Northern Ireland’s ‘working poor’ share stories of hardship as inflation continues to soar

Several care workers, classroom assistants and civil servants have described how the cost-of-living crisis has forced them to make stark choices between heating and eating in Northern Ireland.

By Niall Deeney
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 7:31 am
Consumer Price Index inflation for May was 9.1%
Consumer Price Index inflation for May was 9.1%

As official statistics show price rises continuing at a 40-year high, one Northern Ireland care worker described how colleagues have broken down in tears because they “just can’t afford” heating, electricity or fuel costs.

The rate of consumer prices index (CPI) inflation rose from 9% in April to 9.1% in May, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said yesterday.

A rally, organised by trade unions, is due to take place at Stormont this Saturday to encourage politicians to tackle the crisis in living costs.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Pam McKenzie, Unison member and care worker

Ahead of the rally, several trade union members have shared their stories with the News Letter.

Pam Mackenzie, a Northern Ireland homecare worker and member of the trade union Unison, said: “My colleagues and I are really feeling the pinch financially in all aspects of living but particularly In relation to fuel costs.

“In some cases staff can’t even pick up an extra shift to boost their income as they can’t afford to put the fuel in their car. Some staff are using annual leave before the end of the month as they can’t afford more fuel until payday.”

She added: “I have seen some of my colleagues break down in tears because they just can’t afford their heating, electric or fuel costs. Another big worry coming up for working mothers is the new school term and the costs associated with school uniforms etc. The politicians need to get back to work and put measures in place to help people work to live not live to work.”

Stephanie Kennedy, UNISON member and classroom assistant

Stephanie Kennedy, a classroom assistant who is also a member of Unison, said: “We should not have to struggle like this – having to make choices between heating and eating. Many of us are in dire straits.

“We’re highly trained and educated to degree level and sometimes above. We train in all the new education concepts – in our own time and sometimes to our own cost. We are the working poor. It’s time the government got back to work and helped us with the cost-of-living crisis so that we, working people, can live a comfortable life.”

William Brooks, a civil servant from Co Londonderry and member of Nipsa, said: “We’ve faced real term pay cuts for over a decade, forcing me to take a second job to give me the ability to have some level of a normal life for myself and family.

“The cost-of-living crisis has made that unrealistic and any extra income I receive goes towards heating, electricity, food and barely scraping by to afford fuel for travelling to work.”

William Brooks, NIPSA member and civil servant

Tara McAteer, a Unison member, said: “I have worked as a domiciliary care worker in the community for the last four years. I have seen a negative impact on my wages. Not so long ago it was a clap for the NHS and now it’s a slap in the face with low pay rises. We should not have struggle like this to eat, heat and put fuel in our cars to go to work.”