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Number struggling financially has doubled since before pandemic according to new RED C poll conducted on behalf of SVP

17% of people report cutting back on essentials like food due to rising energy prices

Almost half of renters worried about their ability to pay their rent in the next six months

The depth of the difficulties currently facing many people in Ireland are highlighted in a new poll conducted by RED C on behalf of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP).

The poll conducted last month with a representative sample of 1036 adults builds on a similar poll in 2021, with a set of new questions on financial worries for the next six months and specific questions on the impact of rising energy prices.

A key finding is that the number of people reporting that they are finding it difficult to manage financially has doubled since the start of the pandemic in 2020, from 9% to 18% in January 2022.

The report entitled “The Cost of Surviving” details the actions people are taking to survive and meet their rising living costs. It also outlines the steps needed to be taken by Government to prevent a deepening of poverty.

Cutting back due to recent energy price increases

  • 37% of people have cut back on essential heating and electricity use and 17% have cut back on other essentials such as food.
  • Almost half of single parents (47%) and unemployed people (48%) have cut back on essential heating and electricity and 37% have cut back on other essentials like food.
  • A quarter of renters in both private accommodation and local authority housing have cut back on essentials like food in response to rising energy prices and 61% of renters in local authority housing have cut back on essential heating and electricity.

Future worries around housing and energy costs in next six months

  • Almost 40% people are worried or quite worried about their ability to meet their household energy costs while a quarter are worried about their ability to meet their housing costs (rent or mortgage).
  • 66% of single parents are worried about their ability to meet their household energy costs in the next six months and 44% are worried about their ability to meeting their housing costs.
  • For private renters over half are worried about their ability to pay their rent, 9% already behind on their rent and 29% worried about facing eviction in the next six months

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice and Policy said, “The importance of this research is that it explores the depth of financial worry and concern across every cohort of the population. However, the data clearly shows that the groups more vulnerable to poverty including unemployed people, single parents, and renters are finding it particularly difficult to manage rising energy costs. Cutting back on essentials like food, going into debt or using savings to pay bills is common. Unsurprisingly, these groups also had significant worries about their financial situation for the next six months as their ability to meet their housing and energy costs comes under considerable strain.

The impact of the pandemic on low-income household budgets has left families more exposed. While better-off families tended to build up their savings during the pandemic, providing a shock absorber for rising prices, lower income families have no saving and are already in debt.

With inflation forecast to continue rising the gap between incomes and expenditure for people on the lowest incomes will grow. The real life impact of this as seen by SVP will be bills that go unpaid, increased food poverty, evenings spent without heat and light and more isolation for those who cannot afford to leave their homes

It is our experience that even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis people living in poverty had to make difficult decisions between essentials. In 2020, it was estimated that 800,000 people were experiencing enforced deprivation. With the impact of rising costs being much harsher for households on low incomes, there is a clear case for targeted protections to prevent serious hardship in the coming weeks and months. It is also critical that Government commit to benchmark social welfare payments and minimum wages to an adequate level and in line with living costs in the longer term.

SVP recommendations in the short term include:

  • Frontload available resources to households on fixed and low incomes through increases in core welfare payments with extra support for families with children including those in receipt of the Working Family Payment.
  • Extend the Fuel Allowance season by four weeks and keep under review.
  • Establish a discretionary fund to support households with extra living expenses and utility debt//costs. This could be facilitated through the CWO service and by relaxing the rules for Exceptional Needs Payments.
  • Establish a rent arrears fund between DSP and DHPLG to prevent a rise in homelessness.
  • Increase the limits for the Housing Assistance Payment and Rent Supplement to end the practice of top-ups.
  • Continue to monitor utility disconnection data and strengthen consumer protection measures to prevent a significant increase in disconnections.

Tricia Keilthy said that immediate support must go hand in hand with measures to strengthen our social welfare system by benchmarking it against the cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) and by introducing a living wage.

SVP is also calling for the development of a new strategy to combat energy poverty with clear targets and supporting actions in the areas of income adequacy, fair energy prices and energy efficiency schemes across tenure types.

The full report on the RED C poll entitled, The Cost of Surviving? An analysis of the financial impact of Covid-19 & rising cost of living, can be found below:

Read Full Report: The Cost of Surviving?

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