Analysis of requests for help to the Society of Vincent de Paul (SVP) last year shows that the most common presenting issue is food poverty.
Annually, SVP spends between €11m to €12m per year helping households with the cost of food.
“Our experience shows that food is an area of expenditure that families have discretion over on a day-to-day basis. It is much easier to control the cost of food than the cost of rent, utilities or education for example. So food is typically what families cut back on when times are tough. Rising housing costs means that this is increasingly the case." said Dr. Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice
According to research from the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice the average cost of a healthy food basket for a two parent household with two school aged children living in urban area is €146 per week, this is compared to €160 for the same type of household living in a rural area.
Also data from the Survey of Income and Living Conditions estimates that 1-in-11 people in Ireland experience food poverty, which refers to the inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.
Dr Kielthy said “While costs of food have decreased in recent years, some households are better able to avail of cheaper food than others. People living in rural areas without access to a car can’t take advantage of deals and offers in the larger supermarkets and local convenience shops tend to be more expensive. Healthy food is also more expensive and when you are reliant on a low income, a bigger proportion of your overall budget goes on food. If you have teenagers in the household the cost of food is going to be about 30% higher.
“As well as the health impacts of a poor diet, we should also be concerned about the impacts of food poverty on children’s social, emotional and educational outcomes. When children go to school hungry it has an impact on their well-being, concentration and attention levels, behaviour, learning and motivation.
“While the School Meal’s Programme is a key part of the response to this issue, we also need to look at longer term solutions that tackle the underlying causes of food poverty. The inability to access a healthy diet is a complex issue that incorporates issues low income, educational disadvantage, lack of transport and the costs education, housing and utilities.
“The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is currently developing a new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion and it is critical that this plan is ambitious, properly resourced and deals effectively with the issues low pay, the adequacy of social welfare, and the accessibility and affordability of public services. In order to have real and sustained poverty reduction, including food poverty, It is essential that the plan has buy in and support from all Government departments.”