Healthy Food for All. Submission on Budget 2014 to the Minister for Social Protection

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1 Healthy Food for All Submission on Budget 2014 to the Minister for Social Protection Theme: Improve food and nutrition consumption for children and families in poverty 1. Enhance low-income household s ability to afford healthy food 2. Improve provision and quality of School Meal Programme with a focus on development of breakfast clubs

2 Introduction Healthy Food for All (HFfA) is an all-island charity addressing food poverty by promoting access, availability and affordability of healthy food for low-income groups. HFfA supports lowincome households to improve their dietary health. Healthy Food for All Builds capacity and good practice for Community Food Initiatives which increase access to and availability of healthy food for low-income groups Advocates for and supports the development of an improved School food framework Promotes a greater understanding of food poverty across all aspects of public Policy Healthy Food for All welcomes the opportunity to make this pre-budget submission and calls on the government to: Improve the affordability of healthy food for low-income families Enhance the provision of healthy food in schools Recession impacts on nutritional intake of low-income households The cumulative impact of austerity measures means that many low-income families are struggling to put food on the table. Supporting low-income households to address their food needs is more urgent than ever before. Food poverty is defined as the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation (Friel & Conlon, 2004). Recent research by the Department of Social Protection shows that food poverty affects 10% of the general population in the Republic of Ireland (Carney & Maitre, 2012). This figure more than doubles to 23% for certain vulnerable households including lone parent and unemployed households. The research identifies a number of households most at risk of food poverty: 18% if household is on low income 18% if three or more children are under 18 in household 21% if head of household is ill/disabled 23% if household consists of a lone parent with one or more children 23% if head of household is unemployed Food poverty is central to the experience of poverty. Low-income households consume less nutritionally balanced diets and suffer from higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as

3 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers at a younger age. These factors have longterm implications for demands on the health system and costs to the State. Food poverty is linked to a number of critical public policy issues, notably welfare adequacy, health inequalities, low educational attainment and constraints on participation in social norms and activities. Its solution necessitates a multi-sectoral approach across all relevant Departments. The Department of Social Protection has a lead role to play in addressing the issue of income adequacy to ensure that people can afford healthy and nutritious food and that children have access to a nutritious school meal. The Department is well-placed to take a lead role in championing a co-ordinated approach with the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, the Department of Education & Skills and the Department of Health to address this multidimensional issue. Food Poverty and Children 32% of children live in households experiencing basic deprivation (CSO 2012) 19% of children in Ireland are 'at risk' of poverty (CSO 2012) 1 in 4 children from jobless households (ESRI 2012) 1 in 5 children (21%) are going to school or to bed hungry because there is not enough food in the home (HBSC 2012) 1 in 6 children never have breakfast during the weekday (HBSC 2012) Food poverty has a particularly detrimental impact on children. Poor nutrition disproportionately affects children from lower socio-economic groups. Children from lower social classes are less likely to consume the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables which are so important for health and well-being. Lack of a nutritionally adequate diet can negatively affect a child's health, behaviour and cognitive functioning thus leading to poor school performance, non-school attendance and leaving school early and without qualifications. Intervention at an early stage is, therefore, crucial in the interests both of children and society. Consumption of an inadequate diet is also a factor in the obesity epidemic. 1 in 4 nine year olds is overweight (19%) or obese (7%). Obesity is associated with a range of poor health outcomes in childhood and later life including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, hypertension and obesity related cancers. The Growing Up in Ireland study identified a social gradient to obesity, reporting that children from unskilled manual working class households are

4 much more likely to be overweight and obese than those from the higher socio-economic groups (33% V 22%), (Growing Up in Ireland, 2011). Given the pronounced socio-economic distribution of risk factors for food poverty and obesity it is essential to target current limited resources at lower socio-economic groups. An increase in higher welfare payments provides welfare recipients with the financial resources necessary to purchase a healthy diet. This capacity can be supplemented by the provision of food in schools. Direct provision of food can complement the financial capacity of households to access a healthy diet. The direct provision of food must be delivered in a way to empower families to take ownership of their food choices. The Cost of a Healthy Diet is now less affordable: The direct weekly cost of food for a child attending secondary school is (VPSJ, The Cost of a Child, 2012) Families with older children would have to spend 59% of Child Income Support on food alone in order to meet the recommended dietary requirements for a teenage child (VPSJ, The Cost of a Child, 2012) Low-income families spend a higher proportion of their income (23-25%) on food compared to other socio-economic groups (17%) (HFfA, 2009) It is up to ten times cheaper to provide calories in the form of unhealthy foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar than it is in the form of protective foods such as fruit and vegetables and other important foods such as lean meat and fish. (HFfA, 2009) Action required in Budget 2014: 1. Adequacy of Child Income Supports Households with children were worst affected in Budget Child Income Support has fallen by 450 million since 2010 due to reductions in child benefit. This has had a greater adverse effect on children in large families. Budget 2014 must consider the economic realities of the most vulnerable groups in Irish society and ensure they can achieve a diet that meets the recommended dietary requirements essential for a healthy standard of living. On average lowincome households spend 23% - 25% of their weekly budget on food (HFfA, 2009). In order to meet the recommended dietary requirements of a teenage child, families would have to spend 59% of Child Income Support on food. The cost of food varies depending on available food outlets. Families living in rural areas would have to pay 71% of Child Income Support on food to meet the dietary requirements.

5 Welfare adequacy is key to addressing the issue of food poverty. Income support policies should ensure that payments are, at a minimum, adequate to meet the recommended dietary needs of adults and children. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice has found that when childcare is excluded, food is the most expensive item for children of all ages (VPSJ, The Cost of a Child, 2012) The cost of healthy eating for an adolescent is higher than for a younger child because they have greater calorie and nutrient needs than younger children. Adolescence is the time when most rapid growth and development occurs. To meet all his nutrient needs an active 14 year old boy should consume approximately 2,400 calories per day, compared with 1,400 calories per day for an active 5 year old boy. The VPSJ research found that the cost of a child varies depending on the age of the child from a low of at pre-school age to a high of at second level. Healthy Food for All recommends that Government consider the range of costs involved in accessing an appropriately healthy diet when reviewing the Social Welfare Allowance. Government restructuring of Child Income Support should target additional resources to older children in welfare-dependent households. Recommendations Maintain welfare payments and child benefit to ensure affordability of healthy food to protect those on the lowest incomes. Increase Qualified Child Allowance for Older Children to allow for the higher cost of meeting the nutritional needs of teenage children. 2. School Meals Programme Research has shown that the school is an important setting in obtaining a healthy diet. Healthy Food for All welcomes the increase in funding to the School Meals Programme in Budget 2013 and continues to work with the School Meals Section to identify opportunities for greater efficiencies within the programme. Good nutrition enables children to take advantage of the learning provided to them and in this way School Food Initiatives can help children to escape the poverty trap. The need for children to have a 'healthy diet', which ensures their cognitive, academic, social and personal development is crucial. In order to achieve maximum impact of the School Meals Programme more effective co-ordination is needed between the School Meals Section, Health Promoting Schools and the School Completion Programme. Healthy Food for All recommends that a budget is allocated to the School Meals Section to co-ordinate a forum which engages with the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Department of Health and the Department of Education & Skills in line with recommendations set out in this year s Healthy Ireland.

6 Breakfast Clubs have specific benefits in terms of promoting social inclusion and participation, meeting nutritional needs, improving school attendance, improving concentration in class and providing an opportunity for positive engagement before school begins. The NEWB found that breakfast clubs are a key intervention in supporting children to stay in school. HFfA has established a Pilot Programme of Breakfast Clubs in north Dublin in January of this year. Initial feedback indicates that the club has had an immediate impact on school attendance and punctuality. The school staff have also reported improvements in the children s behaviour and concentration levels in class. Healthy Food for All have identified a number of barriers facing schools in setting up a breakfast club. Currently schools can avail of a single food programme under the School Meals Programme. As funding is greater for school lunches many schools opt for this programme over breakfast clubs. In effect the current administration of the School Meals Programme is acting as a disincentive for schools to set up a breakfast club. Given the additional benefits of breakfast clubs to social inclusion and participation Healthy Food for All recommends that a pilot national programme of Breakfast Clubs is established. The aim of the pilot would be to encourage and facilitate the take up of breakfast clubs. A fund of 250,000 would facilitate the establishment of breakfast clubs in 30 schools across the country combined with national co-ordination and support. National co-ordination would facilitate the engagement of key stakeholders in school food provision, including links with the corporate sector through Food Banks. The national programme would also facilitate shared learning to best support schools develop breakfast clubs. Recommendations: Maintain the budget for the School Meal Programme to address the food and nutrition needs of low income children Allocate a budget to the School Meals Section to establish a forum which engages with the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Department of Health and the Department of Education & Skills in line with recommendations set out in Healthy Ireland Establish a national pilot programme of Breakfast Clubs as they have specific benefits in terms of attracting children to school and facilitating positive engagement before school begins Remove the administrative obstacles whereby schools can only access a single meal programme to encourage greater take up of breakfast clubs Develop food banking as a means to support School Food Initiatives and engage the corporate sector

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