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Household Utility Bills Support: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell] I spoke to one carer in Galway city who assists many elderly people across the city. The very difficult and upsetting reality is that a lot of elderly people to whom she calls stay in one room in the house, usually the kitchen, for the entirety of the day until they go to bed because they simply cannot afford to heat the rest of the house. I am sure we can all think of elderly friends, neighbours and relatives who do this. Even more shockingly, she told me that some elderly people stay in bed until the afternoon when the afternoon carer comes because they do not have the ability to keep the fire going all day. Some of them even decline to have a shower because the house is so cold. How horrendous is that? This has a knock-on effect because when people stay in bed it reduces their mobility and increases the chance of them getting sores.

It is not just the elderly that this is affecting. Another woman told me that she can pay for only one bag of coal a week, which means that she can only light the fire in the afternoon. As a result, at a time when we are asking people to stay at home, she wakes up in a cold house and she must wait in the cold until she can heat the house simply because she is on a low income. Another woman told me that this winter, for the very first time, she had to go to a moneylender to pay to heat her home.

We can do something about this by accepting the motion. It makes sense to extend the fuel allowance to PUP recipients. It also makes sense to suspend the requirement of being in receipt of jobseeker's payments for 15 months. In addition, it makes sense to make a double payment of the fuel allowance to all existing recipients for two weeks in February. Let us all come together and support Deputy Kerrane's motion and improve the lives of people in communities.

Deputy Réada Cronin: Information on Réada Cronin Zoom on Réada Cronin It says a lot about where we are when in one breath we are discussing an €80,000 salary top-up for a public service worker, and in the next we are talking about other workers in places such as north Kildare who cannot afford to light their home, cook a meal or turn on the heating. We have swapped the metaphorical cold house of the mother and baby homes for the literal cold house where working families and the elderly wear their coats indoors, or go to bed early, simply to keep warm.

Behind closed doors people are struggling with their emotional and mental health because of the extended lockdowns. We are in our fourth lockdown in County Kildare. We are hunkering down for the long haul, but too many of us are doing it in the cold. Let us imagine what it is like to watch one's children miserable, not able to get comfortable, because they are just too cold. Let us imagine being an older citizen isolating at home, who is unable to sit on the bus or train to keep warm in order to save a couple of hours worth of heating. Can we imagine how disempowering that is for parents and pensioners? This is not a tenement society of the previous century, this is a so-called successful society where luxury city pads lie empty while tent cities are full and working families in my constituency of Kildare North are grateful for the dark because nobody sees the Society of St. Vincent de Paul man coming. We have a so-called successful society where there is money to burn on State overruns, while people with asthma, COPD and bronchitis suffer exacerbation because of the cold of their home and still more suffer cold-induced stress, anxiety and depression.

Our plan would bring them in from the cold, literally, and in every way that matters. I commend my comrade, Deputy Kerrane, on her Private Members' motion. We believe in a shared human dignity. We believe we live in each other's shelter, not in each other's shadow. Let us just think of the 475,000 people who got the PUP last week, so many of them in my constituency. I know from them how impossible it is to heat and eat on that money in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic. We propose that anyone on the PUP would also get the fuel allowance and a double payment of the allowance for a fortnight in February. Crucially, we call on the Minister to set up an initial discretionary Covid fund of €5 million to help the thousands of households with utility debts and arrears. These debts are not just a social poison; they are a human degradation that social justice activists have long warned about. The Government's handling of Covid-19 is laying bare all the fault lines in society. It is stripping away the veneer of our compassion. We are quarantining people in the cold and we must do better. With this motion, we can.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane This motion seeks fair play. Time and again the Government says that the Opposition does not come forward with solutions. We do come forward with solutions, but the problem is that the Government does not like them. The Government does not listen and it does not act.

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