DUBLIN — Food poverty in Ireland is slowly becoming a major issue with 600,000 people being affected. Food poverty is defined as the inability to afford or access healthy food, usually impacting those with low-incomes. Currently, one in five Irish children go to bed and to school hungry.
Nearly one in seven people in Ireland are in poverty, 211,000 of whom are children. Recently, children and single parent families are the ones who have been affected most by hunger. The number of Irish children living in poverty has risen from 10 percent in 2012 to 12 percent in 2015.
“It should be a national scandal that well over a third of children are experiencing deprivation,” said Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardo’s, the UK’s leading children’s charity.
“Too many children are living without access to basic necessities through no fault of their own or their parents. They are going without warm winter clothing, living in substandard housing and even going hungry,” Finlay continued.
Children who are undernourished are doing poorly in schools and rely on the school systems for food. The Behaviour & Attitudes’ online panel Acumen surveyed 408 teachers, with 41 percent saying that the number of children going to school hungry has increased, and 70 percent of teachers saying that hunger in the classroom is not being handled properly.
More than 500 breakfast clubs are operating in schools and other community settings that give students breakfast for children and teachers have noticed a real change in the students. Children’s attendance, punctuality, energy levels and participation greatly improved since the programs began. This also proved to be a social outlet for students – they were more responsive to talking about personal issues over breakfast than in class, giving teachers more opportunities to help their students.
Ireland has some of the highest food costs in Europe, and because of the high costs, people tend to use food as a non-essential item while paying bills. Most people in Ireland didn’t learn how to cook at school, and many lack skills and confidence to eat a healthy meal. Parents on a strict budget may be unable to feed their children healthy food.
To help ease the pain of food poverty in Ireland, the nation can increase child benefits, support lone parents better, invest in universal services, invest in children’s education and continue to support the breakfast clubs and promote them. There is no evidence to suggest that the conditions nationally are improving, and the situation in Ireland has to become a national priority in order to break the food poverty cycle.
– Mary Waller