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National Economic Dialogue

'Unprecedented crisis': Government urged to tackle energy poverty before next winter

The National Economic Dialogue is taking place in Dublin today.

THE GOVERNMENT IS being urged to take decisive action to tackle energy poverty and break Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuel home-heating ahead of next winter. 

A cross-section of social, environmental and voluntary organisations issued the call ahead of the National Economic Dialogue which takes place today.

The Dialogue seeks a range of cross-Government policies discussed with Cabinet members and representatives from community, voluntary and environmental groups, businesses, unions and academics. 

The Government has said that the Dialogue is not intended to produce specific budget proposals or recommendations. 

The theme of this year’s Dialogue is “The economy in 2023 – enabling a sustainable future for all”. It will focus on discussions on understanding the longer-term factors that will shape economic trends and drive living standards in the future. 

The Dialogue will involve a number of “breakout sessions” involving senior Ministers. These sessions will look at topics such as sustainable public finances, petter public service delivery and national climate action objectives. 

Speaking in advance of the event today, Finance Minister Michael McGrath acknowledged that “the increase in the cost of living and high inflation have created difficulties for many in our society”.

“This will be the forefront of my mind as begin calibrating Budget 2024,” McGrath said. 

“We must also be conscious that our economy is now at full-employment, and it is important that budgetary policy does not add to inflation – to put it another way, budgetary policy cannot become part of the inflation problem,” he said. 

“While the public finances are in robust shape, we know that we face real vulnerabilities in relation to the concentration of corporation tax receipts, an ageing population and the need to finance the climate and digital transitions,” the Minister added. 

“I look forward to hearing from all those attending today and reflecting on these contributions.”

‘Unprecedented crisis’

Ahead of today’s meeting, 27 organisations – including St Vincent De Paul, Friends of the Earth, Threshold and Age Action – issued a statement urging the Government to take decisive action to tackle energy poverty and break Ireland’s dependence on fossil fuel home-heating before next winter.

The groups described the latest CSO figures, which show the number of people unable tyo keep their homes adequately warm doubling between 2021 and 2022, as an “unprecedented crisis”. 

The organisations hava made a number of recommendations for the Government to: 

  • Address inadequate incomes by raising social welfare rates in line with cost-of-living increases.
  • Tackle cold homes for low-income renters and homeowners first.
  • Introduce new, targeted measures to bring down bills and guarantee everyone’s right to energy.
  • Get off fossil fuel heating and ensure a fair energy transition.

“It is powerful to see so many organisations join together to call for an end to our dependence on dirty, expensive fossil fuel heating as a core part of tackling energy poverty and ensuring warm homes for all,” Clare O’Connor, energy policy officer at Friends of the Earth said.

“It’s also essential that Budget 2024 tackles income adequacy by raising all core social welfare payments by a minimum of €25,” she said. 

Fleachta Phelan, senior policy associate at Disability Federation of Ireland, said: “Disabled people have long lived with higher than average energy bills, due to the many extra costs of having a disability”.

Phelan said that “people with disabilities use more electricity on average, and were already more likely to be in utility arrears before this cost of living crisis”.

“The percentage of people unable to work due to long-standing health problems (disability) who were unable to afford to keep their home adequately warm increased by more than 10% over the past two years – from 8.5% in 2020 to 19.6% in 2022,” she said. 
“It is deeply worrying to know that people who cannot work because of their disability or health condition are cutting back on necessary heating due to a lack of sufficient income – the health implications of this alone are alarming. The Government must act to address disability poverty in Budget 2024.”

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