Parents struggling to make ends meet regularly go without food

Study paints a stark picture of the reality of living long-term without an adequate income

Parents struggling to make ends meet regularly go without food, adequate clothing and social engagement, putting their children’s needs first, a landmark study published on Wednesday finds.

Based on detailed interviews with 30 families, Stories of Struggle is commissioned by the Society of St Vincent de Paul and paints a stark picture of the reality of living long-term without an adequate income.

It draws on previous research on what is needed to have a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) and looks qualitatively at the impact of not having that.

Some 15 of the families interviewed were from rural areas and 15 were urban. Most had three or fewer children, though one had seven. Some 17 were one-parent families, 13 two-parents. Half of them were completely reliant on social welfare transfers.


Half of the families were in “the deepest level of income inadequacy”. They had to “make continuous sacrifices in an effort to make their budgets stretch. . . Children’s needs were prioritised by families across the board but it was more difficult for the parents in this group to meet their children’s physical, social and psychological needs”.

One mother is quoted: “My eight year-old daughter said, ‘Mummy I want a birthday party’ and I had to say, ‘You’re a big girl now, you don’t need a birthday party’. It was very difficult to see the disappointment on her face. I had to explain we didn’t have the money.”


The report says families often “felt lonely, sad, ashamed and embarrassed”.

They had to be highly organised with budgets, food plans and shopping lists based on special offers in supermarkets. They often went without sufficient personal care items, prioritising toothpaste and shampoo but doing without haircuts and skin creams.

The single, most-cited driver of income inadequacy was the high cost of housing, closely followed by a family break-up, low-pay, unemployment and unaffordable childcare.

Families in the private rented sector were having to pay “top-up” payments in addition to their rent supplement or Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). Less than a quarter were in social housing and all in the private rented sector had a long-term housing need. One said: “Housing would change my life” and all had a strong desire for stable housing for their children.

Those out of work “expressed high levels of motivation to take up employment, education or training” with many citing not being able to afford childcare as a barrier.

Among the report’s recommendations are that the minimum wage be benchmarked against the MESL; the higher costs of children over 12 be recognised in a higher payment in respect of these children, to parents dependent on welfare, and, investment in quality, affordable childcare.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times