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24 Jan 2022

Emergency fuel payment scheme falls drastically short of helping Derry's families in need

People Before Profit's Shaun Harkin and Mark H Durkan of the SDLP slam Community Minister, Deirdre Hargey's £2million initiative as not doing enough to help more people suffering from financial hardship

Emergency fuel payment scheme falls drastically short of helping Derry's families in need

Cllr Shaun Harkin: "This scheme isn't fit to help even families and individuals facing hardship in Derry"

Both People Before Profit and the SDLP have slammed the Emergency Fuel Payment scheme that starts tomorrow as drastically falling short of what is needed to help families in poverty.

Cllr Shaun Harkin (PBP) and SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H Durkan say the £2million scheme, launched by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, does not go far enough.

The scheme has been criticised by Cllr Harkin as not being fit for purpose in order to help families and individuals facing hardship in Derry while Mr Durkan slated it for only helping 20,000 families which will leave many more still in need.

Cllr Harkin said: “No matter how much the political establishment seeks to sideline issues of hardship, deprivation and growing inequality – they aren't going away.

“During the Christmas break the Sinn Féin Communities Minister announced a £2 million emergency fuel payment scheme. This is a completely inadequate response to say the least.

“As many scrambled with income loss during the pandemic the Communities Minister gifted the Royal County Down Golf Club £1.5 million in funding – but now we're told £2 million is all that's available for 20,000 struggling families. What kind of message of 'worth' is this sending out?

“Derry has nearly 30 per cent living below the poverty line. This scheme isn't fit to help even families and individuals facing hardship in Derry.

“The paltry funding underscores the failure of the Communities Minister and the Executive to take seriously the cross-community hardship crisis. It's not only the most vulnerable who are struggling. Increasing numbers of workers cannot make ends meet.

“The Executive continues to refuse to declare a hardship emergency that prioritises putting protections in place for the growing numbers of people impacted by unaffordable energy costs and cost of living increases.

“It was announced the scheme was done in collaboration with energy companies who put in a combined £250,000. Is that really all that can be asked from profitable energy companies?

“Concerns have also been raised about how the fuel payments will be distributed. How can the Minister and the Executive guarantee hardship funding goes to those who genuinely need it?

“The response from the Executive thus far has been too little, too late. There's no urgency when it comes to tackling the pandemic of inequality blighting our communities.

“The Communities Minister and the Executive are failing the vast majority. We need to up the people power pressure for immediate action on hardship and a reordering of priorities at Stormont.”

Mr Durkan added: “After months of warnings that people across the North would struggle to heat their homes this winter, the support announced by Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey will do little to tackle the fuel poverty that is affecting thousands of families at the minute.

SDLP Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan

“Rather than being a day late and dollar short, it’s a month late and millions short and hardly constitutes an effective 'emergency' response.

“We have seen record energy bill hikes for everyone – it’s not just the worst off in society who are struggling, everybody is being squeezed and more and more people are struggling to keep up with the rising costs. While support for these 20,000 families is welcome, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s actually needed to deal with this problem.

“With the scheme set to open tomorrow we are still completely unaware of what exactly it entails, what the criteria it is and who will benefit? There are going to be a lot of people very disappointed tomorrow when they realise they will be getting no support, despite facing significant financial pressures.

“We’ve seen temperatures plummet below freezing this week and I’ve no doubt there will be people who were unable to turn on their heating as a result of the crippling fuel poverty many people are experiencing. Minister Hargey needs to come up with a proper plan to help these people through this winter and to address the long-standing issues around fuel poverty. £2million simply isn’t going to cut it.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities said: “The unprecedented energy price rises have meant that those who are already struggling financially are facing added pressures during the winter months and there is therefore a need for an immediate response.

“This additional funding is vital in providing emergency financial support to thousands of vulnerable families to meet their energy costs and where it is essential to protect people’s mental health and physical wellbeing.

“The scheme is an excellent example of government working together with private companies and the voluntary and community sector to benefit those in need of support in the time ahead.”

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