Food Poverty

Food Poverty is a multi-dimensional issue linked to a variety of factors which can be divided into four main themes:

Food poverty is on the rise in Ireland with over 600,000 people in the country being affected by it in 2013 (Department of Social Protection, 2015). Food poverty – which is defined as the inability to afford or access healthy food –  impacts on low-income groups but children, lone-parent families and the unemployed are particularly hit particularly hard. One in five of our children go to school or bed hungry (Health Behaviour in School Aged Children, 2012).

Good-quality affordable food, available and accessible to all, is a basic human right and necessitates political and community intervention beyond welfare provision.

Food poverty reflects a form of social exclusion and social injustice.  Research shows socially-disadvantaged households consume less nutritionally-balanced diets and suffer from higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers at a younger age.


Food poverty factors

It is a multi-dimensional issue linked to a variety of factors which can be divided into four main themes:


Ireland has some of the highest food costs in the EU.  Living on a low-income and the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet are considered to be major barriers to sustaining a healthy diet and subsequent good health.  Food is often the only household expense that can be flexible and often other expenses such as fuel bills, rent etc. take priority over spending on food.   Low-income households spend a relatively higher share of their income on food, however, despite this, they consume a less nutritionally-balanced diet and suffer from higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases.  Low-income consumers would have to spend 1/4 of their weekly budget on food in order to adequately meet their nutritional needs (safefood, 2015).


Simply accessing food can be a challenge for some, due to a lack of local shops and supermarkets, or limited transportation to out‐of‐town supermarkets.  Issues of mobility are also a factor, some people may be unable to buy and bring food home.  While low-income households may be aware of healthier options, financial and physical constraints limit their ability to purchase healthy food.


The availability of food is a major factor in food choice for low-income groups.  The cost of food varies depending on whether it is bought in a large supermarket or in a local convenience store. The cost of food varies depending on whether it is bought in a large supermarket or in a local convenience store.  Fresh produce has a shorter shelf life and incurs greater storage costs and have a lower profit margin.  As a result local shops may not stock a full range of healthy food options such as fruit and vegetables.   Many disadvantaged areas are dependent on these local convenience stores.


Many people lack the knowledge and skills needed to buy and prepare food, having never learned basic food preparation and cooking skills in school.  Poor literacy and numeracy skills can make it harder for  a person to choose healthy food for their families; also impacting on the ability to understand food labelling or healthy eating messages.  There is also a lot of misinformation about nutrition and healthy foods in the media, which can lead to additional confusion.   People need to be empowered to make healthy, nutritious and economical food choices for themselves and their families.  Parents cooking on a budget cannot afford to risk trying out new foods in case their children don’t eat it as they can’t afford to waste food.

Food Poverty Statistics

Republic of Ireland

safefood-food-poverty-indicatorA 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.  Figures published by the Department of Social Protection in 2015 showed that 13.2% of the population experienced food poverty in 2013.  This is an increase from 10% in 2010, with an additional 150,000 people experiencing food poverty in 2013.

The indicator identified a number of households who are 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


Food Poverty and Policy

Despite the growing recognition of the importance of this area,  there is currently a lack of coordinated policy in the Republic of Ireland which could guide the development of initiatives to address social inequality in dietary behaviour.  Ireland subscribes to rights to be free from hunger in international agreements, however, this has not translated into the government giving a positive guarantee to the right to food amongst the Irish population.


The seminal report in In Ireland dealing with the issue of food poverty is Food Poverty and Policy (2004).  Although nearly ten years old this report remains relevant and the policy situation has not seen any significant change since its release.   One of the strength in this report is that it linkks it so so many policy concerns. (Need updated summary)  Food poverty: Fact or fiction (2007) is the comparable NI study.

Food Poverty PDF Cover

Food poverty research

Here we have detailed the main bodies of research available on food poverty in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  HFfA strives to bring you as much information as possible  on this complex issue however it must be acknowledged that there are gaps in available research, for instance on issues of accessibility and comparable cost of food measurements.  Part of our work is to advocate for greater research in this area, in order to address food poverty more effectively.


Irish Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children 2010

The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey found in 2010 that 21% of all school-aged children report going to school or bed hungry because there is not enough food in the home, an increase from 16.6% in 2006.  13% don’t have breakfast and children from lower social classes are less likely to consumer fruits and veg than other social classes.




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.

Northern Ireland

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)

The cost of food

Northern Ireland


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.

Social Participation

The EU-SILC data also found that 28% of low-income households in the Republic of Ireland were unable to have family or friends over for a drink or a meal once a month, two times more likely than the general population.

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