those living in poverty.  The government is looking for a scapegoat, and it has found it in the poor because it believes them to be weak.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone but the ones making decisions have no idea what tensions exist under the surface of some remote settlements,” says Network Against Poverty coordinator Kristina Jász.  One woman she interviewed recently told her “we will starve to death”.

The government’s socio-political measures have criminalized poverty and offer no way out of poverty.  The Network Against Poverty has serious problems with the following ideas:

  • Conditioning payment of  family support on work.  The organization believes that the lives of 200-250,000 children will be threatened in the future if only those families qualify where at least one adult works.  This will further increase poverty and, together with this, child poverty.  Ágnes Darvas, president of the Association for Children’s Opportunity, believes this to be among the most dramatic socio-economic changes.  “Next year’s budget is perfectly compatible with the process that serves the cause of strengthening control over the poor.”  In theory every child is entitled to receive the family support, however it is already limited in that it is conditioned on school attendance.  Depriving families with children of the family support was inconceivable to date.  “The family support plays the largest role in reducing child poverty.  Tying it to work and kindergarten attendance harms precisely those in the worse situation, which could lead to a catastrophic situation,” says Darvas.
  • Limiting the range of participants that qualify for the free children feeding program.
  • Eliminating the kindergarten support, which Darvas believes was at least good in providing help for basic things, such as shoes or personal hygiene products for school.
  • Not increasing the child protection discount for years.  At present, the poor are entitled to receive HUF 5,800 twice a year in the form of a so-called Erzsébet voucher that can be redeemed at grocery stores and other places.
  • Elimination of the employment centers, which is unprecedented within the European Union.  The organization believes that with this decision the government is also letting go of the hand of the middle class.
  • As a result of these actions regional differences are going to grow significantly, and the under-privileged regions will not be able to close the gap, says Krisztina Jász, who thinks it is incredible that when deciding on these socio-political changes the government completely ignored civil organizations and those affected.

The civil organization believes there are  among the one million poor today those who have lived in poverty for generations who do not even see the possibility of breaking out of poverty.

  • Children who live in damp flats grow up without receiving enough food and their families cannot send them to university.
  • Young people just starting out who can hardly find work, even though they are told to save and created an environment of self-sufficiency because they will not receive a pension.
  • Those supporting families and themselves will be forced to move abroad.
  • Those who have worked for decades but have never earned enough to survive, and if they lose their jobs it can happen that they never find new workplaces.
  • People who work their entire lives, pensioners, who have no prospects for living in an acceptable manner.

The current socio-political processes and numbers appearing in the budget for next year have caused the Network Against Poverty to start a petition.  Their objective is for the government to change its direction to date and rethink how much it takes away from what.