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Research by the Women’s Regional Consortium and Ulster University with 250 women has found that the impact of the Cost-of-Living Crisis is forcing women to skip meals and go hungry to feed their children.

The decision to end the ‘Holiday Hunger Scheme’ coupled with rocketing food inflation will increase hardship and food insecurity for families. Around 96,300 children have lost £27 a fortnight.

Low-income pregnant women and those with young children are entitled to a ‘Healthy Start’ payments to help with the cost of formula, fruit, and vegetables, but just over half of those entitled to support have joined the scheme.

Women have experienced a significant squeeze on their household budgets with many struggling to afford essentials including food, fuel, and transport. The research shows that 91% of women reported difficulty in paying their bills due to price increases. Food shopping caused serious financial stress (75%) as did energy bills (73% electricity, 52% gas and 30% home heating oil).

Women also communicated anxiety about school costs (27%) which is likely to become an increasing pressure point for families over the summer period - as the cost of food remains high, there will be less income available to purchase required items.

We are calling for an urgent reversal in the decision to cut ‘Holiday Hunger’ payments and for a major take-up campaign around the Healthy Start Scheme. We are also calling for urgent reform to school uniform policy – including an increase in available support, which currently falls behind England, Scotland, and Wales.

Siobhán Harding from the Women’s Support Network said:

“Women are at crisis point. Years of austerity measures, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the Cost-of-Living crisis has created a perfect storm for women who are left to become shock absorbers of poverty in their homes. Women told us about not being able to buy basic foods including baby formula and healthy food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, having to use foodbanks, eating out-of-date food or going without meals altogether.”

Siobhán continued:

“Many are making tortuous decisions around feeding themselves and their families, they are faced with no other choice and the stark reality is they are unable to live dignified, healthy lives. This should not and cannot be acceptable for women living in Northern Ireland. Children will soon finish school for the Summer and children will be without school meals. We are calling for the Holiday Hunger Scheme to be urgently reinstated and for the Healthy Start Scheme to be widely publicised to ensure women and children do not go hungry during the Summer months.”

Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, Lecturer and Researcher at the School of Law, Ulster University said:

“This research very clearly demonstrates the disproportionate harm that the Cost-of-Living emergency is having on women and children. Women are being plunged into poor mental and physical health as they strive to protect their children through missing meals, getting deeper and deeper into debt, and shielding them from the significant toll that the economic crisis is taking on their lives.

“Unless the cuts to Communities and Education are reversed, women and children will go hungry this summer. The end of the Holiday Hunger scheme marks the end of crucial support for around 96,300 children in NI. This coupled with a potential reduction to the Discretionary Support Fund by the Department for Communities will increase the risk of destitution for many families who are already unfairly bearing the brunt of high inflation.”