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Thursday, January 20, 2022

MLA Sugden: ‘Fuel poverty amongst elderly needs addressed’

Increasing fuel poverty among older people must be addressed as soon as possible.

Independent MLA Claire Sugden has said it must be understood and addressed as cold weather and soaring energy prices conspire to make winter uncomfortable for many this year.

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Ms Sugden, who is chair of Stormont’s All Party Group on Ageing and Older people and sits on the Assembly’s Economy Committee, said older people on fixed, limited budgets were particularly vulnerable to the price rises.

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The East Londonderry MLA called for a task force to be set up to understand how far-reaching the issue was across the whole of society and called on the Executive to take action to ensure people could afford the essentials of food, heat and electricity this winter.

She said: “The pressures facing many older people could mean that some are facing the choice between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

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“Older people also generally spend more time in their houses than those of school or working age, so need to keep the house warm nearly all day.

“We need to make sure we look after the most vulnerable in our society. When budgets remain fixed, but prices increase to the levels we have seen in the past few months, the government has to step in to help.

“This will need to happen quickly because people are suffering now. In the medium to long-term, however, we must understand just how big an issue fuel poverty is across Northern Ireland. A taskforce specifically set up for this purpose would not just be useful – it is rapidly becoming essential.”

The Winter Fuel Payment went some way towards helping those struggling to meet costs over winter, added Ms Sugden. An extra, means-tested grant could be necessary moving forward, particularly during years when big price increases were seen.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Ms Sugden continued. “I’m pleased that the Minister for Communities has bid for around £14m from the Department of Finance to fund fuel grants for the most vulnerable this year.

“I hope this is finalised and distributed as soon as possible, but a longer-term solution is clearly needed so we can be prepared in future. People can’t be left in limbo to worry and struggle like this again.”

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