Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has launched a motion to help workers and families who are struggling to pay their heating and electricity bills.
The Private Member’s Bill will be debated in the Dáil tomorrow, Wednesday 3rd February.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“The pandemic has been extremely tough on workers’ finances, with many people losing their jobs or facing a big drop in income.
“Last week, over 475,000 people in the State received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. That’s 475,000 people who have lost their job and lost their income from work.
“Many of them will now be struggling to pay their bills, get food on the table and stay on top of paying for daily essentials. No one should be forced to choose between having a warm home or eating.
“Currently, people have to have been unemployed for at least 15 months before they are entitled to financial support with their heating costs. This means that workers who lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic and are on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment are excluded from these vital financial supports.
“Many are struggling to afford to heat their homes. This is totally unfair and unacceptable. The Government must change this policy to support workers who are struggling through no fault of their own.
“Sinn Féin’s motion would change this so that PUP recipients would be entitled to the Fuel Allowance.
“This change would be both reasonable and achievable. It wouldn’t cost the State much in the grand scheme of spending but, crucially, it would make a huge difference to workers and families under financial pressure.
“Sinn Féin’s motion would also put in place a double payment of the Fuel Allowance for two weeks in February. Under current public health guidelines, we’re all being told to stay at home for much more of the day than usual. As a result, many workers and families are seeing their energy and heating bills sky rocket. People need support in covering these extraordinary costs.
“Lastly, the motion also calls on the Government to establish an initial discretionary Covid fund of €5 million to help households with utility debt and arrears, something that St. Vincent de Paul have flagged as a cause for alarm as we emerge from the pandemic. Other countries have set up similar funds to help families who have fallen behind on bills and we can do it here too.
“In Autumn of last year, I conducted my Household Debt Survey where hundreds of workers and families from across Ireland shared their stories of financial pressure during these unprecedented times. I was shocked and deeply moved by the stories of people struggling with their energy bills. Some families were forced to sleep in their living room together as they could only afford to heat one room every night. Others were worrying about having to choose between their energy bills or feeding their families.
“This isn’t acceptable. The Government can’t keep turning a blind eye to this. With my motion we have a chance to change this.
“This motion is about helping struggling families. The proposals are aimed at those most in need and they are targeted in order to support households where jobs have been lost, workers who are without work through no fault of their own.
“Last week, my colleague Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced a major package to help people living in the north facing fuel poverty. It’s time to do this across Ireland and ensure people get the help they need.
“I hope that the Government will do the right thing by these workers and their families. We must support workers and families across the state with these vital measures.”