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As inflation bites, those on the margins of society cannot be ignored



Inflation is eating up income. Stock image

Inflation is eating up income. Stock image

Inflation is eating up income. Stock image

‘All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership,” said economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

The major anxiety confronting so many to date has been the turbo-charged inflation rates. So the European Central Bank’s ( ECB) timing in administering the last rites to the age of low interest rates could hardly have been worse for so many.

On top of battling the highest prices in 38 years, people will have to brace themselves for a series of interest rate rises, starting with a quarter-percentage point move in July and the prospect of a bigger half-point shift in September.

The fact that the ECB last raised its rates in 2011 speaks to the transformation of the global economy. But the financial stress of it all on family incomes cannot be underestimated.

The rises could see a typical tracker mortgage holder shelling out an extra €1,000 annually.

The combination of twin body blows – first from the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine – have left global governments reeling.

Difficult and unwelcome though the increases will be, there was broad agreement among the ECB’s 25 governing council members on the need for them.

The argument was that the dead-man’s brake needed to be pulled to slow down eurozone inflation, which has risen at a record rate of 8.1pc. This is more than quadruple the ECB target of 2pc.

Napoleon Bonaparte warned his senior officers: “Never awake me when you have good news to announce, because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.”

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Perhaps that is what the ECB is attempting to do, preparing us to adjust to the new headwinds and manage expectations.

But it will be an extremely bumpy passage for too many families who already find themselves flooded by debt. The increases could easily result in people falling deeper into mortgage arrears, having struggled through the pandemic.

Private rents are also 11.2pc higher than they were a year ago.

No surprise then that leading charities are alarmed at the crippling demands being made on people. St Vincent de Paul has said it is overwhelmed with demand for its services.

Stark choices on whether to pay bills or eat are being forced on some who are already stretched to breaking point. Because it is essentials like groceries and fuel that are rocketing out of reach, there is no avoiding the hardship.

It has been said that when only money talks, the poor have no voice. But, whether at national or EU level, the needs of the marginalised cannot be ignored. With so much to confront, we must hope the “leaders” alluded to by Mr Galbraith are equal to the tasks at hand. This will involve taking care of our society and not just an economy.

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