The crippling cost of living was the only item on the agenda at an open meeting organised by the Consumer Council in Belfast last night.
Around 100 people — men and women of all ages — turned out at the Holiday Inn hotel to hear the watchdog’s chief executive Eleanor Gill deliver a sombre message to those already struggling to make ends meet.
“It’s not over yet. We have not reached rock bottom. We are in for more price rises in Northern Ireland very, very soon,” she said.
In the first of two meetings scheduled for this week, members of the public were invited to outline their concerns on the current economic downturn.
Chief among them were, unsurprisingly, the spiralling price of food and fuel, along with the soaring costs of home heating, oil and mortgage repayments.
Questions arose time and again over the role of supermarkets within the community and there was a general feeling that it was time to give something back to the consumer.
Utility companies and the lack of competition in the local market was another issue raised by many of the focus groups.
During the meeting people were invited to fill out questionnaires detailing their own difficulties in today’s economic climate and there was also an opportunity to speak to a Big-Brother type camera which Ms Gill said represented a “time capsule of the time when we started to feel it tight”.
Research carried out by the Consumer Council estimates that the cost of living has increased by £60 per week — or £3,120 a year — between August 2008 and last year.
Ms Gill promised that this initiative was only the beginning of “an intensive period of engagement with consumers”, adding that “everything that can be done will be done”.
Summing up the the evening, a member of one of the focus groups said that given today’s budgetary constraints people are beginning to feel that “if you don’t need it, don’t buy it”.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs and SDLP MLA Alasdair McDonnell were in attendance.
Another public open meeting will be held in Cookstown tonight at 7pm in the Glenavon House Hotel.