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A Hidden Deprivation
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Michael Drew’s review of the causes and effects of food poverty in Ireland offers the first full-length study of this significant and protracted issue that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

The book brings together the complex picture emerging from interviews with users of food aid. Their pathways into and through food poverty are impacted by the policies and practices of government and employers with wide-ranging implications. The work explores the international landscape of food poverty and situates both experiences and responses in a comparative context. It considers how these results contribute to an understanding of the problem and what action should be taken.

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Chapter 1 explains that, while food poverty has a low profile in Ireland, it has re-emerged as a growing social policy concern. It is a relevant and important topic that needs our attention, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic. The chapter introduces the literature on poverty, food poverty and food insecurity, together with related definitions. It outlines how the book uses its research findings to explore the policy drivers of food poverty, leading to consideration of policy responses to address its root causes. Finally, it guides the reader through the chapters that follow.

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Chapter 2 draws on the international poverty literature, in order to provide context for the book. It provides a historical overview on how interpretations of poverty have evolved and how it has been defined and measured. This is followed by a more detailed review of both food poverty and food insecurity, including definitions, measurement and empirical findings. The chapter considers research on food bank use, which provides an indirect indication of food poverty. This leads to an investigation of risk factors associated with food poverty and the growth of food aid. An overview of core areas of social policy that potentially influence food poverty is also provided.

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Chapter 3 provides an overview of poverty research in Ireland from a food perspective and drivers for food poverty. It includes an overview of the literature on core areas of social policy relevant to contemporary food poverty in Ireland. Risk factors include demographic and socio-economic characteristics, the cost of food, household and accommodation type, as well as location-based food poverty. The overview of policy areas includes social protection, the minimum/living wage, precarious work, in-work poverty and caring responsibilities.

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Chapter 4 provides a comparative quantitative analysis of Ireland with the largest economies in Europe (EU15), drawing on EU and OECD surveys for food poverty and UN for food insecurity. The chapter also builds on existing quantitative research to provide an updated analysis of food poverty in Ireland, using the latest secondary data available. This analysis explores the characteristics of those experiencing food poverty in Ireland and considers factors that may predict food poverty.

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Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 present the results of interviews with food bank users in Dublin. The overarching framework of trajectories into (Chapter 5) and through (Chapter 6) food poverty for participants in the study. These two chapters set out a thematic analysis these chapters is a pathways approach, which assesses the different of the data generated from interviews, involving more than 40 participants. The discussion identifies important social policy issues that impact on these pathways.

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Chapter 6 presents the results of the interviews with respondents, revealing their pathways through and lived experience of food poverty. It discusses the impacts of food poverty as revealed by respondents, including hunger, the emotional experience of obtaining food aid and social exclusion. The chapter also discusses the multidimensional aspects of life on a low income, including fuel poverty, and how respondents use multiple strategies to cope with these challenges.

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Chapter 7 considers key social policy areas influencing food poverty in Ireland. It reflects back on the themes introduced in the literature review and assesses each area in the light of the results of analysing the research data. The discussion is informed by both the literature, the secondary analysis and the evidence from the interviews with food bank users.

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Chapter 8 explores responses to food poverty in Ireland from both the state and the voluntary sector, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is provided in a comparative EU15 context and includes the key role of the EU-wide Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD), facilitated in Ireland by FoodCloud. It investigates the landscape of food charity in Ireland, which has been influenced by the rising importance of food surpluses, linked to sustainable development. The merits of food aid are considered, given that it may obscure the underlying structural issues leading to food poverty and ease pressure on governments to address the problem. Emerging developments in support models are also discussed.

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Chapter 9 draws together the main findings of the work. It summarises what has been learned about the prevalence of food poverty in Ireland. It brings together the complex picture emerging from interviews with food bank users, through an analysis of their pathways into and through food poverty. These pathways are impacted by a range of policies and practices of government, employers and other relevant stakeholders, which have wide-ranging implications. The work reflects on experiences in Ireland and responses to food poverty in a comparative European context. It concludes by considering how these results help to contribute to an understanding of the problem and the policy responses to address the root causes of food poverty in Ireland.

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