Teachers say problem of hungry children is worse
Half of teachers see children arriving to school hungry at least once a week, according to a new report.
And more than three in four say the overall problem of hungry children has worsened in the past 12 months.
The report also reveals that one-in-five adults in Ireland worry about the amount of money they have to spend on food. Families with young children are more likely to feel the pressure, with as many as one in three of these concerned over their food budget.
Households on the lowest incomes are three times more likely to suffer than those on the highest, with 11pc of the poorest families experiencing food poverty, compared with 4pc of the wealthiest.
One-in-five households with children have had to change their eating habits due to financial constraints.
The findings are based on a survey conducted for the cereal company Kellogg's, which produced the 'Is the Food Divide Getting Bigger?' report in association with the children's welfare organisation, Barnardos.
Teachers see the impact of food poverty in school, and estimate that nearly one-in-five children don't have breakfast at least once a week.
Half of the teachers surveyed also report that one-in-three parents mentioned concerns over their ability to make their food budget stretch to the end of the week.
Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsley said they saw parents struggling every day to provide enough food for their family and knew that parents often sacrificed having meals themselves to ensure their children were fed. She said arriving to school hungry affected children's behaviour and mood, affecting their ability to learn and enjoy interactions with classmates and teachers.
"If hungry children aren't given support to thrive it can also have a knock-on effect on the wider class. More widespread availability of breakfast clubs is needed as they are a proven way to help tackle the issue of food poverty."
Economist Jim Power said the report demonstrated that food affordability and food poverty were still issues for many.
He said the overall trend in spending on food had reduced since 2008, from a high of €7.95bn, reflecting the fact that many people had suffered income losses since the economic crash and did not have as much money to spend on food or anything else.
"Those on fixed and low incomes have been most badly affected," he said. The report states that standing back in the hope that the improving economy will have a significantly positive impact on food poverty was not a solution. It calls for a targeted approach to those most at risk.
It calls on policymakers to work with non-governmental organisations to address food poverty "in a meaningful way".
Among the measures suggested are greater support for food banks and local charities, more funding for the school meals programme, greater focus on food education and cooking skills and industry playing a greater a role in finding collective solutions to food poverty.