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Joan Burton defends government action on fuel poverty

Minister for Social Protection says households with high levels of fuel poverty will be prioritised this year.

Image: Max Wolfe via Creative Commons

THE MINISTER FOR Social Protection has rejected claims made at a recent conference that half of the population of Ireland will be in fuel poverty by 2017.

The Energy Action conference in Dublin early last month heard that the number of being requiring fuel allowance is escalating. It also heard that of 3,000 ‘excess’ winter deaths of people aged over 65 recorded in Ireland between 2005 and 2009, over 400 were directly linked to the temperature inside their homes.

Separately, a survey released in December found that more than half of older people in Ireland go without food or clothing in order to meet the costs of heating their homes. Almost one in ten older people surveyed said they use their ovens to provide extra heat during cold snaps.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, the minister said that the cost of providing fuel allowance had doubled since 2005 although the number availing of the scheme had not risen by the same level.

Joan Burton said her department spent around €530 million last year on the fuel allowance scheme coupled with the phone, gas and electricity elements of the households benefits package. Last year, 375,000 people availed of the fuel allowance scheme.

“In 2005 there were 325,000 people on household benefits and 265,000 on the fuel allowance at a cost of €280 million,” the minister said in response to a query from Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams. “This indicates that whilst the number of beneficiaries has increased by more than 20 per cent the costs of provision of these schemes have almost doubled.”

Burton said that “energy efficiency is an area of increasing investment and innovation” and that further advances in this area would “pay dividends” for the environment, energy savings, efficiency and competitiveness.

She also said that the publication of a report on an affordable energy strategy for Ireland late last year proposes a “framework that will combine national and geographically focused actions to improve the thermal efficiency of the housing stock, provide targeted income supports and ensure that comprehensive advice and information is provided to vulnerable and other groups affected by energy poverty”.

Next year, the government will focus on prioritising the households at the high level of energy poverty. These households typically spend a fifth of their disposable income on energy services, she said.

The charity ALONE said recently that severely cold weather can have a serious impact on older people – particularly those with existing health problems – and that people aged over 65 are seven times more likely to be hospitalised due to the effects of the cold. It also called on the government to tackle fuel poverty “with determination”.

Half of older people forgo food to pay for fuel – survey >

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