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07/09/2011

Thousands Of Families Face Fuel Poverty

A shocking 75,000 NI households are living in severe fuel poverty by recognised national standards.

Yesterday, the Stormont Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland (pictured) welcomed the publication of a report by the University of Ulster entitled 'Defining Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland: A Preliminary Review'.

Commenting on the publication, the DUP Minister said it had concluded that - by applying a revised calculation based on total energy costs - a core of 13% of householders in Northern Ireland are in fuel poverty.

"This 13%, around 75,000 households, are in severe fuel poverty by national standards.

"For this group, fuel poverty is likely to lead to a public health concern, since many of these people may be living in homes that are below minimum standards," he said, adding: "In order to prioritise those most in need, these households must become the primary focus of Northern Ireland's Fuel Poverty Strategy."

The Minister said that his Department's existing fuel poverty strategy 'Warmer Healthier Homes' published in April, gave a commitment to carrying out an evaluation of the current definition of fuel poverty.

"While the report is hugely beneficial in helping target resources at a core group of householders, it in no way dilutes the very real difficulties facing many other households across Northern Ireland," he added.

The Review, one of three being carried out across the UK, was lead by Professor Christine Liddell, a local fuel poverty expert.

She commented: "While efforts to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland have made measurable inroads, the severity of fuel poverty remains profound for many households.

"The Review highlights the need for a local approach to tackling fuel poverty which focuses on Northern Ireland's unique fuel poverty landscape."

The report focused on the premise that a household is defined as being in fuel poverty if 'in order to maintain an acceptable level of temperature throughout the home, the occupants would have to spend more than 10% of their income on all household fuel use'.

The report established this precise percentage of income, which would generate fuel poverty by the original author Dr Brenda Boardman, taking into consideration the median amount of money, which families in England were spending on heating their home in 1991 - this was 5% at that time.

She therefore set the fuel poverty threshold at anyone who would have to spend more than double that amount (10%) to maintain an acceptable temperature in their home.
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At 2009 the median amount of money, which Northern Ireland families were spending, on heating their homes was 9% and national fuel poverty statistics (using the original 10% measurement approach) indicated that Northern Ireland had 44% (302,000) households in fuel poverty.

Of this 13%, [75,000 households], 44% need to spend more than a quarter of their income on heat and light in order to maintain an adequate standard.

The report also indicated that there are over 33,000 households in Northern Ireland, which need to spend at least 25% of their income.

SF Wants Energy Subsidy

Meanwhile, the Sinn Fein (SF) Economy Spokesperson, Conor Murphy, the Newry/Armagh MLA and MP, has called on the Stormont Executive to investigate ways to offset the effects on low income households of the recent energy price increases.

"Plans to increase electricity prices follows the announcements by firmus and Phoenix Gas along with the expected increase in coal will seriously impact on general household budgets and put severe strain on low income households.

"Energy suppliers as well as the oil and coal companies should be required to contribute to a special fund to subsidise social tariffs that would alleviate the effects of these increases.

"Social Tariffs would allow those low income households to purchase fuel and electricity at a more affordable price and minimise the hardship being experienced by too many vulnerable people in society while energy providers and multi-national oil and coal distributors continue to declare massive increases in profits," he suggested.

"Pensioners are already facing the prospect of cuts to the Winter Fuel Payments as a result of the British Government's austerity measures and now they are going to have to contribute to increased tax revenue through the higher cost of fuel and energy," the former Stormont Minister concluded.

Yesterday, the East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said that news of the 28.4% price increase by firmus Energy for customers outside Belfast would be very bad news for households already struggling with rising bills.

The DUP's Social Development Spokesman said: "Many families across the Province are struggling to cope and any increase in prices will certainly hit hard.

"It is important that we look for all available avenues to assist those who are most in need, and that people avail of any energy efficiency and home insulation measures which are available and which can help to reduce costs," he said.

See: Report Highlights NI Fuel Poverty

(BMcC/CD)

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