Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Fuel Poverty must be tackled

13 May, 2008

Speaking during a Sinn Féin motion today tabled by Paul Maskey MLA and herself, Jennifer McCann MLA, called on the Executive to ensure that there is closer co-operation between different departments to ensure that sustainable energy, including renewable energy, is developed in such a way that benefits the environment, and tackles the socio-economic problems that face families due to fuel poverty.

Ms Mc Cann said:

"While this motion was tabled some time before the current increase in oil prices and the subsequent recent rise in gas prices and anticipated rise in electricity, there has been a case for the government to reassess its options in relation to the rising energy demand and meeting it's targets of reducing CO 2 emissions, energy efficiency and 12% renewable energy targets.

"All of which must be looked at within the context of benefiting the environment and tackling climate change, and to combat the on-going misery facing people who are living in fuel poverty.

"My colleague will be covering the issue of climate change in more detail so I only want to touch on it here and that is to say that there is a strong moral, economic, social and environmental reasons why the North of Ireland and indeed all countries need to sign up to cutting global emissions.

"All of us are aware of the way that climate change is already destroying the lives and livelihoods of many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world and as global temperatures rise further this trend is set to continue.

"Climate change is a major threat to development and to the progress that has been made in fighting poverty in poorer countries. The reality is that unless countries including Ireland sign up to the targets needed to reduce global emissions we will be responsible for subjecting the world's poor to greater vulnerability to disease, hunger and exploitation.

"To turn to the review of the Sustainable energy markets whilst the review found that the efforts by stakeholders and delivery organisations across sustainable energy markets have gone in some way to improve energy efficiency and an increase in the use of renewables there are still opportunities and potential for further improvements.

"For instance the fuel mix for electricity generation has changed rapidly and continues to change and there are large scale renewable electricity resources in operation including onshore wind, wave generated electricity and biomass yet there is still no large scale generation using offshore wind, solar or waste resources.

"The domestic sector is still the largest energy user in the North followed by the industrial, commercial and public sectors.

"There are still barriers that need to be overcome in relation to small scale renewables particularly in relation to ensuring the motivation and financial support to increase uptake in private households. This must also be accompanied by awareness raising in energy efficiency measures.

"Once again we have seen a sharp rise in fuel prices. Oil prices have soared and the recent announcement from Phoenix gas that they are putting their prices up by 28% has put low income households at crisis point

"One in three households in the North of Ireland is currently experiencing fuel poverty. The cost of living is higher and we pay more for energy costs despite the average wage being lower.

"As people struggle to meet rises in food bills and the cost of fuel We are already been told to expect another rise in the cost of electricity and it has been estimated that soon there will be over 42 per cent of the population in the North of Ireland living in fuel poverty.

"Households on low incomes, poor energy efficient homes and high energy costs, create fuel poverty but fuel poverty doesn't exist in a vacuum and it is exacerbated by other forms of poverty and social and economic disadvantage. Pensioners, people with disabilities and families with young children or on low incomes are the most vulnerable.

"They are faced with the decision on whether to heat their homes or put food on the table. More and more people are finding themselves in debt and some are even losing their homes as a result of not being able to keep up with increases in mortgage re-payments.

"In my own constituency of West Belfast I have witnessed people with young families having their homes repossessed and having to go to live in cramped overcrowding living conditions with other family members while waiting to be re-housed.

"The Executives Programme for Government and Fuel Poverty Strategy have set targets to eliminate fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010 and non vulnerable households by 2016. It is important that there is a joined up approach to the problem including the development of sustainable renewable energy sources which will have a positive impact on economic, social and environmental factors.

"There is also a responsibility on energy companies to keep their energy prices as low as possible. Those fuel suppliers who are not regulated need to engage with their customers who are in financial difficulty and not simply disconnect their supply when they cannot keep up with rising prices.

"My colleague Martina Anderson was recently in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government are offering oil in return for expertise in certain areas like agriculture and town planning.

"I know the executive have been looking at such an exchange policy for here. I urge them to conclude their deliberations quickly. The elderly, single parents, those on low income, the disadvantaged here would benefit from an exchange of oil for expertise. The buses in London are running a scheme using Venezuelan oil. The poor and elderly of that city travel free or at half price.

"Mortgage lenders too have a responsibility to see that people who have found themselves unable to keep up with increased mortgage repayments due to the Banks and building societies cutting back on loans are given the necessary time and latitude which enables them to keep a roof over the heads of their families.

"Too often companies and organisations that are making huge profits from people are too quick to demand payments which spirals people into more and more debt. This is totally unacceptable and results in homes being repossessed and homeless families having to go unto long social housing waiting lists.

"Poverty can create other problems as children who live in homes that have no heating or have less food on their tables find it more difficult to concentrate on their education and their health and well being is also effected.

"Older people or those with disabilities need to heat their homes and have enough nourishment to maintain even their basic health.

"All of us have a responsibility to ensure that people have the capacity to heat their homes and put food on their tables, no one should be living with the choice of keeping their homes warm or buying food.

"We all welcome the recent Investment Conference and hope that it will bring forward opportunities for everyone In particular for those who are more disadvantaged in society and who because of their social and economic conditions haven't had the same opportunities as others.

"The Government disengaged itself from the direct ownership of the production and delivery of the major network delivered sources of energy, gas, electricity and coal. A combination of private sector management and independent regulation was thought to be the best way forward in delivering lower costs and producing an efficient energy sector.

"The review which looks at the Sustainable Energy Market has made a number of recommendations, these coupled with departments working together on the serious issues of fuel and other forms of poverty and towards targets to deal with climate change will I feel be a first step towards creating a sustainable energy sector which benefits the environment, and tackles the socio-economic problems that face families due to fuel poverty." ENDS

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