Families on low income need to spend up to one third (35%) of their weekly take home income to afford a healthy food basket that meets basic nutritional needs, new research by ‘Safefood’ has found.
The research also revealed the challenges facing families on low income in balancing the cost of a healthy, nutritional diet with other essential household expenses.
The research found that food costs were highest for a household on low income with two parents and two children, where the older child was in secondary school – for these families, food costs were 22% higher than a similar household with younger children.
It also found that households dependent on benefits spent up to 12% more of their income on food than those where one adult was in employment.
Typically, households on a low-income tend to eat less well, which can contribute to higher levels of excess weight and corresponding health complications like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
The cost of eating a healthy, balanced diet for a family of four living on benefits with two adults and two children in primary and secondary school was €169 per week (35% of their household income).
For a single parent living on benefits with two children in pre-school and primary school, the basket cost €103 per week (29% of their household income).
By way of contrast, the most recent CSO data revealed that the average spend per household on food was 14.7% of their income.
Introducing the report, Joana da Silva, Chief Specialist in Nutrition, safefood said, “Our research shows the continuing challenges for families on low income in affording a healthy food basket. The report identifies the cost of a minimum but acceptable standard that will allow them to live a life with dignity.
The report is based on working with members of the public to reach agreement on the minimum needed to live and partake in the social and economic norms of everyday life.
Food spending is the flexible element of the household budget and people often fill up on cheap food that’s nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid.”
Robert Thornton, Senior Research and Policy Officer with Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice continued “This research shines a light on the challenge of balancing the cost of a healthy food against other needs when on a low income.
Managing on a tight budget means families with children, single parents and pensioners have to make stark choices in how they spend their money”.
The most recent data³ shows that 12.8% of the population are at risk of poverty while the consistent poverty rate was 5.5%.
The key conclusions of the research are:
Low income households need to spend between 13% and35% of their take-home income to buy a healthy minimum essential food basket.
This is dependant of household composition and location.
Food costs rise as children grow older, food is a significant cost for households with an adolescent. The cost of food for a teenager was almost double the cost of food for a pre-school child.
Food costs are more expensive for rural households with the exception of the single adult
Households receiving state benefits only spend a larger percentage of take home income on the food basket than households with an employed adult.
This research highlights the challenges when trying to balance buying a healthy food basket with other weekly household expenses.
Meat, breads and cereals, dairy products, fruit, and vegetables account for the largest share of the food basket.
Spending on restaurants, cafes, fast food, takeaways and visitors are an important part of the food basket highlighting the social and cultural aspects of food. It ensures that households can participate in activities that are considered to be part of everyday life.