Uncovering food poverty in Ireland

    It is estimated that about 350,000 people, approximately 7% of the Irish population, are impacted by food poverty.  

    The causes and impact on those 350,000 people are explored in a new comprehensive study of food poverty which is launched today, 

    Entitled “Uncovering Food Poverty in Ireland; A Hidden Deprivation” this study provides compelling evidence of the need for additional policies to be adopted to support households on lower incomes and address food poverty. It also provide policy makers, academics and students interested in poverty and inequality with an essential reference point.

    It was launched today at the national office of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) by  Mr. Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Departments of Social Protection and Rural and Community Development with special responsibility for Community Development and Charities. 

    Pictured at the launch of "Uncovering Food Poverty in Ireland; A Hidden Deprivation” at the national office of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul were Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice; Dr Michael Drew; Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Departments of Social Protection and Rural and Community Development with special responsibility for Community Development and Charities and Rose McGowan, SVP National President.

    The Minister said; “As Minister with responsibility for the Roadmap for Social Inclusion I have made the issue of food Poverty a priority within my Department. Last year I established a Working Group on Food Poverty to identify the drivers of food poverty and to help design mitigation measures. The group, which I Chair, comprising statutory and NGO organisations is deep into that work & will be publishing an update shortly. Nobody should be living in food poverty.  Food poverty is a complicated and multi-factorial issue and this publication adds to our understanding of the causes and possible solutions.” 

    In over 200 pages  the author, Dr Michael Drew offers the first full-length study of this significant and protracted issue that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. He says that the financial impact of the pandemic has disproportionally affected groups that are already at high risk of food poverty, such as low-income families with children, lone parents, people with disabilities and renters.

    His work explores the international landscape of food poverty and situates both experiences and responses in a comparative context. It considers how these results contribute to an understanding of the problem and what action should be taken. 

    Michael Drew holds a PhD from the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin, and has researched food poverty in Ireland over a five-year period. He has first-hand experience of the topic, having volunteered for many years with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Ireland’s largest voluntary charitable organisation. 

    Drew says that food poverty in 21st-century Ireland remains largely overlooked, reflecting a paucity of research and only occasional media coverage.  His hope is that this book will heighten awareness and help inform policy responses to address the root causes of food poverty in Ireland.
    A significant part of this study includes interviews with users of food aid, such as food banks. A complex picture  emerges from these interviews showing how the pathways into and through food poverty of those interviewed are impacted by the policies and practices of government and employers with wide-ranging implications. The interviews highlight the pathways through and lived experience of food poverty. including the emotional experience of obtaining food aid and living in food poverty as well as the impacts of these experiences, including hunger and social exclusion. The discussion also reveals multidimensional aspects of life on a low income, including fuel poverty, and how respondents use multiple strategies to cope with these challenges. 

    Speaking at the launch SVP national president Rose McGowan said that the interviews reflected the  circumstances which are seen every day by SVP members.
    I am always struck by the variety of circumstances which lead people to ensure that there is food available for their families, giving priority to other payments such as rent or repairing some household equipment. for example. 

    Two quotes in particular from this study has resonated with me. One from Joy who put staying out of rent arrears ahead of having sufficient food for her family, ‘I got a notice of eviction from my landlord, because I couldn’t pay the rent. So I needed to pay the rent and, in order to pay the rent, I had to come up here and get food. Rather than spend an extra €20 or €30 on shopping, I’d have to put it towards the rent.’ 

    The other from a man explaining  the difficulty in accessing help when a  kitchen appliance breaks down ‘You have to pay for the man to come and have a look ... to make sure it’s not working ... you have to get a registered gas man or a shop that does reconditioned fridges or cookers, you have to pay them 20 euro ... to come out. Then they give you a receipt, then you bring it up to them [Social Welfare] and then they look at it and they say “yes” or say “no”. If they say “no”, you might not get your money back ... you’ve lost.’ 

    “Michael Drew has done a great services in producing this study. His book builds the case for decisive action from the government and assistance that prioritises people’s dignity, choice and self-sufficiency.”  

    Responding to food poverty

    This study describes the distribution of food aid in Ireland as quite fragmented with several charitable organisations actively involved. Much of the supply of food aid is underpinned by Ireland’s participation in the EU’s Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD).

    Michael Drew says, “The FEAD programme and the availability of surplus food continue to have a significant impact on the landscape of food aid in Ireland. For many of those experiencing food poverty, this ongoing food aid provides a continuation of emergency short-term support for a problem with deeper roots.

    Rather than focusing on short term measures that fail to tackle the structural causes, food poverty needs to be addressed with further investment in Ireland’s anti-poverty infrastructure. Much progress can be made through the introduction of a living wage, income security and a responsive, adequately funded welfare system. The Government has established a target to reduce consistent poverty to 2% or less by 2025 (from 5.6% in 2018). Acting now on food poverty would send a clear signal of serious intent to meet these targets.”  
    Uncovering Food Poverty in Ireland; A Hidden Deprivation is published by Policy Press, an imprint of Bristol University Press.  It is available through the publisher's website at £85 (hardback) and an EPub version is available on Amazonkindle at £29.99.


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