Let’s talk about… The cost of living

Advice like ‘shop around’ won’t help address the cost of living

Junior Finance Minister Seán Fleming received quite a  backlash this week after responding to a question about the cost of living by suggesting that people struggling financially ‘shop around’ instead of ‘complaining’.

  In the days since his comments were aired, his advice has been branded as out of touch and indifferent by members of the public and political figures alike – and in my opinion, for very good reason.

  For a lot of people, Fleming’s comments came off as quite patronising towards those who’re struggling financially, especially considering the fact that he himself enjoys such a very well paying job.

  Though he later clarified that his intention was just to suggest another method of saving money in addition to Government measures, the mere idea that people who have been dealing with financial issues for quite some time never thought to shop around before this, holds no water. Opting for cheaper alternatives is often the first thing people do when money begins to run tight. It’s not as if Fleming’s advice is offering anything new for those who’re struggling financially, because they are already shopping around anyways, and at worst, his comments come off as condescending.

  In reality, there is little use to asking people who’re already cutting corners to keep shopping around at this stage, because really, when does it end? How much energy does a person have to spend searching for the cheapest alternative before they can no longer be accused of ‘complaining’ about the cost of living?

  There are limits to how much shopping around can really fix before practical constraints begin to come into play. After all, how far does someone have to travel for the best deal? How much time do they have to spend doing so?

  Another thing that the ‘shop around’ advice fails to account for is how unviable of an option it actually is when it comes to some of the bigger expenses. Sure, you might save a few bob by buying the store-brand biscuits instead of the name-brand ones, but people’s most significant financial strains come from elsewhere. Expenses such as household bills and rent take financial priority over everything else, and given how many times rising rent prices and energy bills have made headlines over the past number of months, it’s clear that for many, this is where the problem lies.

  The solution, in turn, then lies in putting proper measures in place to help people, and in regulating companies and landlords so that we don’t see these massive price hikes.

  At the end of the day, if a significant subsection of Irish people are already struggling financially, we cannot solve things by placing more of a burden on their shoulders. When you have so many people ‘complaining’ about the cost of living, it becomes less reflective of people’s lack of thriftiness, and more so reflective of a Government failing to address what is a huge problem for so many people.

  The cost of living has becoming such a pressing issue lately, especially given the economic fallout of the pandemic. So many people faced monetary issues they hadn’t faced the scale of before during the past two years, and in response, we have a Junior Finance Minister downplay people’s resilience and the extent of their financial struggles.

  Hopefully Fleming’s comments aren’t indicative of the point of view held by the rest of those in Government, but in any case, they’re disappointing to hear. The responsibility for dealing with the cost of living cannot be placed on the backs of struggling people, and the Government cannot sidestep their duty in the matter. Otherwise, our ministers will continue to enjoy complete financial safety while ‘regular people’ continue to struggle – not me though, I’ve switched to store-brand crisps and saved thousands.