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Cost of living crisis: SVP says poorer families are on the brink as choices narrow

The charity highlighted how families were affected by the crisis this week.

(File photo)
(File photo)
Image: Shutterstock/Natalia Lebedinskaia

THE INFLATION CRISIS is hitting everyone differently, but most people – including Government and Opposition TDs – agree on one thing: something needs to be done.

The discussion fractures when it comes to ironing out the finer details, like whether there’s a need for an emergency budget or who should benefit from targeted measures.

Such back-and-forth debates can drown out the stories of those who are facing hardship and how badly impacted some people are by the rising cost-of-living.

But at the launch of the St Vincent De Paul’s pre-Budget submission this week, Liam – a long-time volunteer with the charity – spoke about the sharp end of the crisis when describing his experience meeting with families who live in a hotel.

“When you’re dealing with parents who are in tears and are living in a one or two-bedroom hotel, it’s very difficult as a member of Vincent DePaul to help those families,” he said, adding that he believed there is now an acceptable level of poverty in Ireland.

“Six years ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of 1916. I wonder how the men and women of 1916 would feel about the Ireland of today.”

Families like those visited by Liam are among thousands who have reached out to the SVP for help in recent times. Last year, the charity received 191,000 requests for assistance – equivalent to more than 500 calls a day.

It is on course to surpass that figure in 2022, receiving 80,000 calls between January and May, a time when its lines tend to be less busy compared to the latter half of the year.

The extent to which struggling families are being hit by the cost-of-living crisis was laid bare at this week’s SVP event.

Attendees heard how 200,000 children are living in enforced deprivation and that a quarter of parents are getting into debt to cover back-to-school costs.

Meanwhile, 29% of renters are worried about eviction in the next six months and over 250,000 people are in arrears on their electricity bills.

There were calls at the event for the Government to take action, with suggestions that Budget announcements in October are too far away for those who are struggling.

“The Government supports provided so far have helped, there’s no doubt about that,” SVP National President Rose McGowan said.

“But the inflation forecast is rising, rising, rising. The gap between income and expenditure for people on the lowest incomes will grow.

“The fact of life in Ireland today is that there is a weekly gap of €49 between core social welfare rates and the cost of the minimum essential standard of living.”

As a volunteer working in Dublin’s inner city, McGowan said she constantly sees people worrying about whether they can make ends meet from one day to the next.

She spoke about families worrying about next year’s back-to-school costs already, a woman who recently asked the charity to borrow two coats for her children, and people in rural Ireland being unable to leave their homes as they can’t afford petrol to do so.

McGowan explained that not being able to pay bills or eat properly can also have knock-on effects, like an impact people’s well-being and mental health.

“It’s a combination of things that kind of exacerbates everything. It’s not just about having to pay bills: it’s what comes out of not being able to pay,” she said.

“In Ireland in 2022, we’re a wealthy country as such, but yet we have people coming to food banks for food. Aside from worrying about their rent and energy bills.”

‘Children should have happy memories’

Research compiled by the charity detailed further experiences of people living below the minimum standard of living.

One parent told the SVP about not being able to give even €5 to their children for school trips, while another described feeling crushed because they could not afford to have a birthday party for their eight-year-old daughter.

“Children should have happy memories and photographs of happy times, [but] my daughter hasn’t any,” one quote read. “People need happy memories.”

One story highlighted at the launch described an individual who lives alone and how they have had to choose between paying for energy or eating.

A recently published study by the ESRI revealed that, based on one measure, almost a third of Irish households are in energy poverty and are paying more than 10% of their income on energy costs due to inflation.

It follows months of price hikes from providers, with Electric Ireland announcing yesterday that it will increase electricity and gas prices from the beginning of August – the second time it has done so in recent months.

“When bills go up, people are left with no choices but to cut back on food, turn everything off or fall into arrears,” Issy Petrie, the SVP’s research and policy officer said.

“We know that energy poverty leads to poor health in the long-term for both adults and children, with severe impact on physical health and mental health.”

Despite calls for targeted measures to be introduced in the upcoming Budget to help those most in need of assistance, it emerged this week that the Government may be considering tax cuts for middle-income earners.

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The SVP warned that if resources are not targeted, the situation will get worse for those in need.

“We have a real risk now that if the right decisions aren’t made in Budget 2023, we will see a deepening of poverty and households being pushed into poverty for the first time,” the charity’s head of social justice and poverty, Dr Tricia Keilthy said.

“It’s so important that the resources available are used and targeted towards those on low and fixed incomes.”

Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who attended the launch, claimed that those in Government believed that people on social welfare “don’t deserve it”.

“It’s an ideological issue that they have, and I think that needs to be kept in mind,” he said.

But Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd, one of the Government TDs who attended the launch,  said he agreed with calls that more needed to be done in relation to social welfare and housing.

He expressed concern for vulnerable older people who were affected by spiralling energy costs, particularly with the winter months approaching.

However, he said that it was a difficult task to assist everyone who needs help.

“It’s hard to talk or listen to all the people and try and make sure that the State does provide adequately and appropriately for them,” O’Dowd said.

“We should not underestimate – and I know nobody here underestimates – the struggles ahead in the winter we’re going to face.”

Yesterday, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said there may be a change in the timing of the Budget this year, suggesting the usual October announcement could be brought forward by a number of weeks.

He also said the measures that would be announced would target those most impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, although he did not give details about what could be expected.

“It is possible that there will be a modest change in terms of bringing it forward,” he said.

“But that’s not definite until Government makes a decision and they expect that will happen next week.”

As discussions and debates about how to tackle rising inflation continue in the months ahead, so too will the need of those most affected by the crisis.

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