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Healthy Food For All Initiative
Anti-Poverty Programmes 1989-2008

 

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Food Poverty

 

Healthy Food For All Initiative

The Healthy Food for All Initiative is a response to the growing awareness of food poverty as a structural constraint on food consumption and dietary intake among low-income groups, and its multi-faceted consequences for health, education and social participation, as outlined in the research report Food Poverty and Policy, published by Combat Poverty, Crosscare and Society of St Vincent de Paul in 2004.

Combat Poverty, Crosscare (Catholic Social Care Agency of the Dublin Diocese) and the Society of St Vincent de Paul initiated the Healthy Food for All Initiative to strengthen the response to food poverty at policy and implementation levels. Other funders of the initiative include Safe Food, the Food Safety Authority and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. There is an advisory committee for the initiative which includes a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private and community/voluntary sectors.

The initiative now has its own website at www.healthyfoodforall.com.

 

Purpose of the Initiative

The purpose of Healthy Food For All is threefold:

  • To support local initiatives which promote availability and access to healthy and affordable food for low-income groups, with a focus on community food initiatives and direct food provision, including school meals
  • To develop an all-Ireland learning network to identify best practice on promoting healthy food for low-income groups and to develop links with similar organisations in the UK and Europe
  • To promote awareness of food poverty across all aspects of public policy, with a focus on food affordability, access and availability.

Further information on the Healthy Food For All Initiative is available in the HFFAI Funding Proposal.

 

Food Poverty

Food poverty can de defined as the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation.

Food poverty is not just about the consumption of too little food to meet basic nutritional requirements. It includes social and cultural contexts where people cannot eat, shop for, provide or exchange food in the manner that is the acceptable norm in society.

Living in poverty and social disadvantage imposes constraints on food consumption in three main ways.

  • First, it affects food affordability through the choice and quantity of food than can be bought and the share of the household budget that is allocated to food
  • Second, it impacts on access to food through the retail options available and the capacity to shop in terms of transport and physical ability. The availability of storage and cooking facilities is a further constraint on what foods can be accessed
  • Third, psychosocial factors determine food choice among socially disadvantaged groups. Personal skills and knowledge, social pressure and cultural norms interact with structural and economic constraints to produce a complex constellation of factors contributing to food poverty

Further information on the extent of food poverty in Ireland and existing policy responses is contained in the research report Food Poverty and Policy1, published in 2004 by Combat Poverty, Crosscare and Society of St Vincent de Paul. The report identifies three main policy dimensions to food poverty, each of which is discussed below:

  • Food, nutrition and health
  • Food affordability and welfare adequacy
  • Food availability and access

 

Food, Nutrition and Health

Inadequate food and nutrition intake can be a contributory factor to ill-health. This connection between food, nutrition and health was debated at a Combat Poverty conference in November 20042.

Food poverty can also be a contributory factor in the increased incidence of obesity, as is outlined in the report of the National Taskforce on Obesity3.

Under the National Health Promotion Strategy4, the promotion of healthy eating among low-income groups is a strong focus as part of the expanded community dietitian service. The service has developed healthy eating programmes such as Healthy Food Made Easy and Eat Well, Be Well and Cook It, which target low-income households. In addition, national healthy eating promotions have included specific issues for low-income groups.

More broadly, a national food and nutrition policy is required which has as its main objective equal access to food for all members in society. The Department of Health and Children is finalising a national food and nutrition policy, which has food poverty as one of its themes. Implementation of this policy should be embedded across all government departments, in particular those responsible for food production, retailing planning and consumer affairs.

 

Food Affordability and Welfare Adequacy

The adequacy of household income to provide for a healthy diet and the other components of an acceptable lifestyle is a core concern. This issue is central to the National Anti-Poverty Strategy5, which seeks to ensure that income levels (welfare and wages) are adequate for people to live in a manner compatible with human dignity. Recent independent research6 has shown that up to 80 percent of welfare payments would be required to provide a healthy diet.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has published a review7 of the dietary supplement, which is a special payment under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. The report examins the cost of healthy eating and specialised diets for a single individual.

Direct provision of food for vulnerable groups such as homeless people, older people, children at risk and asylum seekers by social service organizations is an important component of healthy eating. This issue was central to the government review of the school meals programme in 20038. This led to the establishment of the School Food Programme, which provides an enhanced level of food for school-age children, including breakfasts, hot lunches and afternoon snacks. To support this, the Health Promotion Unit has published guidelines on food and nutrition for primary schools9.


Food Availability and Access

Choice of food is also influenced by what food is available for purchase. Many low income households have restricted access to shopping outlets, often ending up in places where the prices are higher and the selection of food less healthy. The New Policy Institute has summarized recent UK research on barriers to food access, including lack of transport and limited range of retail outlets10.

The issue of food access arose in the recent debate on the abolition of the Groceries Order. Combat Poverty, Crosscare and the Society of St Vincent de Paul made a submission on this topic, highlighting the potentially negative impact of the abolition of the order on access to food for low-income consumers11.

One way to ensure better access to food is to establish community food projects, such as food cooperatives and community gardens. The development of pilot projects for low-income families to provide sufficient food to meet their requirements was recommended in the Cardiovascular Health Strategy (1999)12, building on an earlier report by the Nutritional Advisory Group.

In line with this, the Health Promotion Department of the HSE North West Area ran a community food project aimed at improving the health and well being of local people. The project was a response to evidence that those on a limited income have less access to fresh fruit and vegetables13.

In Tallaght and Limerick, local groups are establishing community food projects to promote better access to food in disadvantaged areas. In Northern Ireland, the Armagh and Dungannon Health Action Zone has established a pilot project entitled Decent Food For All14, aimed at addressing the barriers to good food (information, physical and financial).

Food producers have a social responsibility that good quality food is available by all sections in society and that any surplus food is disposed of in a responsible manner. This is where food banks can play a role. Ireland has two food banks, one in Dublin Crosscare and another in the process of being established in Limerick by the PAUL Partnership.

 

A Policy Framework for Tackling Food Poverty

There is a need for national policy framework to address food poverty. Such a framework should be developed under the National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion15. The Consultation Report16 on the new National Action Plan for the period 2006-2008 contains a number of proposals on tackling food poverty.

It is also suggested that food poverty be made a priority under the new social partnership agreement17, with a key role for the private sector.

References and further information

  1. Food Poverty and Policy (Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare & Society of St Vincent de Paul: 2004) Open document in PDF format

  2. Nutrition Poverty and Health: report of a Combat Poverty Agency National Conference, November 2004 Open document in PDF format

  3. Report of the National Task Force on Obesity (Department of Health & Children: 2004) Open document in PDF format

  4. Health Promotion Strategy (Department of Health & Children: 2000) Open document in PDF format

  5. National Anti-Poverty Strategy (Department of Social & Family Affairs: 2002) Open document in PDF format

  6. The Financial Cost of Healthy Eating in Ireland: Combat Poverty Agency Research Working Paper 04/01 (Sharon Friel, Orla Walsh & Denise McCarthy: Combat Poverty Agency: 2004) Open document in PDF format

  7. Examination of the cost of healthy eating and specialised diets for a single individual in Ireland (Department of Social & Family Affairs: 2006) Open document in PDF format

  8. Review of Urban & Gaeltacht School Meals Meals Schemes (Department of Social & Family Affairs: 2002) Open document in PDF format

  9. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Health, Health Promotion Unit: 2005) Open document in PDF format

  10. Food Access: whose responsibility? (New Policy Institute: 2000) Open document in PDF format

  11. Submission on the Groceries Order (Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare & Society of St Vincent de Paul: 2005) Open document in PDF format

  12. Cardiovascular Health Strategy (Department of Health & Children - various documents)

  13. Growing in Confidence: evaluation of the Community Food Project (Perry Share & Geraldine Duignan: IT Sligo: 2004) Open document in PDF format

  14. Armagh and Dungannon Health Action Zone

  15. Submission on the Irish National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2006-2008 (Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare & Society of St Vincent de Paul: 2005) Open document in PDF format

  16. Consultation Report on the National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion (Department of Social & Family Affairs: 2006) Open document in PDF format

  17. Submission on a new Social Partnership Agreement (Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare & Society of St Vincent de Paul: 2005) Open document in PDF format

 

Other documentation in relation to food poverty in Ireland includes:

Hungry for Change: social exclusion, food poverty and homelessness in Dublin (Focus Ireland: 2004) available from Focus Ireland

HSE (North-West Region) and NUI Galway study on food, poverty and nutrition among asylum seekers in the north west (forthcoming as Combat Poverty Research Working Paper)

 

Other sources of information:

Crosscare

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Health Promotion Unit

Office for Social Inclusion (DSFA)

SafeFood

Society of St Vincent de Paul

 

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