The ongoing closure of charity shops and cheaper retailers like Penneys is causing "huge hardship" among poorer households, a leading charity is warning.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul is “appealing” to Government to designate charity shops an “essential service” under Level 5 restrictions, saying many of the poorest households cannot afford the clothing and household items available in supermarkets or online.
On Wednesday the charity announced an almost 20 per cent increase in calls for help in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2020.
National president Rose McGowan said among the costs households were struggling to meet during lockdown were children’s and babies’ clothes; laptops, tablets and wifi for children to participate in remote-learning, and basic homeware such as bed linen, towels and tableware.
The society had 45,000 calls for help in the first three months of 2021 – “the highest number during any first quarter in the past decade,” said Ms McGowan.
“For families on low incomes, the whole closure of charity fashion and retail shops has had a huge impact. It has had a huge impact on us too. The fact that we have had to keep our shops closed means we cannot take in items people who are decluttering want to donate, and we cannot provide the items for sale to families who need them.
“We have written to the Taoiseach’s office, the Tánaiste, everyone, asking for a meeting. I know they are incredibly busy and everyone is looking for a meeting but I feel they don’t understand this. I feel we are classed as frontline doing as much as we can for people but our shops aren’t open.
“We have people coming to us looking for children’s tracksuits, school uniforms. We have had people coming to us who were homeless and who have now been accommodated, which is great, and they are coming looking for duvet covers, sheets, towels, dishes – all stuff we have in our shops, and all stuff the big retailers that are open are selling, but they are too expensive.
“The other thing is to shop online you need a credit card and the people I visit don’t have credit cards,” said Ms McGowan.
It was “interesting” to hear the Government decision last week to allow parents have their children’s feet measured in shoe shops, she said. “But the people I meet don’t go to shoe shops to have their children’s feet measured. They go to our shops or Penneys to try on the cheaper shoes. They can’t do that at the moment.
“The Government is not thinking of those in the most need.” She stressed some of the merchandise in the charity shops was unused and had original tags.
“We are continuing to appeal to Government to consider charity shops as an essential service and to even allow some open on a click- or call-and-go basis.”
Their 234 shops are an important revenue stream for the charity at a time of increased demand for its services, she added.