THE FACT OF THE MATTER
BY PAUL HOPKINS
Are we heading into another Winter Of Discontent with continuing high energy costs and continued hikes in basic food stuff, not to mention yet another increase in mortgage rates?
Minister for Finance Michael McGrath says this Tuesday the 10th’s Budget will be focused on “helping households with bills”. The minister says he is “very conscious” of petrol and diesel costs and that a decision will be made on excise duty before the Budget. And it looks like just one government heating contribution of €200 instead of last year’s three `– with 253,000 householders well in arrears on such bills.
Households can, allegedly, expect measures to support the cost of childcare, healthcare, education and transport, the minister has said. This will be in addition to an “income tax package”.
This Budget will be the first from a Fianna Fáil Finance Minister in more than a decade. “There will be a set of temporary one-off measures to complement what is already a large Budget package of almost €6.5b.
So, it’s to be a Budget which focuses resources on cost of living, on helping households to meet the bills that are unavoidable – many unpayable – in day-to-day lives.
All fine and good if even only some of it comes to fruition. The Government really needs to do a lot more talking to the banks and the energy suppliers. As I say, all fine and good but try telling that to a young garda and his or her primary school teacher partner, rearing two children under five. Or a bachelor pensioner. With the cost of living as it still stands, especially the huge hikes in milk, bread and eggs – basic stuff – winter heat bills – down only marginally; add in childcare (if you can find it or afford it) and yet another mortgage hike, and then just try and tell that couple with the two children under five that all’s well with the world.
Ireland is among the most expensive countries in the EU for goods and services with prices 46% above the EU average. Figures published by the European Commission, show prices are largely driven by expensive alcohol and tobacco, energy, transport and communications costs.
Alcoholic and tobacco in Ireland are 116 per cent higher than the average EU and 3.3 times more expensive than the cheapest EU country, Bulgaria. (There’s an obvious solution to this, but that’s for another day’s debate).
The report also reveals that Ireland is the fourth most expensive country for food and non-alcoholic beverages, with prices 15% above the EU average. Only Denmark, Luxembourg and Malta are more expensive for basic grocery items, on which Irish consumers spend almost one fifth of their income.
Ireland also has the second-highest energy prices in the EU, after Denmark. Irish consumers also face costly prices for communication services, which are 56 per cent above the EU average – the third most expensive after Belgium and Greece.
The cost of restaurants and hotels is 28.5% – figure pre-Taylor Swift — above the EU average, making us the fourth most expensive country after Denmark, Finland and Luxembourg. Motoring costs are the third-highest and 13% above average levels, while public transport prices are 27% higher, making them joint-fourth most expensive alongside Denmark, coming in behind Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.
On a positive note, the cost of clothing in the Republic is 2% below the EU average, while furniture prices are just 1% higher than the EU average – if you have a house for the furniture, that is.
At the end of the day, though, overall consumer prices in Ireland are 46% above the EU average.
It seems, though, not all is as bad as painted. According to Organisation for Economic C0-operation and Development (OECD) Ireland performs well in many areas of well-being relative to other countries in the Better Life Index. Ireland outperforms the average in jobs, education, health, social connections, safety and, eh, life satisfaction.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to higher living standards. In Ireland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is €27,007 a year, slightly lower than the OECD average of €28,394 a year.
When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Irish people gave it a seven on average, higher than the OECD average of 6.7.
I wonder what rating that garda and teacher with the two children under five would give? Or the 12,800 with no roof over their heads….