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Hardship Fund must be priority of Assembly - McGill

10 September, 2008

Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Claire McGill says that the immediate priority of the Assembly in the coming term must be the establishment of a hardship fund to ensure that relief measures are provided this winter for the ever increasing number of families on or below the breadline as a result of spiralling energy and living costs.

She said,

"Today's announcement by the Energy Regulator that it is permitting NIE to hike electricity prices by 33% over and above the 14% increase that it introduced in July will plunge even more people into extreme financial hardship. On the back of other spiralling living and fuel costs many families will face into this winter with a sense of trepidation.

"While acknowledging that there are global factors outside of our control and the fiscal constraints on what the Assembly can do, because of the limited British Exchequer block budget, the immediate priority must nonetheless be the establishment of a hardship fund. This should ensure that whatever relief measures possible are provided to assist the many working families whose income has failed to keep up with inflation, the elderly, the unemployed and those dependent on other benefits.

"In the coming term, Assembly must concentrate minds and look at areas of any area of possible flexibility in terms of the autumn budget monitoring round review that could provide a seed contribution towards a hardship fund.

"The political parties must also unite in confronting British Prime Minister Gordon Browne on his visit here next week in demanding that this hardship fund be in part financed by the Energy providers and the British Treasury which will be in receipt of over £40 million in VAT returns from consumers here as a result of these increases.

"Viridian, which owns NIE is a private equity company making massive profits and should not be permitted to gouge consumers here in order to maintain the level of its shareholders dividends.

"It is also obscene in the extreme that earlier this year oil giants Shell and BP unveiled huge combined profits of £7.2bn, made in just a three month period, yet ever since consumers have been hit with new rounds of price hikes in fuel, gas and electricity.

"Therefore, the political parties here must also unite in the supporting the growing demand for Gordon Browne to introduce a windfall tax (to be ring fenced for cost of living relief purposes) on these and other energy companies excessive and obscene profits. ENDS

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