SDLP Newry, Mourne and Down Councillor Karen McKevitt said it is unbelievable there was £100m unallocated in the Assembly’s January monitoring round as families struggle with the cost of living crisis.
Cllr. McKevitt said Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy has failed people who are in need, with the money now at risk of being returned to the British government.
She said he could not understand how the recent £55m Energy Payment Support Scheme had excluded people in full-time employment while so much money remained available.
Cllr. McKevitt urged Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to demand her party colleague, Minister Murphy use the money to support working families.
Cllr. McKevitt said:
“I was incredulous to learn that at a time when many families across the region are struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table that the Executive had £100m unallocated in its January monitoring round. The SDLP has pleaded with Sinn Féin Minister Hargey to take the steps necessary to support people during the cost of living crisis, but this has repeatedly fallen on deaf ears, and now we learn there was money available. Not only did Minister Hargey fail to support people, she handed back over £20m in unspent funds that could have made a real difference.
“Throughout his tenure as Finance Minister Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy has regularly pleaded poverty and used it as an excuse for inaction. Time and time again we have seen good ideas tossed aside because we were told the funding wasn’t there, from support for people during the Covid-19 pandemic to people having their Universal Credit cut. Now we find out Minister Murphy had more money than he knew what to do with.
“There has been a particular lack of support for working families during this difficult winter period. While the Energy Payment Support Scheme will help people on welfare, SDLP constituency offices have been inundated with people in full-time employment who are struggling to make ends meet and they cannot understand why the Minister has not acted to support them.
“Everywhere you turn people are highlighting and talking about the cost of living crisis that is pushing families to the brink. Things are only going to get worse over the next few months and many people across the North are going to find themselves in a difficult position with tough choices to make. It’s imperative that Minister Murphy uses the funding he has to support these people in any way possible and mitigate against the worst aspects of this crisis to protect local communities.”