In June 2023 the Women’s Regional Consortium and Ulster University published a major research report on the impact of the Cost of Living Crisis on Women.  This research, carried out with 250 local women in Women’s Centres across Northern Ireland, showed that many women are being forced to skip meals, go hungry and cold in order to be able to provide for their children and families.  

The research found that many women are at crisis point.  A decade of welfare reform policies and the Covid-19 pandemic have hit women harder and now the Cost-of-Living Crisis has created a perfect storm for women.  In addition, Northern Ireland is facing an environment of severe budget cuts, a chronic lack of funding for essential services including health, social care, childcare and education which too often means women are forced to make up for cuts to these services through unpaid work and we have been without devolved Government since 2022.  The cumulative result of all these factors has left women to become the shock absorbers of poverty in their homes.

The research clearly shows the disproportionate harm that the Cost-of-Living Crisis is having on women and children.  Women shared their experiences of not being able to buy basic foods including baby formula and healthy food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, having to use foodbanks, eating out-of-date food and going without meals altogether.  Many of the women also reported suffering from poor mental and physical health as they strive to protect their children from the significant toll that the economic crisis is having on their lives through missing meals, living in cold homes and getting deeper and deeper into debt.

My wee one is on Aptamil formula it’s £16 a tin now.  I was going without food to make sure she had it.  I was eating dry cereal just so she could get the formula she needed.  The stress of getting down to the bottom of her milk tin and thinking will I have enough to get her her milk.

Quote from research participant

Many of the women are having to make torturous decisions around feeding themselves and their families and heating their homes.  Often they are faced with no other choice but to go without themselves to make ends meet and the stark reality is that they are unable to live dignified, healthy lives.  

Heat, electricity and food the things you need to survive are literally like luxuries now.  You’re having to make decisions if my child wants to eat and be warm what am I going to have to do without.

Quote from research participant

Analysing the findings from the research allowed the identification of a number of key priority areas and recommendations including the need to provide long-term, sustainable funding for Women’s Centres who provide important services to financially vulnerable women and their families in disadvantaged areas.

It is clear the Cost-of-Living Crisis is taking a significant toll on the lives of many women impacting negatively on their health and wellbeing and causing untold issues for the wider economy, public services and for our next generation.  The impact is clearly summarised by the following quote from one of the research participants:

We’re not living, we’re just existing.

Full details of the findings and recommendations from this research are available here.

Siobhán Harding is Research and Policy Officer at the Women’s Support Network (WSN)

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