SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has called on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to step up and use the power of her department to get emergency support to people affected by the cost of living crisis.
Mr Durkan was speaking as it emerged that over 75% of households in Northern Ireland are projected to fall into fuel poverty in January 2023 without urgent intervention.
Mark H Durkan MLA said:
“There are serious questions to be asked about the value of Caretaker Ministers who appear to have given up on their responsibility to help people through the most severe household finance crisis in memory. The Communities Minister has one of the largest departmental spending powers of any Executive department and, to date, has failed to bring forward new proposals to help people struggling to manage soaring food, fuel and energy bills.
“It is now projected that more than three quarters of households in Northern Ireland will fall into fuel poverty in January next year without urgent intervention. I acknowledge the limitations forced on departments by the reckless action taken by the DUP but Ministers remain in post, their officials are still at work and spending is still taking place.
“The Communities Minister should outline the options available to her to make at-risk allocations to existing schemes that could get support to people immediately as well as bringing forward proposals for new support schemes that could be implemented at pace when circumstances allow. However, the absence of an executive can’t be the ‘get out of jail free card’ in this instance. Officials within the Department for Communities and successive ministers have failed to provide an updated Fuel Poverty Strategy. Questions need to be asked about why a strategy to tackle the biggest issue facing households here, has not been revised since 2010/11 when the SDLP held the portfolio. That is a serious dereliction of duty.
“The scale of this crisis is overwhelming. By next year, the vast majority of households here could be in poverty. That is a record that no Minister can stand over. The holiday from government is over, it’s time for Ministers to get to work.”