More Irish people unhappy than ever before, CSO survey finds

Numbers on income support from State have soared during pandemic, research shows

Retail sales in December were 10.4 per cent higher than in February. Grafton Street in Dublin city centre during February 2021 lockdown. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A full year of Covid-19 has made more people unhappy with their lives than at any point since official records began, while the numbers relying on income support from the State has soared, according to new data.

The snapshot of Covid-19’s impact since the State’s first confirmed case on February 29th last year is based on statistics and research from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and while it paints a largely bleak picture, it also points to a surge in savings and silver linings for some people.

It suggests that 42 per cent of people rate their overall life satisfaction as low – the highest such rating captured in CSO surveys to date.

Seventeen per cent of women said they felt lonely all or most of the time in the four weeks prior to interview in February 2021, compared with 9.2 per cent of men.


More than four in 10 people said their consumption of junk food and sweets had increased since the start of the crisis, according to the CSO.

The study found almost half of those with a child in fifth or sixth year believe school closures were having a “major negative” impact on their child’s learning, while parents of younger children are now spending an average of 52 minutes per day helping with schoolwork.

The snapshot highlights the importance of pandemic-related income supports. With them included, household income has declined by between 0.1 per cent and 4.2 per cent for lower-income households but a decline of 18 per cent and 30 per cent would have been recorded without supports.

While the standard measure of monthly unemployment was 5.8 per cent in January, the Covid-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment indicates a rate as high as 25 per cent if all claimants of the pandemic unemployment payment were classified as unemployed.

Many have seen a dramatic decline in income but others have found themselves with money to spare, and between July and September alone Irish households were able to save €2.3 billion more than in the same period the previous year.

The research also says that 30 per cent of people reported in November 2020 that spending more quality time with the people they live with was an aspect of their lives that has changed for the better.

Sales figures

There were 29,000 fewer new cars sold last year when compared with 2019, although the combined number of new electric and hybrid cars licensed in 2020 was 15.7 per cent greater than in 2019 – a jump of 2,251 more cars.

Retail sales in December were 10.4 per cent higher than in February and by the middle of December new spending on debit and credit cards had reached €1,854 million, a rise of 111.9 per cent from April 16th, 2020.

For some sectors the story is different, and sales in bars fell by 62 per cent, while the sales of books, newspapers and stationery declined by 11 per cent, with sales in department stores falling by 4.5 per cent.

The sectors with the highest increases since February were hardware, paints and glass, which saw a bounce of 30.5 per cent, followed by food and beverages and tobacco, where sales climbed by 23 per cent.

Residential property prices increased by 2.2 per cent in the year to December compared with 0.3 per cent in the 12 months to December 2019.

Air and sea travel collapsed, with 31.4 million fewer arrivals and departures in 2020 compared with 2019.

There have been more than 4,000 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland over the last 12 months, with more than 1,000 in the last four weeks alone.

CSO director general Pádraig Dalton said the last 12 months had been “very difficult for everyone and particularly for those who have been ill or indeed lost loved ones to the Covid-19 virus”.

He said he was “very conscious that behind every statistic, whether it relates to a death, a positive virus case, a pandemic unemployment payment or other State support, is a person or a business”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor