The Executive should channel any unspent funds from the High Street Voucher Scheme towards helping vulnerable families deal with the cost of living crisis this winter, SDLP Finance and Economy Spokesperson Matthew O’Toole has said.
The latest eye-watering increase in gas prices came today as Firmus Energy announced a 38% increase in gas prices in the Ten Towns network, coming on top of two other price increase from the company this year – with further increases expected.
O’Toole also called on the finance, economy and communities ministers to urgently convene a cost of living taskforce inside the Executive to agree interventions to help the most vulnerable with the rocketing cost of living.
South Belfast MLA Matthew O’Toole said:
“This energy cost increase is the latest blow in a cost-of-living crisis which has been coming for some time and which the Executive continue to do nothing about. This staggering increase in the price of gas has arrived while families are already struggling to deal with the rising cost of food and household items, increased national insurance costs and a cut in Universal Credit rubber-stamped by Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
“The fact that we are spending over £160 million on a high street voucher scheme - at the wrong time of year to have maximal economic impact - will strike many of us an example of abysmal Executive prioritisation. At a bare minimum, the Executive should look to reprioritise the £21 million contingency fund for the high street voucher scheme towards helping the most vulnerable deal with the increased cost of energy this winter.
“The SDLP has consistently called for the Executive to prioritise finding the money to stave off the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit. That would have been a critical lifeline to people in dealing with the winter cost of living crisis, but since Conor Murphy refused to fund this policy – despite his Sinn Féin colleague bidding for it – there needs to be an Executive taskforce urgently convened by the finance, communities and economy ministers to agree actions to help get vulnerable people through this winter. Conor Murphy should also use his office to insist the Treasury return some of the expected windfall in VAT receipts to devolved administrations to help deal with the crisis.”