SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has urged Sinn Féin Minister Deirdre Hargey to provide support for working people who are experiencing fuel poverty.
Mr Durkan was speaking after the Executive signed off on a £200 payment to help people in receipt of benefits.
He said that while it was welcome people were receiving support after months of campaigning, huge numbers of people in work who are experiencing fuel poverty would not be eligible.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said:
“For months I have been challenging the Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to do something to help people heat their homes this winter in the face of eye-watering price hikes. While I’m glad the Minister has finally seen fit to act to help the large numbers of people affected by this, it’s regrettable that it took until January and a time where many people have already experienced freezing temperatures and been unable to heat their homes.
“This payment will help those in and out of work who receive benefits, but it will do nothing to help the thousands of people across the North who are working full time and struggling to make ends meet. When raising the issue of fuel poverty I have been contacted by huge numbers of people who are in-work and cannot pay their bills in the face of rising energy costs and the cost of living crisis that is affecting everyone. They cannot understand why the Minister does not deem them worthy of support. Minister Hargey must also ensure that those in receipt of legacy benefits can access this payment and they don’t fall through the cracks.
“This one-off payment will help families put oil in the tank and top up their gas but it is a sticking plaster approach. Minister Hargey needs to get to grips with the issue of fuel poverty and come up with a solution to address it in the long-term. The SDLP produced an Energy Costs Action Plan last month with a number of suggestions, but these were ignored by the Minister who appears to prefer the haphazard approach her department has demonstrated towards this issue thus far.
“Now that the money for this payment has been allocated we need to see immediate action to get it to the people who need it as soon as possible, we don’t want a repeat of the high street voucher scheme where the money arrives in the spring or summer. There can also be no repeat of the disastrous rollout of the Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme, which has left people in desperate need of support unable to access the minimal amount offered.”