VOORBURG, Netherlands -- Needy families are lining up for free handouts at food banks across the Netherlands, underscoring how poverty is taking root even in lower middle-class families and why tackling it has become a major theme in Wednesday's parliamentary election.
The cost-of-living crisis, a chronic shortage of social and affordable housing and limits on access to affordable health care have combined to become known by the catch-all title "security of existence" in election campaigning, and it is a topic all parties are addressing in their election programs.
The centrist "middle party" is personified by Pieter Omtzigt, a former Christian Democrat who set up the New Social Contract party over the summer. It is already polling so high that he will play a key role in coalition talks once the votes have been counted.
After years campaigning on behalf of marginalized members of society and uncovering government scandals, tackling poverty is one of his two main campaign themes.
"There is a long list of things we need to do to challenge that cost-of-living crisis," he told reporters at a campaign event. "We will make the primary necessities of life affordable," his party's manifesto says, with measures including reforming taxation and welfare rules to give people more disposable income.
The center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- traditionally seen as a party for the wealthy and a supporter of the free-market economy -- is also pledging to help.
"To make sure people who work full-time can make ends meet, we will raise the minimum wage," the party's manifesto pledges. "To tackle childhood poverty, we will give targeted support to families with children."
Underscoring how the issue cuts across traditional party lines, a center-left, two-party bloc led by former European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans proposes some of the same solutions. It advocates raising the Dutch minimum wage to $17.40 per hour. For employees aged over 21 years, the current minimum is $13.97 for a 36-hour work week.
The national umbrella organization for 176 Dutch food banks says that they serve a total of 38,000 households -- 100,000 people -- each week and that 1.2 million people live below the poverty line. The number is down slightly from a year ago when inflation was soaring.
The true number of people on the breadline may be much higher. The Leidschendam-Voorburg food bank estimates that the true number of people eligible for food aid could be two to three times higher.