Parishes warn of ‘perfect storm’ as Covid and cost of living cause poverty crisis

Parishes warn of ‘perfect storm’ as Covid and cost of living cause poverty crisis

Parishes across the country are fearful that the soaring cost of living and job losses due to the pandemic are “tipping people into poverty”. The Society of St Vincent de Paul – which helps people in need in every parish in Ireland – is bracing itself for record demand ahead of Christmas.

Rose McGowan, national president of the parish-based organisation, warned that the country is facing “a perfect storm for families contending with a cost of living crisis on multiple fronts”.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Ms McGowan said that their volunteers report that young families in particular are bearing the brunt.

“They’re struggling, and they’re worried, and they’re upset about that because that wasn’t what they expected their life to be,” she explained.

The organisation has reported what it has described as an “unprecedented” number of calls for help in 2021, which could reach 200,000 by the end of year.

Given the numbers they are facing, Ms McGowan said she is worried that the crisis is going to get worse.

“I’m fearful for everybody, but I’m definitely fearful for younger people and young families that really want the best for their families. People are losing their jobs, their salaries are cut.

People are thinking, ‘God, I’d normally be able to provide for my children, for education, for Christmas’.”

She cited the Covid-19 pandemic and soaring living costs as the reasons why more people have been “tipped into poverty”.

“What has happened is that people who were able to manage because they had work, have been hit by income loss and job [losses], they have been tipped into poverty,” she said.

Fr Tim Bartlett of St Mary’s parish, Belfast, said that rising costs and a cut in government assistance is causing “an absolute crisis”.

“I’ve seen more people coming over the last month,” he told this paper. Particularly worrying is the number of parents of young children and teenagers.

“They have quietly told me that they have chosen not to eat themselves in order to keep the heat on for the children, and so that the children themselves can eat,” Fr Bartlett said.

In Kerry, the regional president of the SVP Mary Behan, warned that she is concerned that rising fuel costs could “trap people in their houses”.

“Fuel poverty is a big, big issue this year,” Ms Behan said. “Even just today and yesterday we’ve had several requests for fuel.

“Rents are high too, and the first thing people try to do is pay the rent and that means they struggle with food and fuel.”

Ms Behan has also seen a number of people now seeking fuel vouchers, particularly for hospital visits and appointments. “We have very poor public transport services in rural areas, a lot of people are trapped in their homes really,” she said.