Fuel Poverty - 1,300 pensioners die from cold
Sinn Féin Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O‚Hagan has expressed shock at the revelation that the winter deaths of over 1,300 pensioners are linked to temperature.
Speaking after the publication of the Department of Social Development strategy and consultation document on fuel poverty Dr O‚Hagan said:
"While I welcome the publication of this strategy and the consultation. It is shocking that the winter deaths of over 1,300 pensioners are linked to temperature. This further serves to raise the debate around fuel poverty. It is absolutely vital that this issue is treated with the priority it deserves.
"The latest figures from the House Condition Survey (2001) show that 203,000 - 33% of households in the north of Ireland suffer from fuel poverty. This is unacceptable. Comparable figures in the south of Ireland and England are 16% and 9%. These appalling figures for the north are a result of higher fuel costs and lower incomes.
"It is clear that the most vulnerable people in our society, older people, children, the chronically sick and disabled, are more likely to be counted amongst the fuel poor. Child poverty is particularly acute with 37% of children in low-income houses; many of these children can be counted amongst the fuel poor. These statistics, combined with the figures in Low Income Households published last week, show the huge job of work to be done to eradicate poverty in our society and the abject failure of many governments policies in this area.
"The eradication of fuel poverty cannot be achieved without the energy companies. They have social responsibilities and must adhere to commitments to energy efficiency and lowering of domestic bills. The price hike by Phoenix gas last week needs further examination, particularly after the revelation that in comparison the cost of gas here is significantly higher than for other gas customers - particularly as many households on low income have been persuaded to switch to gas heating by the basis of lower prices.
"Sinn Féin believes that the creation of a Ministerial task force is the best way to tackle the problem of fuel poverty. This was a recommendation put forward by the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee in its inquiry into energy well over a year ago. Sinn Fein looks forward to responding to the debate on fuel poverty and to the consultation in detail." ENDS