Lower income families living ‘nightmare’ due to inflation, say groups

People ‘scraping by with little electricity’ as inflation reaches 22-year high in March

Lower-income families are “living a nightmare” due to the cost of living, representative organisations have said, as the annual rate of inflation hit its highest level in 22 years.

On Thursday, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published its consumer price index for March 2022, which found prices rose by 6.7 per cent in the past 12 months, the highest level since November 2000.

According to the index, the national average price for a large, white sliced pan of bread was up 13.6 cent in the year to February 2022, while the same size brown sliced pan is up 20.6 cent in the year.

Fresh fillet of cod per kg increased by 23.3 cent in the year, while he price of energy for our homes has also risen sharply, with electricity up 22.4 per cent and gas up 27.9 per cent.

Karen Kiernan, chief executive of One Family, an organisation representing one-parent families, said the continued rise in the cost of living is "hugely difficult" for this cohort of society.

“Many people are prioritising housing costs. They don’t want to risk being homeless and want to ensure they’ve a roof over their heads,” said Ms Kiernan.

“We know of a lot of parents who aren’t eating enough, who are scraping by with little electricity or not heating their homes enough. It’s a nightmare.”

Ms Kiernan said many one-parent families are living in rented accommodation that may not necessarily have the highest energy efficiency.

"As a result, you have some of the poorest people in Ireland paying the most."

Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said the recent increase in the cost of living means people are trying to decide whether to "eat, pay the heating or pay rent".

“More and more families are falling into arrears on their rent. It’s going to push a significant number of families into homelessness or into severe poverty trying to keep their homes,” he said.

“There are a range of factors eating away at the margin between them and destitution.”

A spokeswoman for St Vincent de Paul said members are seeing the impact of the rising cost of living every day.

“People are cutting back on essential energy use for fear of the next bill, or because there is no money to top up prepayment meters, and are having to make the impossible choice between buying food or turning the heat on,” the spokeswoman said.

“We have to remember that inflation is actually higher for people on the lowest incomes, who spend more of their budget on essentials like energy, food, housing and transport – all of which are getting more expensive.”

All three organisations have called for targeted measures from Government for people who cannot absorb the costs getting higher.

Some of the proposed measures include increasing the rates of social welfare, establishing a hardship fund dedicated to supporting people with energy costs, and increasing and extending the fuel allowance payment.

Ministers and senior officials expect a new package of cost of living measures will be needed in the coming weeks due to the energy crisis and rampant inflation.