During their Winter General Meeting in Maynooth, Bishops discussed the effects of the current energy and cost of living crisis on people across the island of Ireland. Bishops stated, “all over the country, in the face of cold weather, many people are forced to make disturbing decisions – and trade-off choices – around food, heating or other necessary and basic requirements in life. The situation for many will be more acute this Christmas as evidenced by the increase in the numbers of people seeking assistance from our food banks and our other charitable outreaches. To that end, we urge people to give what they can to support the outstanding work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Crosscare in Dublin, and other charities and local pastoral initiatives to support families and individuals with practical material help and advice.
“We commend those parishes all over the country that have undertaken initiatives to help the ever-increasing numbers experiencing food and heat poverty. Many of our parishes have also welcomed people seeking refuge from war and persecution. This is Catholic Social Teaching in action: to read the signs of the times and to respond. In this way we radiate the Christian message of love and respect for the human dignity of all.”
During their discussions, Bishops noted the ever-growing need to tackle the root causes of poverty across Ireland. These root causes include homelessness; child poverty; the cost of housing; low rates of pay, whereby purchasing power has been further eroded by rapid inflation; food poverty; and, the lack of access to educational supports for many children and young people. Recent figures from the Government’s Central Statistics Office showed that in 2022, 17% of the population (Republic only) has experienced ‘enforced deprivation’, including almost a quarter of a million children. Such deprivation refers to the inability to afford two or more of eleven basic necessities such as nutritious food, adequate heating and suitable clothing. The economic and social hardship of people living in Northern Ireland was also discussed, particularly concerning the failure to have the political institutions up and running in the interest of the common good. This has resulted in not only a political impasse, but has added to the hardship being suffered by so many families, with one-in-four children growing up in poverty. Practical initiatives, including access to free school meals, support for school uniforms, and lifting the benefit cap for families with more than two children were mentioned in light of the lack of certainty of funding for these schemes beyond March 2023.
Bishops stated, “The current situation facing society is not morally acceptable in an Ireland with such abundant wealth and increasing revenue income for the Exchequer. The cry of the poor needs to be heard! There is an immediate requirement for the prioritisation of public policy measures that address poverty in all of its forms so as to protect people on low income and the vulnerable. This is an absolute minimum and yet is not being delivered upon.”