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Families forced to choose between heating and eating

More and more Galway people are going without food, heat, and lighting – a dilemma exacerbated by the recent cost of Christmas with all the trimmings.

And Social Justice Ireland has warned that households are under such financial pressure they were borrowing, sometimes at high interest rates – delaying the pain until January.

The think tank said households with children reliant on social welfare were most at risk of poverty. Homeowners with increased mortgage repayments and higher rents were also under pressure.

“Outgoings have gone up dramatically, with the price of electricity, the price of food. You’re either buying the same things in the supermarket and it’s costing you a lot more, or you’re sticking to the same budget and therefore buying less groceries.

“What we are seeing is people not putting the heat on, not putting the light on, and not feeding themselves properly,” said Susanne Rogers (pictured), research and policy analyst, at Social Justice Ireland.

She said people were “cutting back dramatically” to cover the cost of Christmas with “adults maybe not having proper dinners seven nights a week in order to be able to put presents under the tree”.

Households with one income or no-income reliant on social welfare or who have a weak connection to the labour market, and particularly those with children, are under pressure.

Unemployed, including those who cannot work due to illness or disability, are at most risk of poverty, she said.

“You get €220 a week if you lost your job tomorrow, going up to €232 in January. You pay rent out of that, you feed yourself, you clothe yourself, you put the heat on, the light on, you top up your phone, pay for rubbish collection, pay your TV licence, your transport, haircuts, your toiletries, education, and insurance costs. All for €220? It can’t be done,” she said.

“People are under the impression people on HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) are getting a free house. They’re not, they still pay rent to their local authority, and some pay a top-up to the landlord in addition to the rent they pay.”

Ms Rogers said Central Bank data suggested tracker-mortgage holders were under severe stress.

“The cynic in us would say they had low mortgages for years. But now their mortgages have sky-rocketed in the last 18 months; they’ve unexpectedly seen their costs rise. People are terrified of their ESB and gas bills arriving because they have no idea what it’s going to be. It’s the same with mortgages, they are dreading another interest rate hike,” she said.

Ms Rogers said the social hazard argument that people were choosing not to work did not hold water.

“We have full employment, so if people are not in work, what are the barriers? The so called ‘generous’ social welfare system is not the reason. It’s caring duties, education attainment level, skillset. To say somebody has made a deliberate life choice, to say ‘I will receive my €220 from the state and that will do me’, is extraordinary because they’re basically condemning themselves to a life of poverty,” she said.

The recent budget splurge appeared positive at a macro level, but not for individuals, who needed ‘income adequacy’.

“The billions they spent isn’t much use to you if you’re living in a damp room somewhere, or a homeless hostel with two small kids; €220 isn’t grounded in any reality,” she said.

Ms Rogers said people should reach out to charities for help and apply for exceptional needs or additional needs social welfare payments to offset the cost of Christmas.

“I remember a woman, working a crap job for crap money. She was talking about buying Nike or Adidas runners for her grandkid. We were like, why, it’s a baby, they’ll wear them for 25 minutes!

“She summed it up: ‘I don’t want them looking like how I feel.’ Christmas is a time you put a lot of bills on hold. People will worry about it in January,” she added.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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