Ireland is home to the largest food bank network in Europe and has the third highest number of food banks in the world, according to figures published by the charity Foodbank Ireland.
The charity estimates more than 1.5 million people in Ireland receive help each year through its network of about 200 food banks, which operate in more than 10 countries and are based in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
The figures, published today by the Irish Government’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (DAFA), show the Irish population is growing rapidly, from less than 400,000 in 2006 to more than 6.5m today.
As a result, the number of people receiving food assistance rose by almost 40 per cent between 2006 and 2014, the figures show.
This figure is almost double that of England, which saw a decrease of about 4 per cent.
The figure for food banks operating in Wales was slightly lower, at about 1.4 million.
The number of individuals receiving food aid rose by nearly 11 per cent to nearly 5.5million between 2006 to 2014.
In Scotland, the total food bank population rose by more than 12 per cent in that same period to nearly 6.8 million.
These figures come just months after the Government announced a series of reforms that will see the Irish food bank sector grow to more people, with the new figures highlighting the success of the scheme.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Programme, Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was an important indicator of how people are spending their tax payer money in Ireland.
He said the figures revealed that the Irish government had invested €1.5bn in food banks and that the scheme was growing fast.
“It’s a great example of how the Government is investing in food and how they are providing food, food bank services and support for the people in need,” he said.
“This is a success story.”
Foodbank Ireland says it provides a range of services, including providing food to households and individuals who are in crisis, as well as helping those in need with their rent payments.
The Government has invested in a range.
The first is a pilot scheme which runs in Cork and Limerick, and which has provided over 600,000 meals to families since the pilot launched in November.
The scheme will run until June 2019.
The second is a further scheme, the Food Bank Support Scheme, which is run in Dublin, which will be expanded to Cork and other areas.
Mr Harris said the Government has committed €2bn to the scheme, with further investment planned.
“We are going to be expanding the scheme,” he told RTÉ.
“And there are over 200 food bank support centres across the country that are under the scheme.”
The scheme has also been extended to cover other parts of Ireland, which includes Limerick.
Mr Harrison said the scheme has made a huge difference to the lives of people who were in crisis and now have the opportunity to start fresh and to have some financial support.
“They are now looking for the help they need to get back on their feet,” he added.
The Department of Finance says it is also working to improve the provision of food, with new measures to boost food banks.