Lenten season of deprivation feels only too familiar
As this week marked the beginning of Lent and the pre-Easter season of doing without, many were wondering what more could they do without; what is there left to give up?
With children nowadays declaring they would rather entirely give up chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks than do without their beloved Playstation or Xbox, local councils are also being told to make sacrifices this week – by dropping parking charges for motorists in our towns and cities.
Apparently one in three of our county councils is losing money on on-street and car parking charges, due to the fact that enforcement and payment of staff wages involved actually comes in at a higher cost.
For average people facing in to Lent, asking them to consider what they might deprive themselves of in these straitened times in order to offer it up as a penance, is a bit like following up a blow to the head with a kick to the stomach.
Almost on a weekly basis so far in 2012, people have had to endure increased consumer charges on everything from electricity supplies to breakfast cereals. Right now, with rising fuel costs hitting not just home heating bills but also motoring expenses, many are even resorting to dumping the family car to make do on foot.
Resonating this cutback theme, a newly published CSO survey for the second quarter (April/June) of 2011, on people’s response to the economic downturn, has shown that more than half have reduced their spending on both groceries and socialising.
Almost two thirds of households cut back on clothing and footwear while spending on health insurance reduced by 15 per cent, with 11 per cent of households also cutting back spending on pension contributions.
Meeting debt repayments is also posing problems with one fifth of households delaying or missing paying their bills in order to meet outgoings on basic goods and services. One in 10 report delayed or missed loan repayments and a further one in 10 admitted to delayed or missed payment on their credit card bills.
In the two years prior to the survey, 45 per cent of households spent some or all of their savings but 62 per cent also reduced the amount being saved. At the same time, one in 10 households borrowed money from family or friends to pay for basic goods and services.
It was also noted that households where one adult lived with at least one child were particularly affected, with one third having borrowed money from family or friends, one quarter having delayed or missed loan repayments, and half having delayed or missed paying bills altogether.
Finally, in terms of the 400,000-plus currently hit by unemployment, almost 30 per cent of households where the reference person was unemployed, had borrowed money from family or friends to pay for basic goods and services. In addition, half of such households had missed paying household bills and more than one quarter had missed loan repayments. Two thirds of households where the reference person was working and two thirds of those where the reference person was unemployed, had reduced the amount they saved. However, households where the reference person was unemployed were far more likely to have spent some or all of their savings.
Such findings coming in to the public domain now at the beginning of Lent, somehow provide a degree of closure to our current drop in living standards. Coming to terms with our unwelcome lifestyle changes may have been difficult to accept, but now with religion providing an outlet in which to offer our sacrifices up, perhaps the familiar feeling of penance won’t hit so hard for just an extra 40 days.