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Eating or heating? An investigation of food poverty in Northern Ireland
Dr Sinéad Furey, Ulster University Business School*

Food poverty, defined as the inability to afford or access a healthy diet, is becoming recognised as a public health emergency. In January 2019, the Environmental Audit Committee published its latest report on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, highlighting the need to ensure Government cross-departmental understanding and action on hunger and implement strategies for improvement and monitor progress. However, with no agreed indicator, the Government has not measured the prevalence of food poverty over time to identify those who are unable to afford sufficient food.

In the absence of an agreed indicator, Ulster University Business School (UUBS) researchers disseminated an online survey between September and November 2018 to investigate the internal and inter-reliability of three food poverty indicators (EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions; Food Insecurity Experience Scale; and Household Food Security Survey Module). The aim was to inform evidence-based policy making for ultimate inclusion in a government-endorsed survey that may be used/adapted by all UK regions to effectively implement interventions and strategies with the purpose of alleviating food poverty and to support national efforts for food poverty measurement. Data were analysed with the use of Statistical Package for Social Science software package.

In total, 944 respondents completed the survey. The majority (78.7%) was full/part time or self-employed. One in twelve (8%) had a total household income (salary and benefits) of less than £10,000. One in 14 (7.4%) of the total sample self-evaluated their health status as poor. Two in five respondents (41.9%) had children aged under 18 years living in their households.

Between one in five and one in three respondents experienced at least one symptom of food poverty in respect of reporting missing or worrying about skipping a meal. Overall, there was good ‘agreement’ between the measures with each scale identifying (generally) the same people as experiencing ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ food poverty.

Conclusion and recommendations
Food poverty requires a long-term, sustainable solution that addresses the policy issues under focus: low income, under/unemployment, rising food prices and Welfare Reform, informed by routine, Government-supported monitoring and reporting of the extent of food poverty among our citizens.

In unison with End Hunger UK, Church Action on Poverty, Independent Food Aid Network, Food Foundation and others, we sought to have a collective voice on so substantive an issue as food poverty to form the critical mass to lend additional authority, credibility and reach to the results and recommendations. Our data have been shared with the Office of National Statistics re: planning to measure household and child food insecurity for the UK. The recent development that the UK/NI Government(s) will monitor food insecurity with results available from March 2021 will enable annual monitoring, allowing for more focused strategies and targeted interventions to tackle diet-related health inequalities in society.

*Research team comprised: Dr S Furey, Ms E Beacom, Dr C McLaughlin, Ms U Quinn and Dr D Surgenor.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputPowerPoint
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Apr 2019


  • Food poverty
  • Heating
  • Northern Ireland


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