Even more families seek relief

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  • Affordability for elderly on food cost increase. (Photo by Akil Simmons) April 13

    Affordability for elderly on food cost increase. (Photo by Akil Simmons) April 13

The Cost of Living series

The Royal Gazette’s The Cost of Living series will examine the price of essential goods in Bermuda and the effect of rising costs on families and individuals.
Throughout this week, we will look at trends of food, electricity and gasoline prices in recent years.
We will explore how many people are finding it difficult to make ends meet, and to what extent they are struggling.
We will speak to the people most directly affected by the economic crisis and we will bring you the opinions from experts on the cost of living in Bermuda and how we can create a less expensive future.

Soaring numbers of families and seniors are finding it impossible to cope with rocketing food prices, charities warned yesterday.

Age Concern called for tax breaks for the elderly after noting the cost of staple items such as bread, potatoes and rice has shot up by 50 percent or more since 2002.

The Salvation Army says rapidly escalating prices, at a time when families are blighted by the economic crisis, have led to a dramatic rise in the number of people needing help.

An average 325 households per month require assistance from the Salvation Army this year, up from between 210 and 250 per month in 2011.

This week, The Royal Gazette’s The Cost of Living series will examine the true extent of the rising cost of essential goods in Bermuda, and the resulting impact on people.

Government figures on supermarket prices show a loaf of wheat bread is now 67 percent more expensive than ten years ago, while potatoes have gone up 50 percent. Rice has increased by 67 percent, milk by 44 percent, butter by 130 percent and codfish by 28 percent.

This newspaper found a sample basket of goods costing less than $50 in January 2002 would come to $73.70 in January 2012.

Evaluating the statistics, Age Concern pointed to a 4.4 percent yearly increase in the average cost for a basket of goods, which clearly outpaces the 2.5 percent rate of inflation.

The charity called for adjustments in social insurance and tax exemptions to help out the elderly.

“While we are sensitive to the fact that commodity prices, coupled with increased fuel and energy costs, mean grocers and other retailers need to charge more for the same product to keep their margins, seniors are disproportionately impacted by these escalating prices,” said Age Concern in a statement.

“Seniors have no choice but to buy food, therefore when it comes to staple foodstuffs, there is little discretionary spending involved. In fact, relative to their fixed incomes, seniors are placed at a financial disadvantage when prices rise, which puts them in an inherent situation of double jeopardy.

“The collective and cumulative effect of increased costs for essential goods and services such as food, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and other basic needs, can put an even greater strain on our growing senior population.

“For example, if there is a rise in costs on healthy foods, it can be more difficult for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle that can prevent them from having to purchase prescription drugs and from having excessive visits to their doctor.”

The statement called for policymakers to evaluate the impact of the economy on seniors on an ongoing basis.

“Comparisons should be made with respect to fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index and corresponding adjustments to social insurance, tax exemptions and other such entitlements,” it said.

“We must also ask ourselves whether fair play is being exercised to ensure that equal standards of compensation exist for pensioners as they do for publicly funded positions.

“In the meantime, we encourage seniors to continue to make healthy food choices whenever possible. We also challenge seniors to use their power as a collective group of consumers by determining what products and grocers will provide them with the best value for their money.

“We likewise encourage grocers to extend their senior discount days so that more seniors can benefit from such offerings.”

Wholesalers argue they shop around for the best deals before bringing goods to Bermuda, and that prices are sometimes forced up by factors beyond their control, such as the cost of oil.

In recent months, a Price Control Commission, set up by Premier Paula Cox, has been evaluating the issue but has suggested price controls are an unlikely scenario in Bermuda.

Salvation Army Divisional Commander Major Shawn Critch said increases in food, accommodation and transportation costs had all hit people hard.

“Individuals coming to the Salvation Army for assistance are certainly dealing with the impact of increased cost of living as well as ongoing fallout of the economic realities facing Bermuda,” said Mr Critch.

“I say that to indicate we are dealing with more than just inflationary realities. And just as it is becoming increasingly challenging for individuals it is also becoming increasingly challenges for the Salvation Army to the increased demand upon various programmes.

“Over the past three years we have seen an significant increase in demand. Last year we were averaging between 210 and 250 households each month. Since February of this year we are averaging 325 households per month.

“Corporate partnerships and the general financial support of the residents of Bermuda are essential as we extend the helping hand to those coming to us for assistance.”

One temporarily homeless man, who asked us to refer to him by his first name, Derrick, told this newspaper: “Food prices are crazy. We are given $25 vouchers for the supermarket. It’s helpful and we are thankful, but it doesn’t go far.

“You can buy some noodles, chicken wings, two sodas and maybe if you’re lucky a can of deodorant. And that’s the $25.

“I’ve seen prices go up and up and it’s like, where’s the relief? The smaller stores have no choice because they can’t buy in bulk, so it’s up to the bigger stores to do the right thing and lower their prices.”

Butterfield & Vallis president Jim Butterfield has previously ruled out a price freeze, noting wholesalers face fixed overheads such as shipping and ports fees, wages, electricity and costs set by overseas retailers.

“Bermuda’s prices follow worldwide trends,” said Mr Butterfield. “If you look at the past ten years, the range is all over the place because some items have gone up more than others, and each item has its own reason for its own price.

“But if the price of New Zealand lamb goes up significantly, we do too. If the prices in the United States go up, so do we.”

* How are you affected by price increases? E-mail tsmith@royalgazette.bm

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Published Apr 16, 2012 at 9:00 am (Updated Apr 16, 2012 at 9:02 am)

Even more families seek relief

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