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THE MORNING LEAD

'Financially, I'm in a pickle': Your stories of coping with the cost-of-living squeeze

We asked readers to share their stories with us. Here’s what they told us.

IRELAND’S COST-OF-living squeeze didn’t materialise overnight.

Rising house prices, rents and onerous childcare costs are well-worn difficulties at this stage, all of which have heaped unique pressures on households and families.

But with consumer prices on the rise — mostly due to surging home electricity and heating bills as well as prices at the pump — as the economy has emerged from the worst of the pandemic, alarm bells have started to go off, one after another.

Irish prices increased by 5.7% in the year to the end of last December — the largest annual change in prices since 2001 — mostly down to higher energy prices. 

At the same time, some 37% of people surveyed by Red C last month said they were already cutting back on essential heating and electricity spending in a poll conducted on behalf of the Society of St Vincent De Paul.

Worryingly, almost half of the unemployed people and single parents polled said they had also cut back on essential heating and electricity. 

Against this backdrop, the Government rolled out a package of measures this week, aimed at insulating low to middle-income households from sharply rising costs.

So The Journal readers shared their own experiences of coping with the ongoing spike in the cost of living and their feelings about the Government’s plan of action.

The responses we received were varied.

But what seems to be clear is that for many — while the Government’s response may help alleviate the symptoms — the current spike in inflation is only compounding more deep-seated, longer-term economic difficulties that are unlikely to be solved through one-off measures.

‘Once or twice I’ve called into work sick as I don’t have enough to put a lunch together or pay for parking’

A woman working as a nurse in the west of the country said she and her husband are struggling, in particular, with the cost of childcare for their three children.

She told The Journal that she earns  €37,000 per annum. Her husband is currently out of work but does not receive the Jobseeker’s Allowance and is waiting “for the right time” to retrain.

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They receive the €130 Working Family Payment and Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) supports.

She said: “If my husband goes back to work then we need childcare, which would cost the bulk of his wage, and the rest would go on rent, and more.

We can’t save for a deposit for a house and we can’t pay full rent and childcare, so one parent at home is saving us money. If we had better childcare options, then we could both work and pay extortionate rents; it’s not ideal but it’s the only option. If we had better childcare options and easier rent to buy options then we could buy our own home. We both want to work, but it doesn’t pay.

“Heating is through the roof, we live in a damp mouldy house, with a child who is a chronic asthmatic.”

She added: “Once or twice I’ve called into work sick as I don’t have enough to put a lunch together or pay for parking. It’s soul-destroying. The government package will do nothing for us.”

’90% of us seem to have no choice but to live with our parents’

Conor, a 22-year-old living in Meath, said the soaring price of petrol is a particular issue for him.

“Being a 22-year-old in this country with a car worth just €1,500 and paying an insurance premium of €1,600 is not as easy as it sounds, especially now with petrol costing €1.80 a litre,” he said.

Housing costs are another major issue for him and his friends. He told The Journal that it doesn’t feel as though his locality ever recovered from the last recession from 2008 onwards.

“The pandemic stole two years of our youth and 90% of us seem to have no choice but to live with our parents for the long foreseeable future,” he said.

“I live in a town that has lacked investment ever since the last financial crash, which is still felt here.”

‘This is demeaning for any parent’

A mother of one living in Leinster told The Journal that she fears her family is slipping through the cracks of Ireland’s social welfare system.

She said: “My partner and I, both 31, are low to middle-income earners.

“We pay our taxes and earn too much for any type of Department of Social Protection support such as fuel allowance, the Working Family Payment etc.”

Her child has two long-term illnesses that require regular trips to hospitals in Dublin, she said. However, she added that her family gets little relief from the enhancement of the Drug Payment Scheme announced this week.

“My child’s monthly medical costs are €70 for two medications required in order for him to be even able to go to school, and he also requires medical machinery which costs €60 per month to a private company,” she said.

“The remaining accessories required for the machinery are each in excess of €100 per item needing updating as the child grows. This does not include the various GP visits, six monthly visits to both Dublin children’s hospitals, missing days from work where hospital stays are required or working a 60-hour week after sleeping on the floor of the children’s hospital for a week prior because I cannot afford to be unpaid.
We pay health insurance; however, many services are not covered under this. Our first specialist appointment was €250 before even being seen. Our GP charges €50 per 15 minutes.

Rising rents are another issue for this reader. She said that she and her husband are unable to get a mortgage for more than €210,000, but that average house prices in her local area are over €100,000 above that at the moment.

“We have reverted to moving back into my family home with our child where we also pay rent,” she added. “This is demeaning for any parent.”

‘I am struggling to put enough diesel in the car to last me a full week’

A single mother of four in her fifties told The Journal that rising food and petrol prices are taking a significant toll on her household budget.

The woman — a cancer survivor — is in receipt of social welfare payments after being made redundant during the pandemic.

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“I am educated, intelligent and used to working. I’m trying my best to get off social welfare, to stand on my own two feet again but it is just so damn hard,” she said.

I am struggling to put enough diesel in the car to last me a full week. I need the car to drop the kids to the bus stops and to get me to college two nights a week, where I am retraining, having been made redundant due to the pandemic.

She asked: “Where can I reduce my spending?

I can’t get rid of the car because how will I get to work when I eventually find another job? I can’t not take my medication because if I die, who will care for the kids? I have to top up the Leap cards each week because the kids have to go to school and college. I need to pay my bills because we need to keep the lights on.

‘It’s heat or eat at the moment’

A 74-year-old woman living alone in a council home on income from a non-contributory pension scheme told The Journal that rising home heating costs are forcing her to make difficult decisions.

“Every year I search out the best deals for electricity and gas (despite my age I’m good with online stuff) and switch providers,” she said.

“For a myriad of reasons, I didn’t do that last year. 

“My electric bill is for cooking and immersion and TV. My gas is for central heating only. My recent bills were €130 for electricity and €170 for gas for a two-month period. To clarify, I use the heating for one hour a day and spend the rest of the time under the duvet. 
“Financially, I’m in a pickle. It’s heat or eat at the moment.”
Some quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Design by Shane Delahunty and Nicky Ryan.

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