Food poverty has increased in Ireland since the beginning of the recession with almost ten per cent of the population reporting that they do not have enough money to buy food.1 Households headed by one parent or larger families with three or more children are more likely to experience food poverty as are people with low incomes or who have never worked.2
Existing food banks or charitable organisations that provide meals have reported an increase in the amount of food needed to cope with demand. In 2014, the Capuchin Daycare Centre in Dublin is providing approximately 4000 meals each week in addition to distributing 1000 food parcels.3 Other food banks are being established outside Dublin to deal with the estimated 600,000 people in need of support.4
The right to food includes the right to have access to an adequate amount of available and nutritious food. However, the high cost of healthy food choices presents a major barrier to ensuring that people on low incomes can afford and access a nutritious diet, as foods high in fat, sugar and salt have been found to be up to ten times cheaper than healthier food options.5 In 2012, fresh fruit and vegetables in Ireland cost 38 per cent more than the EU average while dairy products cost 19 per cent more.6 Value Added Tax (VAT) does not apply to most basic foods7 including milk, butter, meat and bread meaning the real cost of food may be even higher.8 Food represents one of the biggest expenses for families, particularly those with small infants and/or adolescents as the cost is higher due to types and amounts of food required by these groups of children.9 Furthermore, disadvantaged children are more likely to be overweight or suffer from obesity10 as families on lower incomes are more likely to rely on cheaper foods which often provide ‘the most energy for the lowest cost’ and live further away from shops selling healthy food at affordable prices.11
Asylum seekers in particular face difficulties in accessing adequate food because they are accommodated in direct provision centres where they are not allowed to cook for themselves or store food in their rooms as all meals are provided on a full-board basis.12The number of self-catering centres was reduced from six in 2009 to two by 2011 on foot of a policy decision taken by the Government Reception and Integration Agency.13 Residents have routinely criticised the food provided in direct provision centres as ‘inedible, of poor quality, monotonous, bland, and culturally inappropriate’.14 Issues have also been raised about the lack of nutritional food available for residents in particular for those with dietary requirements15 and the lack of autonomy in relation to food choices.16 Parents of young children experience a lack of parental control over when they can wean their babies from formula milk onto solid food.17
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Introduce a food poverty indicator and update it on an annual basis to take account of current prices.
Target resources at ensuring that people do not suffer from food poverty and are able to access affordable and nutritious food.
1 Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (2014) Society at a Glance 2014 Highlights: Ireland the crisis and its aftermath, Paris: OECD, p.3.
2 C. Carney and B. Maitre (2012) Social Inclusion Technical Paper No. 3 Constructing a Food Poverty Indicator for Ireland using the Survey on Income and Living Conditions, Dublin: Department of Social Protection, p.34.
3 Information available online at: http://bit.ly/CapuchinDayServices [accessed 15 July 2014].
4 S. O’Riordan, ‘Food Banks to Tackle Poverty Crisis’, Irish Examiner, 4 April 2014, http://bit.ly/ExaminerFoodBanks [accessed 15 July 2014].
5 Food Safety Authority of Ireland (2011) Scientific Recommendations for Healthy Eating in Ireland, Dublin: FSAI, p. 41.
6 Central Statistics Office (2013) Price Level Indices for Food, Beverages and Tobacco in Europe 2012, Cork: CSO.
7 Information available online at: http://bit.ly/RevenueFoodDrink [accessed 16 July 2014].
8 European Commission  VAT Rates Applied in the Member States of the European Union: Situation at 1st July 2014, Brussels: European Commission, p.4.
9 Dr. B. MacMahon, G. Weld, R. Thornton and Dr. M. Collins (2012) The Cost of a Child: A consensual budget standards study examining the direct cost of a child across childhood, Dublin: Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, pp.32-33.
10 R. Layte and C. McCrory (2011) Growing up in Ireland ‐ Overweight and obesity among 9‐year olds. Dublin: Stationery Office.
11 R. Layte and C. McCrory (2011) Growing Up in Ireland – Overweight and obesity among 9 year olds, report 2, Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
12 Reception and Integration Agency (2011) RIA House Rules & Procedures, Dublin: RIA, p.14.
13 Information available online at: http://bit.ly/RIAselfcateringinfo [accessed 21 July 2014].
14 K. Barry (2014) What’s Food Got To Do With It: Food Experiences of Asylum Seekers in Direct Provision, Cork: Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, p.7.
15 S. Arnold (2012) State Sanctioned Poverty and Social Exclusion: The case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers, Dublin: Irish Refugee Council, pp.20-22.
16 C. Breen (2008) The policy of Direct Provision in Ireland: a violation of asylum seekers` right to an adequate standard of housing, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
17 FLAC (2009) One Size Doesn’t Fit All: A legal analysis of the direct provision and dispersal system in Ireland, 10 years on, Dublin: FLAC, p.104.
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