There is now a real danger that the coronavirus pandemic will be followed by a ‘crisis of poverty, debt and homelessness.’
New research, commissioned by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has found that one-quarter of Irish people have been forced to cut back on basics like food, heating and electricity through the pandemic.
According to the survey, one-in-three people has experienced a loss of income and one fifth of the population has had to dip into savings to meet ordinary living expenses.
Meanwhile, 14% of people are falling behind on mortgage, rent and other bills with 7% of people getting into debt to meet ordinary living expenses.
On Breakfast Briefing this morning, the SVP Head of Social Justice Dr Tricia Keilthy said the most worrying finding is that those who were most vulnerable to poverty before the pandemic have been hardest hit.
“That includes low-income households with children, lone parents, renters and people with disabilities,” she said.
“That would reflect the experience of our volunteers who are helping people through the pandemic with financial difficulties.
“On the one hand, you have people who haven’t had a loss of income and have had no expenditure on things like holidays or transport and have been able to build up their savings.
“But there is a significant cohort of Irish society that are really struggling with the costs of basics and particularly households with children have been struggling with school closures and the extra costs of food, gas and electricity from being home more.”
Dr Keilthy noted that half of the people who were struggling before the pandemic are now under financial strain, compared to one-fifth of those who were living comfortably.
“There is a real danger now that inequality and poverty will increase unless there are additional interventions because we don’t want the public health crisis to be followed by a deeper poverty, debt and homelessness crisis,” she said.
She said the charity is particularly concerned about the difficulties facing renters and lone parents.
“There are a number of warning signs of significant financial distress among tenants,” she said.
“Almost one-in-ten renters have reported falling behind on their rent and one-quarter said they are falling behind on other regular payments like utility bills as well.
“We are concerned that, if the eviction ban for example, which is due to end once the 5km rule ends, if that is pulled back, many people may be at risk of homelessness if there are no financial supports there to help people who may have rent arrears.
“There are some protections there but they are very narrowly defined and it is quite difficult to access and can be particularly challenging for vulnerable tenants to navigate.”
The charity is calling for a range of new Government interventions to reduce the poverty burden on the most vulnerable.
- An extension of the eviction ban for a minimum of six months
- A new debt relief mechanism for people in rent arrears
- More supports for struggling households through the Fuel Allowance Scheme
- Debt relief for people with significant energy debt
“We have an increase in requests from people who are first-time callers to SVP and during the initial lockdown had to go into their savings,” said Dr Keilthy.
“Now those savings have dried up and they are struggling to pay for the basics like food and utilities.
“There is a danger now that people will be left with significant debt problems after the crisis so that is why we are asking for some additional targeted interventions to get people through this next difficult period.”