Families on low incomes having to choose between eating healthily and paying bills

Safefood research suggests buying good food can account for 35% of a household’s income

Some families on low incomes have to spend more than a third of their entire income on food for their shop to meet basic nutritional needs, meaning some are being forced to choose between eating healthily and paying household bills, new research suggests.

A report from safefood, the all-island body charged with promoting knowledge of food safety and nutrition, found that a week’s worth of healthy food for a household with two parents and two children, one of whom was in secondary school, cost €169 a week.

This amounted to 35 per cent of total income for a family dependent on social welfare and 28 per cent of take home pay if the adults were employed and earning the minimum wage.

For a single parent living on social welfare with two children in pre-school and primary school, the basket cost €103 per week or 29 per cent of their household income.


By contrast, the most recent CSO data indicated that the average spend per household on food was 14.7 per cent of take home income.

According to the safefood research, households on a low-income tend to eat less well, which can contribute to higher levels of excess weight and health complications such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Joanna da Silva, safefood’s chief specialist in nutrition, said food spending is “the flexible element of the household budget and people often fill up on cheap food that’s nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid”.

Robert Thornton, senior research and policy officer with the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, said the research highlighted “the challenge of balancing the cost of a healthy food against other needs when on a low income”.

“Managing on a tight budget means families with children, single parents and pensioners have to make stark choices in how they spend their money,” he said.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast