Northern Ireland

Families 'need to spend £153 a week to eat healthily'

basket Image copyright Darren Kidd / Press Eye
Image caption The price of eating healthily takes a large bite of a family's weekly income

Families on low incomes in Northern Ireland need to spend £153 - almost half of their weekly income - just to eat healthily, new research suggests.

A single parent family with two children needs to pay £99 a week and a pensioner living alone faces a bill of £57.05.

Food poverty is complex, said Sharon Gilmore of the Northern Ireland Food Standards Agency.

But the sharp cost of healthy choices means some end up nutritionally poor.

"Low income households here need to spend up to 44% of their weekly take home income in order to purchase a minimum acceptable standard of food, while also meeting their nutrition and social needs," said Ms Gilmore, head of standards and dietary health with the agency.

"Food poverty is complex. It affects those living on low incomes, with limited access to transport and poor cooking skills while many people in the same situation continue to have a healthy diet in spite of these obstacles."

Tackling poverty

The survey on the Cost of a Healthy Food Basket was carried out by Safefood, the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.

It compared the cost of a healthy food basket for four of the most common household types in Northern Ireland.

It is the second report, following up on a study in 2014. Despite a slight drop in the cost of food and alcohol since then, the challenge of eating well and still meeting all other weekly household bills is high for people on low incomes, the report suggests.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Eating healthy presents a real challenge for those on a tight budget

A family of four on jobseeker's allowance needs to spend 44% of their total weekly income on food, says the report, while a single parent with two children needs to spent 32% and a pensioner needs to spend 34%.

The report's authors said the struggle to eat well is reflected by a greater reliance on food banks.

"From January to April 2016, 25,755 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis by the Trussell Trust food banks," says the report.

"This is a considerable increase from the 254 food supplies provided in the year to April 2012."

Safefood's Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said: "Families on a low-income tend to eat less well and have poorer health outcomes with higher levels of obesity.

"In general, cheaper foods and takeaways are simply less nutritious. This presents a real challenge for parents when it comes to food shopping and planning for the week."

Struggling consumers

The consumer council said it was committed to tackling food poverty in Northern Ireland.

"This second piece of research is welcome evidence showing the true cost of a basic but healthy food basket in Northern Ireland," said Philippa McKeown-Brown from the council.

"Food prices may have fallen since the first food basket report, however low income consumers continue to struggle to afford a healthy, balanced diet.

"The Consumer Council will continue to work closely with Food Standards Agency in NI, Safefood and the All-island Food Poverty Network to help inform the debate and actions needed to tackle food poverty here."

The survey asked consumers to select an acceptable food basket in terms of taste and menu choices, while also meeting the social needs of a household, such as hosting visitors or special occasions.

The food baskets were reviewed by nutritionists from Ulster University to make sure they met the nutritional guidelines of The Eatwell Guide and are price-checked accordingly.

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