By Peter Stevenson
UNEMPLOYED women aged between 36 and 45 make up the majority of those receiving aid from Limassol food bank according to a recent survey.
There is also an increasing trend of mental illness in those visiting the food banks which has been attributed to the difficult situation many people find themselves in.
The survey titled: ‘The characteristics and needs of Limassol Municipality’s food bank beneficiaries’ recorded that beyond the financial difficulties faced, many people require psychological help.
According to social worker Christina Tsiambarta, the financial crisis and the ongoing struggles have put social cohesion at risk of collapse.
“The establishment and functioning of food banks the last two years demonstrates the necessity of meeting basic needs , which in previous years were taken for granted in a country with fairly high standards of living,” she said .
The situation has created a class of people that could be called the ‘nouveau poor’, she said.
According to the statistics from the food bank, a total of 4,320 food packages were given out to an average of 200 families a month during 2013.
A total of 210 food packages were handed out without the required applications in 2013, some 620 new applications were submitted, 116 old applications were re-examined and 77 applications were rejected.
“Continued assistance and support has meant we are now looking to find methods and practices which can help solve the immediate problems people are faced with. The psycho-emotional trauma that many of the needy have can be helped by trying to empower them at the same time as offering them temporary aid,” Tsiambarta said.
According to the survey, the majority of those receiving aid are women (62.3 per cent) with 35.1 per cent aged between 36 and 45, and 24.7 per cent aged between 26 and 35. Three quarters of those polled said they were unemployed while less than ten per cent said they were underemployed.
“It is characteristic of the situation that new age groups are appearing in the category of the needy as usually they would normally be part of the active members of the population,” Tsiambarta said.
One third of people are renters with only 15.6 per cent owning their own home. “It is particularly noteworthy that 13 per cent of those polled said they were living in a relative’s or friend’s home because they could not meet their basic needs,” she added.
More than two thirds polled said that their troubles began during the last two years while 18.2 per cent said they began during the last three years. This indicates that the financial crisis began well before last March, Tsiambarta said.
Almost 60 per cent of those asked said they had gone ahead with making various residential changes, including finding a place with cheaper rent, renegotiating their loan repayments, selling their homes or even leaving their rented abode to live with friends or relatives.
Some 23.4 per cent of those polled said they had stopped their loan payments and 22.1 per cent have sold valuables or property to get-by. Educational consequences have meant that 13 per cent have pulled their children out of school.
“Most of the results show that these people have been severely affected by the crisis and are classified now as ‘nouveau poor’,” said Tsiambarta.
To cover their needs, 64.5 per cent said they had applied to other services for help with the majority of those (53.9 per cent) applying to social services and 22.3 per cent applying to Non-governmental Organisation and other charities.
Dealing with stress and work related anxiety seems to a point of major concern. Almost half of those polled (48, 7 per cent) said that they would participate in stress-management seminars, if they were given the opportunity.
In her conclusions, Tsiambarta notes that the rise in mental illness due to the financial crisis was alarming but what was more worrying was that only one in four of those polled seek the help of medical professional.
“There is a need for restructuring services provided,” Tsiambarta said, adding that Limassol municipality had hired three additional social workers and begun coordinating with the Cyprus Institute of Psychotherapy.
(Additional reporting by Constantinos Psillides)