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Latest Minimal Essential Standard of Living (MESL) Report Published

The adequacy of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) remains a concern

The Minimal Essential Standard of Living (MESL) report is prepared by the Vincentian MESL Research Centre at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP). It offers crucial insights into what individuals and households in Ireland need to live with dignity. The MESL research, grounded in lived experiences and social consensus, details the essential goods and services that people agree are needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living. Separate figures are provided for urban and rural households.

The 2024 report published today (18th June), shows that the cost of the needs of a child aged 12 and over remains the highest for any other age group of children. The MESL costs for children, aged 12 is at €149 per week. while Pre-School is at €60. Infant needs have increased dramatically by 22.4% from 2020 to 2024, driven by substantial rises in the costs of baby milk formula (37%) and nappies (84%).

The report says that the direct MESL cost of a child is based on expenditure needs which can be attributed solely to a child and excludes wider household costs. A family household has different minimum requirements compared to a household without children, due to various needs associated with family life. These wider costs which are not specific to a particular child or age-group but instead are applicable to households with children independent of age-groups, are included in the parental head of household MESL baskets.

When eligible for a full Medical Card, the core MESL cost is lower. This reduction has the most significant impact on the MESL costs for the child of second level school age, reducing the MESL expenditure need by €7 to €149 per week.

Within the core MESL costs food is the largest category of expenditure for each age-group. This is followed by clothing costs for infants and pre-school aged children, while social inclusion costs are the second largest area for school age children.

In addition to the results for a child’s needs other key findings from the report are:

Stabilisation in Costs: Over the past year, MESL costs have shown a moderate decline for most household types, decreasing by an average of 1.9% from March 2023 to March 2024. But, from 2020 to 2024, there has been a cumulative increase of 16.8% in core MESL costs, highlighting ongoing challenges.

  1. Food Costs: The cost of the MESL food basket rose by 1.5% in the last year, with a cumulative increase of 21.2% from 2020 to 2024. Notably, infant food costs surged by 7.2% in the past year and by 27.3% since 2020.
  2. Energy Costs: While 2024 saw a significant reduction in household energy costs—down by 24.9% for urban and 12.2% for rural households—energy prices remain substantially higher than 2020 levels, with a 62.7% increase for urban households and 54.0% for rural households over four years.
  3. Income Adequacy: Despite nominal increases in social welfare rates, the percentage of household income needed to meet MESL food costs has risen for working-age households and older couples. The real value of social protection rates, relative to MESL, remains below previous peaks despite nominal increases. In 2024, 76% of test cases have an inadequate income when reliant on social welfare. This is an improvement from the 87% of cases in 2023 but remains above the rates of inadequacy found prior to the recent inflation-shock.
  4. Employment and Minimum Wage: Employment generally improves household income, but the adequacy of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) remains a concern. For urban single adults in full-time minimum wage employment, the income shortfall has lessened to €130 per week. Effective in-work supports and access to affordable childcare and housing are vital for achieving income adequacy.
  5. ‘Cost of Living’ Supports: Supplemental payments and supports helped mitigate the impact of the exceptional rise in living costs. Without these supports, income inadequacy would be significantly higher, affecting 80% of cases in 2024. With the stabilisation of living costs the real value of core social protection rates now needs to be restored in order to address the ongoing challenge of the 16.8% increase in minimum living costs.

The 2024 MESL report highlights the essential costs required for a dignified life in Ireland and underscores the severe impact of inflation and rising living costs over recent years. While there is now a relative stabilisation in costs the cumulative effects of inflation over recent years highlight the need for continued policy intervention to ensure an adequate social protection floor and a dignified standard of living for all.

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