Minister of State Joe O’Brien has announced his intention to establish a working group to tackle the issue of food poverty in Ireland.

The minister, who has responsibility for community development and charities within the Department of Rural and Community Development, said it is envisaged that the group will be comprised of senior officials from various government departments and representatives from relevant NGOs.

He announced this at the second meeting of the Social Inclusion Roadmap Steering Group this week.

Exploring the drivers and mitigating factors

Agriland reported in November 2020 that the group was to examine the issue of food poverty in this country, while aiming to reduce the number of people in “consistent poverty in Ireland to 2% or less, increase social inclusion for people who are most disadvantaged, and make Ireland one of the most socially inclusive countries in the EU”.

Green Party deputy O’Brien said he is “committed to overseeing a comprehensive programme of work” to further explore the drivers of food poverty and to identify mitigating actions.

Food poverty has been defined as “the inability to have an adequate and nutritious diet due to issues of affordability or accessibility”.

The Department of Social Protection and the Department of Rural and Community Development oversee a number of social inclusion programmes that either directly or indirectly try to help alleviate food poverty.

However, the minister has acknowledged that the issue of food poverty “cross-cuts a number of departments”.

“I believe that in putting together this working group on food poverty, we can harness the collective efforts of all departments and tackle the issue in a coherent and holistic manner,” Minister O’Brien added.

What is food waste and food poverty?

The UN has identified food waste/loss as the decrease in mass or nutritional value of edible food throughout the supply chain that was intended for human consumption.

Three types of food waste are identified by the Department of Climate Action:

  • 60% is avoidable food waste like leftovers and gone off fruit and vegetables;
  • 20% is potentially avoidable food waste like bread crusts and potato skins;
  • 20% is unavoidable food waste like banana skins and chicken bones.

Food waste is related to food poverty, evident during the Covid-19 pandemic; people overbought food in a panic leading to shortages in supermarkets, which often are key donors to food banks and charities.

Then, much of the food that was bought was not consumed and was discarded as waste.

​In Ireland, there are over a million tonnes of food waste disposed of each year. Around a third of this comes from households.

Every household in Ireland is responsible for 117kg of food waste. The cost per household is between €400 and €1,000 per year.

24% cutting back on food due to cost

A significant proportion of Irish society is facing a multitude of financial pressures due to the pandemic, including “loss of income; increased household expenditure on basics; erosion of savings to meet ordinary living expenses; falling behind on bills; and being forced to cut back on essentials like food, heating and electricity”.

This is according to RED C research commissioned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP). 

It finds that those who are experiencing the most adverse financial impacts are many of the groups that were vulnerable to poverty prior to the pandemic, including low-income families with children, lone parents, renters, and people with disabilities. 

Data from a sample of 1,026 adults shows that 43% of the population reported experiencing at least one form of financial strain due to the Covid-19 pandemic with: 

  • 24% cutting back on food, heating or electricity due to cost;
  • 22% using savings to meet ordinary living expenses;
  • 14% falling behind on bills such as rent, mortgages, utilities or other regular payments;
  • 7% going into debt (personal loan, credit cards) to meet ordinary living expenses.

Surge in demand from charities for food redistribution services

Social enterprise FoodCloud has experienced an “unprecedented surge in demand” from charities for its food redistribution services over the past 12 months.

FoodCloud works with retail and food businesses across the supply chain to help them redistribute their surplus food to its network of more than 9,500 charities and community groups across Ireland and internationally.

Between March 2020, when the pandemic began, and February 2021, FoodCloud has increased the volume of food donations to communities by 78% through its three hubs.

In 2020, over 3,022t of food, equating to more than 7.2 million meals, was distributed through retail partners and FoodCloud hubs to charities across the country.

Today (Thursday, April 1), Aldi announced that it is donating an additional €25,000 in retail value of non-surplus food to the enterprise. Aldi is also introducing a new volunteering programme for staff – its store ‘Charity Champions’ will be allocated paid hours to support FoodCloud’s teams in distributing food from its hubs.

It will also be donating unsold poultry, beef, duck and lamb this Easter Sunday.