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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 Paul Donnelly: Information on Paul Donnelly Zoom on Paul Donnelly] If there was ever a time to take people out of fuel poverty and to stop people entering fuel poverty it is now. It is simple. We need to: suspend the requirement that a person who loses his or her job must be in receipt of a jobseeker's payment; extend the fuel allowance of €28 per week to people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP; establish a discretionary fund for a Covid-19 utility debt; and make a double payment for the fuel allowance to all existing recipients for two seeks in February, because we recognise the difficulty they are in. Let us do that for the people who are workers and who are struggling also.

The financial situation for many families and individuals in the pandemic has been extremely difficult. One family who contacted me are on a PUP and they have the heating on all day since Covid. They live in rented accommodation that desperately needs to be upgraded. The windows and doors are in poor condition, which I have seen. There is poor insulation and an old and unreliable heating system. The family has no control over that. Their bills have shot through the roof because they are now in their house all day having being told by the Government that we all need to stay at home.

Another citizen told me that she has worked all of her life. She has a 30-year-old home that is badly insulated. It is a corner house with three of its walls exposed to the elements. She told me she had worked since she was 16 years old, had never asked for a single penny from the Government, had never thought she would have to say she was struggling to pay her bills and she was dreading the heating bill coming in March.

I ask the House to support the motion and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to please not leave a single citizen behind.

Deputy Pauline Tully: Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully I spoke with a woman last week who told me she dreads the really cold weather because she must sleep on a mattress on the floor in her sitting room with her children on mattresses also or on the sofa because she cannot afford to heat the house. She lights the fire in the sitting room and spends the really cold nights there. Another mother told me that her children are constantly getting colds and chest infections, and therefore missing time from school, because the house is so cold. People are being forced to choose between essential items as they cannot afford to pay for everything. They are wearing additional layers of clothing during the day and night and going to bed earlier than they need to just to stay warm. All of this has a detrimental effect on their physical and mental health.

The Covid-19 restrictions have a very negative impact on many households for numerous reasons, but they have had a disproportionate impact on certain families such as those of people with disabilities, older people, people with underlying health issues, and families with children. Since March of last year people have been told to stay at home as much as possible and those in the vulnerable categories have been advised to cocoon. This means they are spending more time at home and having to heat their homes on a constant basis. This may not have been a huge issue last spring and in the early summer when the weather was good, but it is certainly an issue since the autumn and winter when the colder weather came in. This is an ongoing issue for people with disabilities. Poverty is something that many experience since there is an additional cost of living for a person with a disability. Indeed, there is also a link between unemployment and poverty as people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the rest of the population and they are more likely to suffer poverty.

Families having to spend a longer time in their homes when they are normally in school, at work or at a day service means that the cost for heating has spiralled. This is heating that might normally have only been put on for a few hours in the evening but now needs to be on constantly throughout the day. This, however, is not happening because people cannot afford to do so. I echo the call of my party colleagues here: to double the fuel allowance for two weeks in February; to introduce the fuel allowance to those on the pandemic unemployment payment; to establish a discretionary fund of €5 million, as is done in other jurisdictions to meet the additional costs due to Covid restrictions; to make it easier to access the community welfare officers; and to ensure the exceptional needs payment is sufficiently financed.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú I hope the Government answer to this motion is not just "Suck it up, we are doing enough". Many have stated already that at this point in time there are 475,364 people on the PUP. In my constituency of Louth this is 15,141, which is a huge number of people who are in a situation they had not anticipated. Many of these people had never been in this situation before. We have all heard the stories about fuel poverty over the years and it needs to be addressed. We need to act on this now.

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