How can a State that spends €20bn on welfare have hungry children?
In a country that spends nearly €20bn on welfare, it is difficult to understand how one-in-five children goes to school hungry every day. Yet that is what a conference on food poverty was told in Dublin yesterday.
It is also worrying that only half of the 170 disadvantaged schools (DEIS) invited to join schemes that would fund 'Breakfast Clubs' and other food initiatives actually applied for the available funding.
The conference was told that research has shown that schemes such as Breakfast Clubs can improve children's attendance, punctuality and performance at school.
At the moment an estimated 200,000 children in 1,300 schools avail of breakfast provided by the Department of Social Protection.
Urging boards of management to consider this option, the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said funding for such programmes had increased from €35m to €37m this year.
The conference was also told that one-in-eight children never eats breakfast on a weekday.
Breakfast clubs, in particular, could provide a healthy and nutritious start to the day, particularly for children from homes where there may be difficulties or chaotic living conditions.
"Children are particularly vulnerable to food poverty, which has long-term consequences for their future health, education and economic outcomes," said Marjo Moonen, addressing the first conference organised by her group, Healthy Food For All (HFA).