Next six months will be 'really testing': Working poor turn to charity as cost-of-living rises 

Gerry Garvey of SVP told The Echo that many lower-paid workers are falling between two stools as they are unable to access social protection supports.
Next six months will be 'really testing': Working poor turn to charity as cost-of-living rises 

Mr Garvey said SVP was calling on the Government to introduce targeted supports to help the lower paid.

THE working poor is turning more and more to charity as the cost of living spirals and, with energy suppliers announcing price hikes, people find themselves unable to make ends meet.

Gerry Garvey of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) told The Echo that many lower-paid workers are falling between two stools as they are unable to access social protection supports.

He said those at the charity believe the next six months are going to be “really, really testing” for people.

“The people at the top...the really high earners, have such strong salaries that the cost of living will never impact them,” said Mr Garvey, the South-West regional coordinator with SVP, Ireland’s largest voluntary charitable organisation.

“The ones at the bottom are under pressure, but thankfully, there are reasonable supports coming in from Government, but they’re still under pressure,” he said.

“The ones who are really getting screwed royally are the people that are working, which means they’re just above the thresholds to get family income support or any social welfare benefits.”

“But they’re in low-paid jobs, so there isn’t a chance in hell that they can keep up with the increases in cost, and they are seriously struggling,” he said.

Mr Garvey said SVP was calling on the Government to introduce targeted supports to help the lower paid.

“The frustrating thing for lower-paid workers, with the minimum wage up slightly, they’re probably just above the threshold for support,” he said.

“They won’t qualify for a medical card, or a lot of them won’t, they won’t get family income supplements, they probably won’t qualify for HAP [housing assistance payment], so they’re absolutely screwed, and they are the ones I would be seriously concerned about.”

Mr Garvey’s comments came in the wake of energy supplier SSE Airtricity announcing that it is to increase prices for its customers from October 1, with electricity bills to rise by over 35%, and gas bills to increase by 39%. The company is increasing the unit price of its electricity by 45.2% and the unit price of its gas by 46.3% from October 1.

Over the course of a year, the increase will add almost €600 to the average customer’s electricity bill and over €500 a year to their gas bill.

The announcement is the latest in a series of energy supply price hikes that have fuelled an already soaring cost of living.

'We can help you'

Mr Garvey said many people who find themselves in financial difficulties would struggle with shame at the idea of seeking help from charity, with some saying they would rather go hungry.

He said it is often only when people realise that their children are going to be impacted that they talk to the SVP.

“I always say to people, ‘This is your time of need, we can help you, and when things are better you can give it back’.”

He cited comedian Brendan O’Carroll, of Mrs Brown’s Boys fame, who has over the years contributed hundreds of thousands of euro to the charity.

Mr O’Carroll has said that when he was a child he had believed he had uncles called Vincent and Paul who helped his family.

Mr Garvey said: “If you are in trouble, we are saying to you to come to us, pick up the phone and have a chat.

“Look, it doesn’t matter if you have a high-powered job or a BMW outside the door — if you’re in trouble, the only barometer is need.”

No let-up in demand 

He noted that this year the charity had seen no let-up in demand for services over the summer months.

“Typically when you hit July, there’s a kind of a lull period of about five or six weeks where demands are very low and people are managing themselves because the weather’s fine, the kids are off and all that.

“This year there’s a consistent level of callers worried about schoolbooks, worried about back-to-school costs, worried about food on the table, and most certainly worried about utility costs,” he said.

“Even the last two or three nights, you’ll have noticed that the nights are beginning to get a little bit chilly, so I think in a month’s time we’re going to see all these increased costs will have kicked in at the very same time that we’re all having to turn on the heating and turn on the lights.

“We think in the Society of St Vincent de Paul that the next six months are going to be really, really testing,” Mr Garvey said.

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