One in four people in Ireland cut spending on food and utilities during pandemic, study finds

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That’s according to research carried out by Red C on behalf of St Vincent de Paul.

A QUARTER OF people are cutting back on food and utilities due to the financial strain of the pandemic, a new study has found.

Research carried out by Red C on behalf of St Vincent de Paul found 43% of the population are experiencing some kind of financial hardship due to the pandemic.

The survey found 24% are cutting back on food, heat or electricity, 22% are using their savings to meet living expenses and 14% are falling behind on bills such as rent or mortgages.

Families in low-income households prior to the pandemic are experiencing the brunt of financial woes, the poll of more than 1,000 people found.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP head of social justice, said: “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.

“While the government policy response has mitigated significant income losses through the pandemic, unemployment payment and wage subsidy schemes, this data shows that additional interventions for those most at risk of financial distress are needed to ensure the public health crisis is not followed by a deeper debt, homelessness and poverty crisis.”

Over a third of one-parent families had to cut back on heating or had fallen behind on bills during the pandemic, and 25% had cut back on food due to increased costs.

For people unable to work due to illness or disability, 42% reported going without heating, compared to 18% of people at work.

Dr Keilthy said: “Lone parents and people with disabilities are the groups most at risk of poverty in Ireland today and Covid-19 has added huge additional pressures to these groups as they navigated the practicalities of self-isolation and increased food and energy bills from being home.”

The data also shows warning signs of financial distress among tenants, with almost one in 10 renters reporting they have fallen behind on their rent.

A quarter stated they were in arrears on other regular payments.

Dr Keilthy added: “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.”

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SVP says the current protections for tenants with Covid-related rent arrears are too narrowly defined, difficult to access and can be particularly challenging for vulnerable tenants to navigate.

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 many people were in a precarious financial position prior to the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr Keilthy said: “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.”

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