“Poverty isn’t always about money. Poverty is also about loneliness and lack of connection,” says Rose McGowan, incoming president of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), and only the second female one in its 176-year history.
In that time, the charity has survived the challenges of a famine, a civil war, the War of Independence, world wars and several recessions. But the Covid-19 pandemic may be its most significant yet. “Once again, the most vulnerable people are the ones who are struggling most,” says McGowan.
“It’s about your underlying health. It’s about where you live. It’s about whether you have that spare cash” when you were already on the margins. Up to July, the society was taking 15,000 calls for help every month, many from people who had lost their jobs and needed help with rent and utility bills.
Lone parents – half of whom were already experiencing deprivation before Covid – have been particularly hard hit, says McGowan. The moratorium on rent evictions which expired in August, and was replaced by new rental laws that mean landlords must give 90 days’ notice, bought some time for people in vulnerable situations, but it has also left many with mounting arrears. “The children are at home, so they’re eating more. You’re heating the house all day. If you’ve no childcare, you can’t work.”
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