The Alliance Party have again reiterated the need for a functioning Executive and raised concerns that given the significant differences in energy markets between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, support from Westminster is not being properly tailored to people here.
At the start of the month, Prime Minister Liz Truss announced a cap on the unit price of gas and electricity for GB. Given the different energy markets, this cap was not automatically applied to Northern Ireland but it has now been confirmed it will come into place in November, one month later than the rest of the UK.
Home heating oil customers will receive a one-off payment of £100, delivered as a top-up to the energy bills support payment, which is going to all UK households.
Patrick Brown MLA raised concern around the modest support for oil users, saying “Before the recent announcements we raised the alarm that given only 3% of households in GB rely on home heating oil there was a real risk that little focus was going to be given to our situation here by the UK Government. Unfortunately, that has proved to be the case. Nearly 70% of households in Northern Ireland rely on oil and here in Newry, Mourne and Down, we have seen a 140% increase in the average price of 900L when compared to last year.”
He continued, “A one-off £100 payment isn’t even close to the support needed for those households, when you consider that 300L is costing people on average £328. The reality of the situation flies in the face of the DUP approach, which is to wash their hands of the crisis local people are facing and instead simply hope that Westminster will sort it all out. Well that is clearly not happening.”
Linking this issue to the latest financial statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown went on, “The decision on energy support is linked to the wider approach by the current UK Government. They are intent on pursuing a hard right agenda of tax-slashing and deregulation at a time of huge economic and financial uncertainty that demands investment in public services and social protection. This will only serve to push low income households further into precarity.”
“If there was an Executive in place, we could have received a major Barnett Consequential, far beyond the value of what we are getting in direct support. That would allow us to tailor support here and try to shield people from the worst of the regressive approach the UK Government is taking.”
“Alliance have laid out clear proposals of what could be implemented through our ‘Combatting the Crisis’ document. At a bare minimum, we want to see an increase in the Energy Bills Support Scheme to at least £800 per household. The £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit entitlements restored immediately and the Government should endeavour to remove VAT on domestic fuel.”