THIS time last year we could buy two litre cartons of milk for £2. Now it is nearly £2 for one litre. Butter is living up to its gold wrapping with eye-watering prices suggesting it could well be linked to the Gold Standard any day now.
Beef – even minced beef – is becoming the rich man’s dinner again. If someone has their oil or gas on more than once a day the neighbours are wondering if they secretly won the lottery. These are grim times where even Irish humour seems entirely inappropriate. The worry of the vulnerable is palpable.
Last week Tara Mills of the BBC brought a live broadcast from the Royal’s Children’s Hospital. Its Accident and Emergency is regularly busting at the seams. We have almost conceded this as a normality, instead of our shame.
There are respiratory diseases causing some of that pressure, but incredibly disturbing was the identification that some of the pressure is being caused by illness associated with hunger and poverty. Children are sick in the hospital because they are hungry. In Belfast. In 2022. Pause with that. Their loving parents, who must also be hungry, are in those waiting rooms in the most desperate of circumstances. To use the word Dickensian seems to almost put a soft focus on what should have harsh spotlights.
Meantime, rents are escalating, fuel bills are escalating and our real-time wages are falling. This cannot hold. This is going to get worse.
Our nurses are once again speaking for all of us as they vote for strike action and say enough is enough.
Our community is held together by a community sector which steps into the breaches where statutory provision fails. With our young people, with those suffering with addictions and their families, with our asylum-seeking and refugee brothers and sisters, with mental health and counselling interventions. Professional, responsive service delivery, identifying issues and seeking resources to support the vulnerable. All of those services are needed now more than ever.
However, they are creaking as the costs of delivery outstrip the money and people available. Peace monies that had been available to fill gaps are now uncertain. If these projects fall the vulnerable will have no safety nets whatsoever.
When there is frustration that we have no local government this is what is at stake. There is no annoyance at a trucker’s inconvenience at a ferry port worth the hunger pangs of a two-year-old in a hospital. None of the manufactured outrage will ease the cold of the 80-year-old man, eating once a day and afraid to put his heating on. “No Surrender” hubris will not save the young woman from taking her own life because she could not get support in her despair. Surely the cries of the vulnerable must be heard.
I am not even saying that the Executive will save all of that; God knows Stormont is no magic bullet. But we stand a better chance when the people we know and vote for are actually able to prioritise and budget and respond.
That the British government indulged the last strangled spasms of dying DUP hubris last week was frankly sickening. We do not have time for the postponing of the inevitable. The nurses, doctors and key workers are telling us what we know. Enough is enough.