One in five children 'are going to school or their bed hungry'
ONE in five Irish children go to school or bed hungry as there is a growing problem with food poverty, a conference has heard.
The charity Healthy Food for All (HFA) said that official figures indicated 10pc of the population, and 21pc of children don't always have enough to eat.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton appealed to more schools to set up breakfast clubs and meals programmes to alleviate the problem, with funds now available from her department.
The Department of Social Protection provided food for 200,000 disadvantaged children in 1,300 schools.
Funding for school meals had increased from €35m to €37m this year but only around half the 170 schools invited to apply to join the schemes this year had done so, she said.
"There are various DEIS schools out there who, for various reasons, have as yet not reached a decision to participate," she said, urging boards of management to consider doing so.
These schemes, and particularly breakfast clubs, could provide a healthy and nutritious start to the day for children from homes where there might be difficulties or chaotic living conditions, Ms Burton said.
HFA spokeswoman Marjo Moonen told the charity's first national conference in Dublin that food poverty affected people in a number of ways, as being unable to consume a balanced diet led to increased rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart conditions.
"Children are particularly vulnerable to food poverty which has long-term consequences on their future health, education and economic outcomes," she said.
The figures show that one in eight children never eat breakfast on a weekday.
Research outlined at the conference indicated that families on social welfare do not have enough money to meet their weekly spending needs.
The Vincentian Partnership found that a family with three young children with an income of €494 would have outgoings of €573 a week.
It would cost €158 a week, or 32pc of their income, to provide the family with a healthy diet, it found.
Report author Dr Bernadette MacMahon said this was for a basic healthy diet including fruit and vegetables, but it did not include luxury products such as alcohol or other non-essentials.