The Minister for Social Protection must ‘show some compassion’ and reverse cuts to the fuel allowance in light of stark statistics that show hundreds die as a result of ‘fuel poverty’ each year and the Society of St Vincent de Paul report request for help in paying fuel costs have trebled.
South Tipp TD Seamus Healy made a “compassionate plea” to Minister Joan Burton to take action saying there is not a day goes by he is not approached by “a number of people” who can’t afford to heat their homes.
Deputy Healy is also calling on the county’s Labour Party public representatives to take action. “I call on Minister Alan Kelly, MEP Phil Prendergast, Senator Denis Landy and all Labour Party representatives to force Minister Burton to change her mind immediately and to come to the assistance of those who are shivering in their homes.”
He said: “Minister Alan Kelly must intervene now to save lives.”
Supporting the report from the Society of St Vincent de Paul, who say they have increased expenditure to tackle fuel poverty by 275%, Deputy Healy said that fuel poverty is now affecting people it never has before. “The fact that Vincent de Paul payments have gone from €3.79 million to €10.37 million is a clear indication that people who would never have contacted Vincent de Paul are contacting them on heating issues.”
The Clonmel based TD said that people are uncomfortable with others knowing they are in difficulty.
Deputy Healy said he has asked to Minister Bruton to reverse the cuts, even on a short term basis to re-extend the allowance for the six weeks that were cut, in light of the current cold snap. He cites the example that in the very cold winter of 2010 a once-off payment for fuel of €40 was introduced.
He put forward other suggestions, that a fuel payment could be distributed through Community Welfare Officers, or a grant could be given to the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
Last week Deputy Healy tabled a Dail question appealing to Minster Burton to restore the full fuel allowance, which was cut in the last budget by six weeks.
“In my question I had pointed out that the Minister for Finance had told me recently in a reply that the top 1% of income recipients had a gross income of €8.74 billion per year, an average income of €404,000 each and an after-tax income of €249,000 each per year. A tiny tax increase on these would pay for the restoration of cuts in fuel allowances. They would not even notice the change!”
Deputy Healy also criticised Labour minsters that he said “cried crocodile tears for those whose heating is being cut off.” He said that at a recent conference academics pointed out that there are 1200 unnecessary deaths on the island of Ireland due to fuel poverty each year. “The cuts in heating units and in the heating period are cruel and unnecessary.”
In response to Deputy Healy, in the Dail, Minister Burton said: “410,000 customers will receive a fuel allowance of €20 per week for 26 weeks at a cost of €211 million. We spend almost €500 million on weekly fuel payments for six months of the year, which I am sure the Deputy will agree is a significant amount of money.
“Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments are made to people with a particular need and more than 3,000 customers are currently in receipt of a special heating supplement, paid to assist them with special heating needs, perhaps because of ill health or infirmity.”
Members of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group will continue this campaign with motions before the County Council and Clonmel Borough Council calling on the minister to reverse the cuts, in the coming weeks.
Deputy Healy said he hopes the minister will have to respond if a campaign of pressure, including groups like St Vincent de Paul, Age Action and public representative, continues.