SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has written to the Communities Minister urging her to develop an emergency financial support package for pensioners as energy prices soar.
Mr Durkan expressed frustration that little to no action has been taken to protect this vulnerable demographic. According to Age UK, older households are twice as likely to live in extreme fuel poverty.
He has also been calling for a review into the rate of Winter Fuel Payment which has remained unchanged since 2010/11.
Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) administers the scheme, the Department for Communities holds the powers to set the rate.
In response to Mr Durkan’s latest call, Minister Hargey said she "continues to consider additional ways to help people through the cost of living crisis".
The Foyle MLA commented:
“Pensioner households have been failed. We cannot escape the consequences of fuel poverty and the reality is that lives are at risk in the absence of adequate support. The older generation are more likely to be isolated in their homes especially during winter and therefore experience higher energy usage. Price hike after price hike is already forcing people to choose between heating or eating, soaring energy costs have somehow become the norm, but what is happening is abhorrent, it cannot be accepted with cynical indifference, it needs challenged and protections must be established.
“No household is immune to increasing energy costs but for pensioners this crisis hits harder. They are at an increased risk of illness and worse when we experience cold temperatures. I know many of my constituents are filled with a sense of dread as the winter months approach with no plan in place.
“Reviewing the current rate of Winter Fuel Payment is a small step but a necessary one. It's inexcusable that amid an energy crisis the Communities Minister has not seen fit to review, never mind increase, the rate of Winter Fuel Payment to assist our elderly population. The Minister’s latest response underscores the complete lack of urgency on this issue. We hear much about discussions and considerations that are happening around the cost of living crisis, but we don’t hear about action. Caretaker Ministers with powers can’t rely on the absence of an Executive as an excuse, I’ve been calling for this review and many other support initiatives long before the current political impasse, meanwhile, Ministers have sat on their hands. People need solutions, not empty rhetoric.
“For too long pensioners have been treated with flagrant disregard by government, left without the support and dignity they deserve to enjoy their golden years in relative comfort. They should not be facing a battle to keep their homes warm and food on the table this winter.”