‘The kids are going to starve . . then they have health problems’
Families are reducing their food bills following cuts to their benefits
Natasha Shaw and Kim Green from Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson
Chicken nuggets, hot dogs and burgers are what Kim Greene now feeds her four children after years of successive cuts to benefits have reduced what she can spend on her weekly shopping. She knows she should buy healthier meals but says she can’t afford them.
“Three chicken fillets cost €7.50 and they’re not even big. It’s cheaper to buy a packet of 10 chocolate bars for a euro than give them some healthy snacks. Two punnets of strawberries for a fiver, who can afford that?” says the 31-year-old mother living in Corduff, near Blanchardstown, Dublin.
The latest statistics show 732,000 people were living in poverty in 2011, which has been on the increase since 2008. Recent budgets have put pressure on families already on the brink. A recent study of young children in Ireland showed the intrinsic link between poverty and children’s obesity, poor diets and behavioural problems.
In a pre-budget submission out tomorrow, Barnardos wants child benefit payments maintained, the back-to-school clothing allowance returned to previous levels and for the fuel allowance and school meal programme to be maintained.
Early childhood education
Social Justice Ireland wants the Government to increase the minimum social welfare payment by €5, to increase spending on early childhood education and to boost health spending to deal with waiting lists.
“If the Government makes more cuts which affect low-income families you would be heading towards a deeply damaged and deeply divided society,” says Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland.
That divide is already in evidence according to staff at the Barnardos centre in Mulhuddart, Dublin. Holly Gillen, project manager, says she is shocked at the rise in demand for their services.
An early-years group for local children under five years with developmental or behavioural problems now gives the children breakfast when they arrive at 9.30am after staff noticed they were coming in hungry. A breakfast club in the local school, intended as a place for children to come and discuss things on their minds, has seen more children coming in without having had anything to eat. “Our food bill has gone way up,” says Ms Gillen.
Ms Greene knows all about the daily struggle to feed and clothe her children. The weekly €250 she gets from her one-parent family payment gets whittled down quickly – €47 for rent, €40 on gas and electricity, €10 for bin tags and €1.50 each time she needs a prescription filled for her youngest child who has severe eczema. Then there is the money she gets at Christmas from loan sharks, which she spends most of the year paying back.
These waiting lists are compounding the difficulties of low-income families whose needs have gone up. Children on lower incomes tend to have more behavioural problems yet are left waiting years for help.
Staff in the Mulhuddart centre say there is a two-year waiting list in Dublin 15 for children to be assessed with developmental delays or for speech and language problems. The HSE confirmed vacancies due to staff leaving and a moratorium on filling posts was causing “delays for assessments and interventions/therapy for children in northwest Dublin”.
Natasha Shaw (31), who lives in Blanchardstown, had to wait three years before her daughter could be seen by a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with ADHD. “There were years of her jumping off the bannisters and giving herself concussion and jumping off tables before she got help,” she says. Now cuts to respite care, the homecare package and a reduction in the number of resource teacher hours for her daughter in school is affecting the whole family, she says.
Families struggling say they can’t take any more reductions in their income. Ms Greene says if cuts are imposed her children will suffer in the long-term.
“Just say if there were cuts and if they said €20 or €30 goes off my income, that’s €20 or €30 off my shopping, so the kids are going to starve, so then they have all their health problems and I’ll be stressed out.”