Food poverty 'an everyday reality' for many

Research looks at cost of healthy food basket
  • Deborah Condon

Poorer households need to spend up to one-third of their income just to afford a basic food basket that meets their nutritional needs, new research by Safefood has found.

According to the findings, households on a low income tend to eat less well, are more likely to be overweight and have poorer health outcomes overall.

The research looked at a number of different household scenarios, including families with two parents and two children, single-parent families and pensioners.

It aimed to determine the cost of a food basket that was both nutritionally adequate and realistic and acceptable.

It found that the composition and location of households affected food costs. Households in rural areas and those with children, particularly teenagers, tended to spend more on food.

In fact, food was seen as a "significant cost" for households with a teenager, with the cost of a teen almost double the cost of a pre-school child.

Meanwhile, households in which the only income was from State benefits spent a larger percentage of their income on food than households in which one adult was in employment.

The research looked specifically at the cost of a healthy food basket for different low-income households and found that families made up of two parents and two children needed to spend between 22% and 33% of their weekly income on food - that is €128-€153 per week.

Families with one parent and two children had to spend between 15% and 28% of their weekly income. While a retired couple dependent on the State pension had to spend 19% of their weekly income.

Overall, meat, breads, cereals, dairy products, fruit and vegetables accounted for the biggest share of the food basket.

According to Safefood, food poverty is defined as the inability to have an adequate and nutritious diet due to issues of affordability or accessibility, and this study "confirms how this is an everyday reality for one in 10 households in Ireland".

"Managing on a tight budget means that families with children, single adults living alone and pensioners have to make stark choices in how they spend their money. Food spending is the flexible element of the household budget and people often fill up on cheap food that's nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid," explained Safefood CEO, Ray Dolan.

The research was led by Dr Bernadette MacMahon of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice.

"This is our third report into the cost of a basic but healthy food basket in the Republic of Ireland. Because the contents of the food baskets in our study were put together by people themselves as a minimum to meet their nutritional, social and psychological needs, this gives us an evidence-based measure that is grounded in the lived experience of Irish households," she noted.

The report into the research can be downloaded here.


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