'If the recession is in the past, why do I still feel that I haven't a penny?'
We're told the Irish economy is back on track, but it doesn't feel that way to 46-year-old Debbie Whelan. In fact, she has some questions to ask those who point to the building cranes reappearing on Dublin's skyline as a sign of renewed prosperity.
"If we're past the recession, why do I still feel that I haven't a penny?" says the Drogheda mum-of-three. "Why do I walk around Aldi counting the price of everything I put in the trolley to make sure I have enough to pay for it all at the cash desk? Why can't I remember the last time I ate meat? Why can't I afford to tax my car? What does a night out feel like? Tell me, because it sure doesn't feel like good times to me."
In the so-called 'squeezed middle' sector, Debbie has little in common with those who might have to forfeit their daily latte and bottle of plonk to keep afloat. Money is tighter than ever, so much that her mantra every night is, "I have no money and I work."
She earns €208 a week as a part-time retail assistant and receives a social welfare allowance of €119, but if she works more than 23 hours, she loses that allowance. Debbie says she was better off two years ago, before the Government introduced changes to the lone parent allowance.
"Back then I got €220 in social welfare and earned €160 working. It wasn't vastly more money, but it helped. Some of us fell through a loop when that new law came into force, and it hurts."
Her eldest son is a qualified gym instructor who, having applied without success for several jobs in his chosen profession, now works as a hospital cleaner. Her 18-year-old daughter recently started college, studying beauty therapy. As the college is not recognised to qualify for grants, the year-long course cost €6,000.
"I had to take out a Credit Union loan, and I'm paying for it with the Children's Allowance I get for my youngest child," says Debbie. "My 16-year-old is back at school and I don't even want to think about how I'll pay for her college in a few years.
"When the children were small we had some lovely holidays. We went to Florida, France and the Canaries. Then two years ago, I thought I was doing reasonably well and booked a week for me and the girls in Turkey. It was nice, but we had no money to go shopping or buy presents, so we stayed by the pool the whole time.
"It's disheartening. I'd love to give my kids the odd tenner, but I can't. I'm getting by, just. There's no extra money for anything. I'm just hanging on in there, hoping things will get better, but having no real confidence that they will.
"I wonder what kind of country this is where I have to worry so much about money, even though I've worked all my life. I'm angry because I've had to fight my corner for everything. I've been on radio, and now I'm talking to the Irish Independent, and I've talked to politicians till I'm blue in the face. I'm strong-willed and strong-minded, and I have no doubt that's what gets me through."
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