What is food poverty?
Food poverty is defined as the “inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation” (Friel and Conlon 2004). In Ireland the main policy report dealing with the issue of food poverty is Food Poverty and Policy (2004), while in Northern Ireland the principal policy report is Food Poverty and Policy in Northern Ireland (2007). Both reports found similar findings:
- Low-income households are affected both by their income and the relatively high cost of healthy nutritious food.
- Low-income households spend a relatively higher share of their income on food. Despite this, they consume a less nutritionally balanced diet and suffer from higher rates of diet related chronic diseases.
- Low-income households tend to shop at local convenience stores, where prices are higher and the variety of food is poor. Often in deprived areas transport is an issue, with poor public transport links leading to households relying on taxis.
- The consumption of a healthy diet is affected by factors such as food preparation, cooking skills and storage.
- While low-income households may be aware of healthier options, financial and physical constraints limit their ability to purchase healthy food.
Food poverty in Ireland
A food poverty indicator has been developed based on the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), carried out by the Central Statistics Office. The Department of Social Protection published research (Carney & Maitre, 2012) based on SILC data from 2004-2010 which found that 10% of people in lreland (almost 450,000) were in food poverty.
The deprivation indicators used in the survey relate to food:
- Inability to afford a roast or vegetarian equivalent once a week
- Inability to afford a meal with meat (or vegetarian equivalent) every 2nd day
- Inability to afford a substantial meal on one day in the past two weeks due to lack of money.
The research identifies a number of households most at risk of food poverty:
- 18% if household is on low income#
- 18% if three or more children are under 18 in household
- 21% if head of household is ill/disabled
- 23% if household consists of a lone parent with one or more children
- 23% if head of household is unemployed.
Carney, C. and Maitre B. (2012) Constructing a Food Poverty Indicator for Ireland using the Survey on Income and Living Conditions.
The EU-SILC data also found that 14.4% of the general population and 28% of low-income households were unable to have family or friends over for a drink or a meal once a month.
The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey (2010) found that 21% of children report going to school or bed hungry because there is not enough food in the home. This is an increase from 16.6% in 2006.
Obesity in Ireland
The Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity (2005) and the SLÁN Report (2008) also found that those in the lower social classes are more likely to be overweight or obese.
Food Poverty in Northern Ireland
23% of people in Northern Ireland live in low-income households while 28% of children are living in poverty (Households Below Average Income 2009/10).
According to the Family Spending Survey (2011) the UK average weekly expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2010 was £53.20. This survey found that food is the fourth highest category of expenditure for households after transport, housing, fuel and power and recreation and culture.
59% of adults in Northern Ireland were either overweight (35%) or obese (24%) (NISRA Health and Social Wellbeing Survey 2005-06). In 2003/2004, approximately one in five boys and one in four girls in Northern Ireland were overweight or obese in primary one (DHSSPS 2006)