The number of people who are struggling financially has doubled since the start of the pandemic with almost one in five people now having difficulty making ends meet, according to research carried out on behalf of the Society of St Vincent De Paul (SVP).
All told 18 per cent of those who took part in the Red C poll said they were in financial difficulty compared with a figure of 9 per cent recorded in early 2020.
The latest raft of research also points to the problems facing many households as a result of the spike in the cost of living, with 17 per cent of those polled saying they had been forced to cut back on essentials, including food, due to rising energy prices.
It also highlights the impact of the housing crisis with almost half of renters worried about their ability to pay their rent in the next six months.
The SVP report illustrates how spiralling energy costs have disproportionately impacted those on lower incomes.
All told 37 per cent of people have cut back on essential heating and electricity use with the percentage climbing to 48 per cent among those who are unemployed, with a similar percentage of single parents also forced to reduce their energy consumption.
A quarter of renters in both private accommodation and local authority housing have cut back on essentials such as food in response to rising energy prices, while 61 per cent of renters in local authority housing have cut back on essential heating and electricity.
"The importance of this research is that it explores the depth of financial worry and concern across every cohort of the population," said SVP's head of social justice and policy Dr Tricia Keilthy.
However, she also noted that “the data clearly shows that the groups more vulnerable to poverty, including unemployed people, single parents, and renters, have found it particularly difficult to managing rising energy costs”.
She said that "cutting back on essentials like food, going into debt or using savings to pay bills is common. Unsurprising, 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."
She also pointed out that better-off families “tended to build up their savings during the pandemic, providing a shock absorber for rising prices, but lower income families have no saving and are already in debt”.
She said that the impact of rising costs of essentials and energy bills on households on low incomes meant there was “a clear case for targeted protections to prevent serious hardship in the coming weeks and months”.
She also stressed that it was “critical that Government benchmark social welfare payments and minimum wages to an adequate level and in line with living costs”.
Ms Keilthy called for resources to be aimed primarily at 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 and for an extension of the fuel allowance season by four weeks and keep under review.
She also suggested a discretionary fund to support households with extra living expenses and utility debt/costs which, she said could be “facilitated through the Community Welfare Officers service and by relaxing the rules for exceptional needs payments”.