Fuel poverty causing untold hardship

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

People living in South Tipperary are being hit hard by fuel poverty, as cuts to the heating and free fuel allowance schemes implemented by social protection minister Joan Burton, take their toll on the elderly.

Calls were made at this month’s meeting of Clonmel Borough Council for the minister to reverse the cuts as a prolonged period of cold weather hit the country earlier in the month.

Cllr Helena McGee – in her motion – said that while the Government had agreed to extend the allowance by one week, the reality was that next year, this would be deducted from the people who needed it most.

Having carried out research. Cllr McGee told the meeting that she had been shocked to discover that 1,200 people are dying in Ireland as a result of fuel poverty each year, according to the St Vincent de Paul.

Currently, the fuel allowance is €20 per week for those people who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or HSE payments.

The majority of recipients are in receipt of State pensions, one-parent family payment, disability payments or long-term Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Since coming into Government Minister Burton has cut the fuel allowance from 32 to 26 weeks.

“I have been inundated with queries from older people getting bills from January and February for anything up to €500 just to keep warm in their own homes,” she said.

On researching the importance of correct temperature in the home, Cllr McGee said she had made some interesting findings.

“When temperatures fall as low as 16 degrees Celcius, there is an increased risk of respiratory problems – and where temperatures fall below 12 degrees, the blood thickens and there is an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks,” she explained.

“Many people in receipt of the fuel allowance cannot afford to heat their homes, and therefore are at further risk of these ailments. This is fuel poverty.

“£The St Vincent de Paul estimate that 1200 people are dying as a result of fuel poverty,” said Cllr McGee.

She said she was disgusted to discover the St Vincent de Paul had trebled its fuel aid from €3.79m to €10.37m in two years, in the face of Governemt cuts.

She said she had also been contacted by a number of people who had been told by the utility firms that they could no longer store unused electricity units over summer time.

“They are being told that they must be used by the end of September, so older people in our community have been holding onto their units, waiting for the Autumn and Winter months to kick in and they have been told that if they don’t use the units, they will be gone and these people are at their wits’ end,” she said.

Government policies are contributing to the death of people, according to Cllr McGee.

She was supported by her colleagues – with Cllr Darren Ryan also reporting that he too had been contacted by people who had been told that they could not carry over their unused units.

“The fuel allowance is not a luxury it is a necessity, people are on it because they are on a certain income,” he said.

Cllr Brian O’Donnell said that he was speaking to a woman recently and he commented on the lovely bright evenings, when she had responded that it didn’t matter to her, because she went to bed at 8pm and got up at 10pm.

“She said that she had to keep herself warm and couldn’t afford to put on the heating, and that is absolutely shameful,” said Cllr O’Donnell.

“You would hear stories that would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and those people are not asking for much, all they are asking for is what they are entitled to, and a bit of heat and a bit of food on the table.