“I often have to make the choice between eating or heating.”
That’s the stark choice faced by some families who feature in a new report outlining the gulf between household income and the minimum essential standard of living (MESL), highlighting how parents make personal sacrifices to make sure their children are clothed and fed.
Stories of Struggle — Experiences of living below the Minimum Essential Standard of Living was commissioned by the Society of St Vincent de Paul and carried out by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. It highlights how, in both urban and rural areas, many families are caught short of money, meaning a constant battle to meet household bills.
According to the report: “Children’s needs were prioritised by families across the board; but it was more difficult for parents, in this group, to meet their children’s physical, social and psychological needs. In terms of social inclusion and participation needs, children had no or limited activities.
The report, launched yesterday at an event attended by Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, defines MESL as “one that at a minimum level meets physical, social and psychological needs”. Researchers conducted 30 in-depth interviews with parents, 15 from urban areas and 15 from rural areas. More than half had been living with an inadequate income for six to 10 years. Social welfare was the only income for almost half of the households in the study which also found while all families experienced difficulties, half said they simply could not make ends meet.
People within that group had gone without sufficient food or heating, “and regularly did not have enough money to cover their housing costs or household bills”.
Other groups were not quite so pressurised but still said they felt “trapped” by having inadequate income.
As for reasons for their situation, the report said: “The high cost of housing impacted families’ household income, and was the single most cited driver of income inadequacy, followed closely by family break up, unemployment and low pay.”
Coping strategies included prioritising certain items, going without, and coming up with alternatives such as buying larger quantities of cheaper, often processed food in the place of healthy home-cooked meals.
The report found such stresses often had health implications and recommended social welfare payments and the national minimum wage should be benchmarked against the cost of a MESL alongside investment in high-quality, affordable, and accessible services, among other measures.
Some quotes from people interviewed for the ‘Stories of struggle’ report:
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.