The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is expecting a record number of people to seek its help this year as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, with new figures indicating likely further hikes in the price of staple groceries.
The charity has already seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of struggling households seeking help to date this year.
Tricia Keilthy, head of social justice at SVP, said about one in three calls to the charity were from those facing food poverty. “It is the one bill people have control over and so it is the first thing that gets cut… We are planning for a very difficult winter,” she told The Irish Times.
“We are going to go to record levels of calls by the end of the year. Around 40 per cent of all our calls usually come in the run up to Christmas.”
The charity was dealing with calls for help from people who had not needed support from SVP since the last recession.
A new monthly index of wholesale prices suggests likely increases in the price of items like fish and dairy for consumers in the coming weeks. The figures from the Central Statistics Office show producer prices for food products last month were more than 10 per cent higher than the same time last year.
The wholesale price index for the month of July stated that factory gate prices continued to climb, although the overall annual rate of increase remained stable from June at 6.2 per cent.
Underlying an increase in dairy and wholesale prices generally is the sharp rise in energy costs, which continued to accelerate in July, heaping additional costs on energy-intensive activities like milking and manufacturing.
Colette Bennett, economic and social analyst with Social Justice Ireland, said she had concerns that the coming months would see vulnerable households face pressures not seen since the last recession. “We are going to see post-2008 levels of debt and struggle,” she said.
This would mean more households on low incomes would be pushed towards loan sharks who charged exorbitant interest rates, she said. “The fear is people will resort to illegal moneylenders, or they will go without food,” she said.
Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said she was “concerned” about the impact of continued rising costs facing low-income families. “Where there’s pressure on the rent or electricity, the family cut back on food. Parents will try go without food to make sure their children get fed,” she said.
“When young children are hungry it affects them emotionally, as they don’t feel loved. Small children will try and steal food or preserve food for themselves and their siblings,” she said. Food poverty had a knock-on effect on a child’s education, as pupils who went to school hungry often found it harder to concentrate in class, she said.
The new CSO data outlined wholesale electricity prices rose by 86.3 per cent annually and 47 per cent from June to July, increases that utilities companies have then passed on to consumers in the form of higher bills.
Wholesale petrol and diesel prices, which have seen huge increases in the last year, fell by about 4 per cent last month. However, the wholesale prices were still more than 20 per cent higher for petrol and 30 per cent higher for diesel than the same time last year.
The Government has brought the date of the budget a number of weeks forward to September 27th, due to increased pressure to tackle the rising cost of living and the pinch of high inflation rates.