A quarter cutting back on food, utilites due to financial strain of pandemic, says SVP

People already on low incomes have been worst affected, survey finds

During Covid-19, over a third of one parent families had to cut back on heating or had fallen behind on bills, and 25 per cent had cut back on food due to the additional financial pressures associated with school closures. Photograph:iStock

During Covid-19, over a third of one parent families had to cut back on heating or had fallen behind on bills, and 25 per cent had cut back on food due to the additional financial pressures associated with school closures. Photograph:iStock

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More than two in five adults have experienced financial hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

The pandemic has left a quarter of the workforce unemployed and dependent on state support.

According to a survey carried out for charity St Vincent de Paul (SVP), 24 per cent of adults have cut back on food, heating or electricity due to cost, 22 per cent are using savings to meet ordinary living expenses, 14 per cent are falling behind on bills such as rent, mortgages, utilities or other regular payments and 7 per cent are going into into debt (personal loan, credit cards) to meet ordinary living expenses.

Those who are already on low incomes have been worst affected by the pandemic and have struggled to pay for the lighting, heating and food costs of having to stay at home.

Of those who were finding it difficult to manage financially prior to the pandemic, 85 per cent reported experiencing some form of financial strain due to Covid-19, compared to 21 per cent of those who stated they were living comfortably prior to the pandemic.

The survey was carried out by Red C research with a representative sample of 1,026 adults between January 22nd and 28th.

It finds that those who are experiencing the most adverse financial impacts are many of the groups that were vulnerable to poverty prior to the pandemic including low-income families with children, lone parents, renters, and people with disabilities.

During Covid-19, over a third of one parent families had to cut back on heating or had fallen behind on bills, and 25 per cent had cut back on food due to the additional financial pressures associated with school closures.

For people unable to work due to illness or disability, 42 per cent reported going without heating due to Covid-19, compared to 18 per cent of people at work.

The survey identified significant financial distress among rental tenants with almost one in 10 renters reporting that they have fallen behind on their rent and a quarter stating they were in arrears on other regular payments.

“We are concerned that if the eviction ban is lifted, and without a financial mechanism to address rent arrears, many people in the private rental sector will be put at risk of homelessness,” said Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP’s head of social justice.

“These findings point to a divergence in experience during lockdown, with those most vulnerable to financial strain and poverty feeling the brunt of the negative economic consequence of the pandemic,” she said.

She said significant financial interventions are needed for those most at risk of financial distress beyond the pandemic unemployment payment and wage subsidy schemes currently in place.

The research found the majority of people surveyed were living comfortably prior to the pandemic but a third of the population were just about getting by or finding it difficult to manage financially, indicating that many people were in a precarious financial position prior to the Covid-19 crisis.

“The pandemic has heightened and exposed long-term issues for people living on low incomes and in financial precarity. But there is an opportunity to build back better and bolster the financial resilience of households in Ireland by investing in our social infrastructure and supports,” she stated.