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Basket of healthy food costs low income families a third of weekly budget: Report

By Claire McNeilly

Published 09/06/2015

Low income households in Northern Ireland need to spend at least one third of their take home income in order to purchase a basket of healthy food, it has emerged
Low income households in Northern Ireland need to spend at least one third of their take home income in order to purchase a basket of healthy food, it has emerged

Low income households in Northern Ireland need to spend at least one third of their take home income in order to purchase a basket of healthy food, it has emerged.

A new report has revealed that it costs a pensioner living alone £59 per week, while it comes to £119 per week for a family of four.

It is the first time a price has been put on a healthy food basket for two of the biggest household types in Northern Ireland.

The percentage spend is broken down across meat, fruit and vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs, and breads and cereals.

Pensioner outlay is 20% on meat, 21% on fruit and vegetables, 6% on dairy and 4% on bread and cereal, compared to the family equivalent of 25%, 23%, 11% and 11% on the same key food categories.

These are the main findings from Northern Ireland's survey on the Cost of a Healthy Food Basket, conducted by safefood in partnership with the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.

As part of the research, consumers were asked to select a realistic food basket from a taste and menu point of view, while taking into account the social needs of a household, such as hosting visitors or special occasions.

The grocery baskets were then reviewed by nutritionists from Ulster University to ensure they met nutritional guidelines of the UK Eat Well plate, and were then price-checked.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of Human Health and Nutrition at safefood, said that being unable to access a healthy diet due to affordability and accessibility can have both short and long-term effects on adults and children.

"The effects of compromising on food spending can impact on people's lives in a number of ways, from difficulties in concentration and poor energy levels in children, to well-being issues in everyday life for adults," she said.

"On a longer-term basis, the health consequences for those households living in food poverty are higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. In trying to make a limited household budget go further by compromising on healthy foods, some households are ending up nutritionally poor," she added.

Sharon Gilmore, Head of Standards and Dietary Health at the Food Standards Agency here, said people experiencing food poverty and having difficulty eating an adequate diet will continue to be the focus of their work.

"For the first time, we have sound evidence on the real cost of an essential food basket and how food issues relate to poverty and economic hardship. We need to take this evidence and develop an action plan to tackle food poverty in Northern Ireland," she said

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Skills at the Consumer Council, said the research establishes the true cost of a basic but healthy food basket and will inform the debate and actions needed to tackle food poverty.

"Our latest research, due to be released next month, shows a significant proportion of Northern Ireland consumers (43%) say their financial situation has worsened over the last two years due to higher food costs. Food prices have actually fluctuated during this period but, in our direct engagement with consumers, we have heard repeatedly how people are struggling to achieve a healthy, balanced diet," she said.

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