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08 Dec 2021

Durkan: MLAs shouldn't have to beg Ministers to help families put food on tables and keep homes warm

Durkan: MLAs shouldn't have to beg Ministers to help families put food on tables and keep homes warm

SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H Durkan said the rising costs of energy bills are "completely unsustainable and will be the breaking point for so many"

Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, has urged the Executive not to prolong the scene of MLAs having to beg “Ministers to take action so families aren’t forced to choose between putting food on their tables or heating their homes”.

The SDLP Social Justice Spokesperson was speaking in the Assembly at Stormont on a Rising Energy Costs motion.

He appealed to both the Communities and Economy Ministers to work together to establish an emergency support package to assist both low-income households and small businesses with spiralling energy costs this winter.

Mr Durkan highlighted the issues faced by households in Derry and the rest of the North saying that they were at a further disadvantage than their British counterparts as they were the only region without a Warm Home Discount Scheme.

He said: “Rising energy costs is a global issue- in the context of the COVID pandemic and its economic fallout, these are indeed unprecedented challenges outside of any administration’s control.

“However, the weakened and significantly disadvantaged position the North finds itself, is not.

“Citizens here have been set at an even further disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the UK, as the only region without a Warm Home Discount Scheme.

“A scheme which offers £140 discount on gas or electricity bills for eligible claimants paid directly to suppliers- and has been described as a lifeline by fuel poverty experts. A lifeline which households here have been left without.

“The North as an area with the lowest disposable income, battling high costs is a recipe for disaster.

“Now households here have been hit with a double whammy – the end of furlough and cruel cut to Universal Credit.

“These forecasted rises will leave thousand across the North struggling to heat their homes, access hot water and keep the lights on. The rise is completely unsustainable and will be the breaking point for so many.

“I cannot comprehend the fact that in 2021, MLAs stand in this chamber today begging Ministers to take action so families aren’t forced to choose between putting food on their tables or heating their homes in the run up to Christmas.”

Mr Durkan also pleaded with the Executive not to exclude small businesses in emergency energy proposals as the North could not afford to see such businesses “being forced to close up shop as a result of soaring energy prices”.

He added: “I appreciate the focus of this motion is limited to assisting low-income households but I would like to see the Economy Minister explore the potential inclusion of small businesses in emergency energy proposals.

“They too have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic fallout and have been hit heavy by the impact of rising energy costs. While household costs have been capped, businesses aren’t afforded the same safeguards.

“The North can’t afford to see local businesses who weathered the storm of COVID being forced to close up shop as a result of soaring energy prices.

“Businesses going bust means the loss of more jobs, pushing more people into benefits and thus contributing to the poverty cycle. We can do and must do better than that.

“The Communities Minister must work alongside her Executive colleagues to establish an emergency energy winter fund for struggling households to mitigate against the rising costs of living.

“I understand a bid has already been made and discussions have begun with the Utility Regulator in regard to a fuel support package.

“But we need to see this matter progressed as soon as possible and not held as a dangling carrot to be stripped away at the 11th hour.

“Too many opportunities have been missed. We can’t afford to deny families much needed support this winter.”

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