The government has said "nobody should be living in food poverty" after a new study indicated it may be an issue for as much as 7% of the population.
The research, by Dr Michael Drew from the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin, suggests that food poverty has been exacerbated by Covid-19, with the financial impact of the pandemic disproportionally affecting groups already at high risk, such as low-income families with children, lone parents, people with disabilities and renters.
It estimates that approximately 350,000 people are impacted by food poverty, with a reliance on food banks and other sources, facilitated by Ireland’s participation in the EU’s Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD).
The research was launched at the national offices of the St Vincent de Paul and SVP national president Rose McGowan said its findings matched the observations made 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," she said.
“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 ... 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.’"
Dr Drew said: “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."
Speaking at the launch, 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, said: "Nobody should be living in food poverty.
"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 and will be publishing an update shortly."