While there are a few people who have been left untouched by the scale of the cost-of-living crisis over the past 18 months, it is clear those who can afford it the least have been impacted the most.
A series of separate studies, published in recent days, has highlighted how people on low incomes have been paying a high price as costs continue to climb. Families have been particularly vulnerable in the face of higher energy and food prices, with many forced to make decisions which would have been almost unthinkable just two years ago.
The children’s charity Barnardos reported last week that as many as one in five of the parents it spoke to as part of a substantial piece of research had gone without food at some point over the previous six months in order to make ends meet.
Almost half said there had been times over the winter months when they had been unable to heat their homes.
A further 28 per cent had reduced their spending on medical care or supplies or gone without it entirely, while 43 per cent had cut back or cut out buying children’s clothes.
Depressingly, almost three-quarters of those polled said their children had been negatively affected by the crisis over the past six months with 17 per cent describing that impact as significant.
The Barnardos study was not alone in highlighting the hardship caused by spiralling prices. The Society of St Vincent de Paul told the Oireachtas environment committee last week that the numbers contacting it looking for help in paying their energy bills had spiked this year with people forced to make “strategic choices” between food or energy.
Meanwhile, the State’s food safety authority, Safefood, has highlighted how many families on social welfare pay a third of their household income on basic healthy foods compared with about 10 per cent in more affluent households.
In such a context, the Government must acknowledge the wildly disproportionate impact the crisis is having on those who are struggling as it engages in its budget deliberations in the months ahead.
These deliberations must not be all about tax cuts for the better off.
Despite the ongoing economic uncertainty, the State’s finances could scarcely be healthier, with many sectors of society looking to benefit from the – potentially transitory – funds created by record levels of corporate tax in recent years.
However, those without homes or healthcare and those who are struggling to pay for basic essentials and worrying about how they might feed their children should remain central to all discussions, if the concept of social solidarity is to retain any meaning.
Eliminating the scourge that is child poverty should, in particular, surely be given priority.