As the new Government takes over, the consequences arising from the Covid-19 pandemic continue to unfold.
The latest unemployment figures put into sharp focus the seriousness of the socioeconomic implications of the crisis.
The data from the CSO shows a small reduction in the Covid-19 adjusted unemployment rate in May, but a record-breaking 26pc of the Irish labour force are now out of work.
It is hoped this spike in unemployment will be short lived, but there are grave concerns that many people will not have a job to return to once the economy is reopened. The concentration of job losses in the tourism, hospitality, food, and retail sectors means that the impact has disproportionately fallen on groups that are least able to endure a financial hit, namely minimum wage workers, younger workers, renters, and migrants.
While the swift State response has cushioned the blow for many in the short term, questions now need to turn to how we make sure those hardest hit and living in poverty are not pushed deeper into hardship.
The main political parties have assured us that a return to austerity is not on the horizon, but as the Government turns to fiscal adjustments and budget deficits, there is a growing narrative that "hard choices" lie ahead. It is not yet clear who will bear the brunt of these "hard choices" but the lack of emphasis placed on the persistent issue of poverty in the run-up to Government negotiation is extremely concerning.
On the very same day as the record-breaking unemployment figures were published, the Central Bank released data showing that before the Covid-19 crisis struck Irish households were wealthier than at any other time in the history of the State and debt levels were significantly lower than in 2008. This suggests that on average Irish households may be more resilient to an economic shock, particularly if it is short term, than at the outset of the last recession. But is this true for everyone?
The Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) shows that while things have improved for many households in recent years, the situation of those on the lowest incomes is significantly worse than it was before the last crash.
In 2018, 40pc of those living below the poverty line were experiencing enforced deprivation, which means going without basics such as nutritious food or adequate heat. This is compared to 29pc in 2008. While the situation might have improved since this data was collected, it is likely that many low-income households are more exposed to an economic shock now than they were a decade before.
The data also shows that the groups most at risk of poverty, including children, lone parents and people with disabilities are still carrying the scars of austerity. Over 230,000 children are living below the poverty line and are being silently impacted by this pandemic. Without a strategic approach and a prioritisation of child poverty in the next Programme for Government, many more risk being left behind.
For children growing up in one-parent families this risk is even more apparent. The austerity cuts to income supports for lone parents, the majority of which are women, means that many are struggling to make ends meet and their rates of poverty are amongst the highest in Europe. Supporting lone parents into decent family friendly employment through the provision of free childcare must be a key objective of Government as we emerge from this crisis.
The fear and anxiety everyone is experiencing in the past few weeks is amplified for those who have both money and health worries. Poverty rates are highest among people unable to work due to illness or disability and rates have almost doubled in the past 10 years. The inadequacy of social welfare supports and their failure to account for the additional costs of disability must be addressed as presently too many people are forced to go without basics. The European Union's jobs commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, recently highlighted how adequate minimum-income schemes will play a vital role in protecting people from poverty as countries emerge from the public health crisis.
In Ireland we need to see social welfare rates benchmarked against the cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) in recognition of the real costs being faced by households. The provision of adequate supports and safeguards for renters will also be critical.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) was already supporting many people who were at a tipping point with the threat of homelessness hanging over their heads. They are juggling energy, education and childcare costs, and constantly worrying about unexpected expenses.
When the pandemic is over many people will be trapped in poverty and we need to make sure they are not overlooked - or their situation made worse - as the economy recovers.
Now is the time to get things right by prioritising investment in our social infrastructure and supports, creating a minimum social floor for all citizens that no one is expected to fall below.
Introducing legislation that makes poverty reduction targets legally binding, and places poverty proofing and equality budgeting on a statutory footing would ensure that any "hard choices" are guided by values of compassion, equality, justice, and the need to uphold everyone's human right to a life with dignity.
Dr Tricia Keilthy is head of social justice at the Society of St Vincent de Paul