Ferris calls for action on fuel poverty
Speaking during a private members debate in the Dáil this evening, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Energy, Martin Ferris TD called for urgent action to be taken on the issue of fuel poverty. He also called on the ESB, Bord Gáis and other energy suppliers to alter their policy on disconnections and to enter into agreements with people who find themselves in genuine difficulties.
Deputy Ferris said:
(Full text of Dáil speech)
“Recently released statistics show that the ESB is currently cutting off the electricity supply of more than 900 people a month with overall disconnections at a monthly rate of around 2,500. Gas disconnections have increased to something in the region of 600 per month.
“My party and others have for long pointed to the problem of fuel poverty in this country. It has been highlighted in official studies and various Government agencies and Ministers have from time to time recognised the problem and promised to take measures to alleviate it. Far from doing that however they recently facilitated an increase of 5% in the price charged to consumers for electricity. We called on the Minister to reverse the decision to impose the 5% levy but that call fell on deaf ears.
“Myself and I am sure every other member here has dealt with cases where people have found themselves in financial difficulties which have caused them to fall behind in paying their electricity and gas bills and in some cases have led to the threat or the actuality of their supply being disconnected.
“Unfortunately many of us who have made representations on behalf of such people in difficulties have noted the uncooperative attitude which the ESB has adopted towards struggling families who are attempting to make arrangements to pay their bills. Despite what the company says publicly there seems to be a rigid attitude and a refusal in many cases to come to an agreement on repayments. They even charge for the call out to cut people off. That is outrageous behaviour from a state company.
“The impact of the increases for domestic consumers has been particularly severe in many instances. The most recent report I can recall on fuel poverty was by the Institute of Public Health who conducted and published a study in 2007. Even then they found that fuel poverty in this country was at an unacceptably high level by international standards and they were supported in that by the World Health Organisation which said that it was shocked by the fact that 17% of households in this state were experiencing fuel poverty.
“That already bad situation has been exacerbated by subsequent price increases and the overall economic situation which has led to hundreds of thousands joining the dole queues. But even many people who are working have experienced cuts to their wages and living standards and are also finding it hard to make ends meet. The percentage of households in fuel poverty now is without doubt a lot higher than 17%.
“Families on marginal incomes, and particularly elderly people, are the most affected, sometimes to the extent of having to go into further debt in order to heat their homes, and it is estimated that there are in the region of 3,000 excess deaths per annum in the island of Ireland due to deficiencies in households being able to meet their energy needs.
“The most alarming aspect of studies on fuel poverty here is that rates of fuel poverty were increasing even over the years of highest economic growth and that the level of household income below which families were finding it hard to meet their energy needs was rising steeply.
“Indeed as the motion points out the majority of homes where gas is being disconnected at present are owner occupied. It is clear then that it is not a problem exclusively or even mainly associated with people on social welfare.
“The fact that the income threshold at which people find it difficult to pay their energy bills has risen is also an indication obviously that energy prices and the relative proportion of household income required to meet their needs has been rising at a faster rate than most other essentials. In the current economic situation that is a recipe for social disaster and a similar study on fuel poverty to that conducted in 2007 would undoubtedly make much grimmer reading.”