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Stories of Struggle

Parents struggling with low income give priority to their children’s needs according to new research by Vincentian organisations

Parents who are struggling to make ends meet give priority to the needs of their children over their own and often worry and feel guilty that they are letting their children down.

That is one of the key findings of a new study published today by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) and the Vincentian Partnership for Social justice (VPSJ).

Called Stories of Struggle the report shines a light on what it is like for families whose income is not enough to afford a minimum essential standard of living (MESL).


It was launched today at SVP National Office by Ms Regina Doherty TD, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

On condition of anonymity, 30 families spoke with great freedom and ease to researchers about the overwhelming task of trying to make ends meet when there is simply not enough income in a household.  For those parents this means making sacrifices and neglecting their own needs in an effort to protect their children from the effects of inadequate income. Parents also struggle with the stress and strain of constantly juggling bills, worrying about big expenses and not having the money for sufficient healthy food, school trips, children’s activities or birthday celebrations.

However, the level of income in a household is only one of the factors explaining the extent to which a family is struggling to make ends meet.

According to Dr. Bernadette MacMahon DC, VPSJ Director, while each household’s experience was unique, three similar stories emerged. “The analysis of the interviews indicated that households tended to fall into three groups, those who cannot make ends meet, those who struggle to make ends meet and those who can just about make ends meet but with difficulty.  Having debt and arrears, facing extra costs due to illness or disability and living on a low income for a long period of time added to the difficulties of some families in making ends meet. On the other hand, having savings, access to good public transport and employment opportunities, and strong supports from families, friends and schools helped some families with low incomes to make ends meet, albeit with difficulty.”

Caroline Fahey, SVP Head of Social Justice said: “This report clearly shows that families with an inadequate income work very hard to make ends meet and use a myriad of coping strategies to help manage the shortfall in income.  Dealing with income inadequacy requires discipline, resilience and sacrifice. But living on an inadequate income is very stressful and emotionally draining, and the longer it goes on, the more difficult it is for families to see a way out.”

Kieran Stafford, SVP National President said: “The impact of living on an inadequate income is multi-dimensional, making it difficult at times to understand the comprehensive nature of ongoing disadvantage and the physical, psychological and social toll on the lives of children and adults.  These are situations regularly encountered by SVP volunteers making home visits. This research highlights the consequences of living with an inadequate income, and the cumulative impact on family well-being, and the risk to children’s development and quality of life when there is an ongoing shortfall in all areas of household expenditure.”

Stories of Struggles also found that:

  • The high cost of housing was the single most cited driver of income inadequacy.
  • Housing was followed closely by unemployment and family break-up.
  • The inability to access affordable and good quality childcare forced families into unemployment, or restricted the hours they could work.
  • Most families interviewed could point to specific events that lowered total family income such as the death of an immediate family member, being ‘let-go’ from a job or having hours reduced, rent increases, a car accident, the birth of a child with special needs, a family separation or a parent’s illness.

In addition to its finding on the drivers of income inadequacy and the strategies families use to cope, this report also improves our understanding of the social, emotional and physical impact of income inadequacy, identifies ways out of income inadequacy and makes recommendations on policy changes that could improve the quality of life of those struggling on inadequate income.

Caroline Fahey concluded: “On the basis of this report, a number of policy recommendations are made, which, if implemented, could make a real difference to the lives of people who are struggling.  We need to see more investment in housing, childcare, health and transport so that families are supported to find a way out of poverty and income inadequacy.  We also need to see social welfare rates and the National Minimum Wage benchmarked against the cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living in recognition of the real costs being faced by families.”

The full report, Stories of struggle – Experiences of living below the Minimum Essential Standard of Living is available;


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