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Large numbers of people sacrificing personal hygiene products to afford food and heat, study finds

A study found a wide range of people were affected, but the problem was most acute among those with low incomes

People in Ireland are sacrificing basic personal hygiene products in order to pay for food, heat and electricity, a new report suggests.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin found a wide range of people were affected, but the problem was most acute among those with low incomes. The rates of those impacted were also elevated, it was found, among those with a health condition or disability, among migrants and in households with children.

Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of the 258 people who participated in an online survey conducted as part of the research said they had difficulty purchasing essential hygiene items in the previous 12 months.

The research, which also included literature and policy review, workshops and in-depth interviews, was carried out over the middle part of this year. Rising household expenses, falling disposable income and higher food costs played a role, it found.


A high proportion of participants in the study reported impacts on both their physical and mental health. More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of those impacted suggested the problem was a source of embarrassment. while almost as many (65 per cent) said their sleep was affected. People’s ability to exercise suffered, it was found, as did their oral health.

The research was carried out by Dr Joe Whelan and Jo Greene at the school of social work and social policy, TCD for hygiene hub, an organisation that collects hygiene products to distribute to charities.

It was funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The authors say the importance of the issue and its impact on those affected needs increased recognition to be addressed. They suggest increases to core social protection payment rates to allow recipients to possibly afford these products and contend that an inability to afford them in the first place should be regarded as a deprivation indicator.

They call for greater awareness of the issue and a range of policy measures to address it.

“Living without access to basic hygiene items can have a profound negative impact on a person’s life, dignity, physical and mental health,” said Dr Whelan.

“This research sheds much-needed light on the pervasive and often hidden issue of hygiene poverty in Ireland. We were very interested to find that the issue transcended income levels. This shows the broad-reaching implications of the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

Sorcha Killian, a co-founder of Hygiene Hub described the research as “a major milestone” which highlighted “a long-hidden facet of poverty”.

The research, she said, was the first of its kind carried out in Ireland and “a first step in formulating an accurate picture of how this issue affects people here (but) it suggests that incorporating hygiene-related needs into deprivation indices would provide a more accurate depiction of individuals and households experiencing hygiene deprivation. Ideally, individuals facing financial constraints should easily be able to receive these items through established support services.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times