Leona O'Neill: People are at breaking point – we need government help now

As the cost of living crisis continues to deepen, Northern Ireland is still without a government to act on our behalf, plunging vulnerable families further into poverty. How much longer can this awful state of affairs continue, wonders Leona O'Neill...

The ever rising cost of living has been stressful for everyone trying to make ends meet
Leona O'Neill

THE sounds coming from the government with regards the cost of living crisis have not filled me with confidence that any of us are going to get through this winter unscathed.

Things have got significantly worse for all of us this year. Simple food items have shot up in price, the cost of electricity and gas has sky rocketed, alongside petrol and home heating oil.

I had a mini-meltdown at the weekend after coming from the shop with one bag of shopping – dinner for that night – that cost £38. There was absolutely nothing extravagant among the items, literally dinner for six people, bread and milk. The food and items contained in that bag would have been consumed and used within 24-hours, sending me back to buy dinner for the next day.

I stopped to get some coal, thinking it might save some oil, to discover it had doubled in price. I turned on the radio to someone telling me that mortgages could be rising and that some folks could be paying some £400 more for their mortgage every month. As I sat there feeling totally deflated, and skint, I wondered if everyone else was as exasperated as me.

I have a good job and a steady income and I am struggling. Our money is simply not stretching as far as we need it to for necessities. Anything beyond the necessities is simply a thing of the past, we are surviving, just about getting by. I dread to think how a family on a lower income are coping with this ceaseless stress fest.

We have moved beyond challenging times to dire times. Ordinary items in our supermarkets have doubled and tripled in price. People can't afford to put petrol in their cars. Families are sitting in the cold. Kids are going to school hungry because there is no food in the house. People are sitting in the dark because the electric has run out and they don't get paid for another few days. Mothers and fathers are wondering if they will be able to feed their children.

This crisis has plunged vulnerable families further into poverty and grimness and pushing families, who might have been previously able to cope, over the edge with them. No one is immune from this nightmare.

I listened with interest to school principal Diane Dawson on the radio last week bringing a new perspective to the conversation. She was communicating her own struggles and those of her staff, struggling to cope, navigating massive pressure with affording ordinary things, smashing the notion that it is only those on low incomes who are feeling the pressure. And I related so much.

This cost of living crisis is impacting on us all and all of us need help. I dread to think what the colder months will be like. I worry for my own family, I worry for my pensioner mother. Everything seems so out of reach, even for those who work full time.

Providing for a family of six in these times has been nothing short of soul destroying for me and I know so difficult for many others in the same boat. Working so hard during the month, travelling for miles to get to work, to have next to nothing left at the end of the month to buy even the essentials and keep our house running is not how it should be.

Families I know, with both parents working are having to lean on foodbanks, prioritise bills and get themselves into debt just to get by.

If it is like that for people who have a steady, good income in these times, I can only imagine the panic and stress families on lower incomes and benefits feel. Benefit payments staying the same while everything – food and heat and power – go through the roof will leave people destitute. It's not fair.

A lot of people don't know where to turn in this crisis. People I know, who work all week, and have never been in a situation where they can no longer afford electricity or gas or petrol, are afraid to or don't know where to ask for help. So they sit with the stress of that. Coming on the back of two years worth of intense stress, where most of us were in survival modes, there is a serious danger that stress will negatively impact on their mental health.

The government need to act now to help everyone. This simply can't go on. People are at breaking point.