Dublin author highlights extent of Ireland’s food poverty

by Rachel Cunningham
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Rachel Cunningham

A Dublin author last week launched his book on the pressing issue of food poverty in Ireland, a topic that affects approximately seven per cent of the Irish population, at the national office of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The book, ‘Uncovering Food Poverty in Ireland; A Hidden Deprivation’, explores the causes and impact of food poverty, which touches the lives of roughly 350,000 people in Ireland. The first full-length study of its kind, it outlines how food poverty has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and has disproportionally affected high-risk groups, such as low-income families with children, lone parents, people with disabilities and renters.

Michael Drew, who holds a PhD from the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin, spent five years researching the study and also saw the impact of food poverty first-hand, having volunteered with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul over many years.

The Mount Merrion resident’s work explores the international landscape of food poverty and situates both experiences and responses in a comparative context. It considers how these results contribute to an understanding of the problem and what action should be taken. 

He expressed his hope that this book will heighten awareness and help to inform policy responses to address the root causes of food poverty in Ireland, adding that food poverty in 21st-century Ireland remains largely overlooked, in both academic research and media coverage.  

“Rather than focusing on short term measures that fail to tackle the structural causes, food poverty needs to be addressed with further investment in Ireland’s anti-poverty infrastructure. Much progress can be made through the introduction of a living wage, income security and a responsive, adequately funded welfare system.

“The government has established a target to reduce consistent poverty to two per cent or less by 2025. Acting now on food poverty would send a clear signal of serious intent to meet these targets”, the author stated.

While launching the book at the national office of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Mr. Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Departments of Social Protection and Rural and Community Development, commented: “Nobody should be living in food poverty. Food poverty is a complicated and multi-factorial issue and this publication adds to our understanding of the causes and possible solutions.”

The study includes interviews with users of food aid, such as food banks, and underscores the wide-ranging implications of the policies and practices of government and employers for those in high-risk categories. They highlight the emotional experience of obtaining food aid and living in food poverty, the impacts of these experiences, including hunger and social exclusion, and the multidimensional aspects of life on a low income, like fuel poverty.

Speaking at the launch, SVP national president Rose McGowan mentioned the significance of the interviews for revealing the “variety of circumstances which lead people to ensure that there is food available for their families”. She cited one quote from a woman called Joy, who felt forced to put staying out of rent arrears ahead of having sufficient food for her family.

“Michael Drew has done a great services in producing this study. His book builds the case for decisive action from the government and assistance that prioritises people’s dignity, choice and self-sufficiency”, she concluded.   

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