The cost of key essential services — including gas, electricity, and transport — have surged over the course of the pandemic, threatening to widen the gap between rich and poor even further.
That is according to Social Justice Ireland and Threshold after it emerged electricity prices have risen by 9.4% over the last year, gas prices by 2.5% and the cost of transport services has gone up by 3.6%.
The annual rate of inflation rose to 1.7% in May, its highest rate in two years.
Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show that housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels are up a combined 5.4% from a year ago, the cost of restaurants and hotels has risen almost 3%, and alcohol and tobacco are up almost 2%. One of the biggest rises has been in the cost of a haircut, up by 8.5%.
Social Justice Ireland research and policy analyst Michelle Murphy warned that people on fixed incomes such as pensioners and social welfare recipients are the biggest casualties. Talk of an economic recovery is redundant to them as they tried to put food on the table, she said.
"Stock market growth, GDP, GNI, or employment levels don’t tell the full picture of wages, child poverty rate, or housing difficulties," she said.
"The 2019 CSO figures showed that in a year of almost full employment, record levels of growth, and wage growth, there were an extra 148,000 people living in deprivation," she said. "That is really concerning in the context of where we are right now."
Policy officer at housing charity Threshold, Ann-Marie O’Reilly, said private renters are the victims of "staggering" utility costs, with lower-income families hit the hardest.
"Renters prioritise the rent over all other bills, as they do not want to risk losing the roof over their head," she said. "This can mean that other bills mount up, or they go without.
"They cannot insulate their home, install more efficient heating systems or ensure all the appliances are of a high building energy rating. It is time for energy efficiency schemes that are designed for, and target, the private rented sector.”
Middle-income families are also feeling the pinch, according to Laura Erskine of The Parenting Experts.
"Without benefits, subsidies or rent allowances, these CPI percentage increases feel very much more real when they hit your bank account and you can barely make ends meet." she said.
Ultimately, she said, it is the combined effect of all of these increases on top of other significant monthly outlays for families such as some of the highest rent and mortgage rates in Europe that will tip families over the edge.
"Incomes are reduced or temporarily on hold due to Covid, and now the introduction of the property tax to those who bought a new property since 2013, will hit household budgets hard.
"Staycations will have to be put on hold for many families as the hospitality sector’s prices have also skyrocketed in an attempt to claw back losses. The Government will need to be careful not to add any further additional strain to middle-income families in the October budget as it maps out our road to recovery.”