Special Reports
A special report is content that is edited and produced by the special reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report but do not have editorial control.

Taking a non-judgmental, holistic approach to food poverty

A quarter of parents worry about not being able to provide food for their children and 10 per cent skip meals in an average week so that their children don’t go without, according to Barnardos

Food and access to it is a basic human right but, concerningly, food poverty for Irish people is increasingly on the rise. With charities predicting a record year in the number of people looking for help, what can be done?

According to Barnardos, about 30 per cent of people have witnessed food poverty first-hand in Ireland, with 51 per cent of parents cutting back on spending in areas like gas and electricity, transport and medical bills to afford food. Twenty-five per cent of parents worry about not being able to provide food for their children and 10 per cent of those looking after children skip meals in an average week so that their children don’t go without.

There are a substantial amount of parents who are reducing portion sizes to prioritise their children, says Stephen Moffatt, national policy manager, Barnardos. “Some parents who we support tell me that they’ll always make sure their children have a decent meal but that means the parent is going without a meal. They might have a sandwich instead.”

Vivienne Lawlor, communications director, FoodCloud, a social enterprise tackling food waste, says: “While we are not seeing the same urgency that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, where organisations that never used food before were calling us to get food, we are hearing from those we work with that they are seeing demand increases.”


“To understand what our partners were seeing on the ground, we carry out a pulse survey every quarter. Our latest research from October of 450 community groups [105 respondents] has revealed that just under three-quarters [74 per cent] of FoodCloud’s community partners say they are experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for food from the public with over a third [34 per cent] saying they can’t meet the basic food needs of their service.”

This represents a 35 per cent increase from May of this year. “Two-thirds [65 per cent] attribute the cost-of-living crisis as the primary cause of the increased demand and over four-fifths [81 per cent] of respondents say there’s a shortage of basic fruit and vegetables.”

There is a multitude of ways charities can help those facing food poverty, says Moffatt. “People need to have enough income and funds to provide sufficient food. There’s a responsibility on charity to fill that gap, where parents just don’t have sufficient income to provide their children with all necessities, food being the primary.”

Moffatt says that some of the ways charities can help are by arming people with life skills such as cooking and budgeting. While charities understand that most people they support are already budgeting, there are people who need support with that and other life skills.

“Parents have been really working hard around budgeting and the level of budgeting is unbelievable,” says Moffatt. “Before their income comes in, they have every cent allocated. Charities can help with budgets and pointing people in the right direction to try to meal plan.

“We know there are parents who might feel less comfortable or not have the facilities to cook from scratch. Charities can help provide items or signposting to courses to support cooking from scratch.”

In addition, Lawlor says food surplus needs to be properly managed. “We need to remove the stigma of food surplus and open up the opportunity for circular solutions to support both climate and community. We find that there are pockets of best practices within the community sector that have a focus on sustainability and realise the opportunity for surplus food.”

There will always be a role for charities, says Moffatt, but there are other supports available for those facing food poverty. “This is often an issue around sufficient disposable income. For some of our parents – if they can’t provide food – and they need to get immediate access to funds, there is an emergency/exceptional needs payment that’s approved by the Government, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done around that.

“It’s important that organisations provide a non-judgmental, holistic approach when people reach out so that parents and children have access to that support.”

Edel Corrigan

Edel Corrigan is a contributor to The Irish Times