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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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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jennifer Whitmore: Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore] We are also going to be facing a climate crisis and fuel poverty, and how we address these will be key in meeting our obligations.

Two central tenets of any just transition model, which is exactly what we need now and in future, must be that climate action does not fall disproportionately on low-income households and that resources to mitigate climate change are equally shared across all sections of society in a sustainable manner. Those on low incomes at home and abroad are more likely to feel the impact of climate change such as flooding and drought and be exposed to air pollution, poor water quality and water contamination. We can prevent this by poverty-proofing climate action in the country and by establishing a just and fair transition model.

In 2018 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul commissioned a report on this issue and revealed that several factors contributed to energy poverty in the country. It noted that increases in energy prices disproportionately impacted on low incomes. It also found that there was a limited uptake of energy efficiency schemes among low-income households due to a lack of awareness or education and that energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector remained inadequate. I am pleased to acknowledge the comments of Deputy Bruton on tacking the rental sector. It is often the case that the subsidies are only taken up by those who can actually afford to make the necessary investments. We tend to leave out the working poor or people living in private rented accommodation facing current levels of high rents or those whose income has significantly reduced due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. While budget 2021 did increase the fuel allowance and allocated €100 million to residential and community energy efficiency, it really is not enough to address the persistent energy poverty that our communities face.

There is also an increased allocation to the warmer homes scheme and the national retrofitting programme, which is welcome. However, there have been growing calls for something more comprehensive.

To fund a larger programme, the Government could commit to reviewing the subsidisation by the State of fossil fuels and instead phase out those tax breaks and subsidies that are environmentally damaging. In its budget submission, Social Justice Ireland estimated that approximately €4 billion per year in taxation between 2012 and 2016 was foregone through potentially environmentally damaging subsidies. While such subsidies undermine much of the impact of our other environmental taxation measures, they are also unproductive and would be far more useful if the related funding was used to invest in the energy needs of people, households and communities, especially those most vulnerable during transition.

As part of a just transition model, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has called for protections for low-income households and vulnerable customers from energy price increases, an improvement in access to, and take-up of, energy efficient schemes, and an improvement in data and research on energy poverty so that supports can target the most vulnerable. Investing in support of financing schemes and the roll-out of trusted energy advisers at a community level will also be required to educate people about their energy options. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul notes that a review of subsidy schemes in other European countries identified energy consultants who can increase awareness and confidence of Government schemes. We need schemes with wider eligibility and we need to review how mechanisms from existing schemes, such as better energy homes, can support an increased uptake of schemes by low-income households.

Ultimately, what is being advocated by NGOs is that when we make the transition to a zero-carbon economy, which we absolutely must do, we make sure people on low income can afford their minimum energy needs. This can be achieved by ensuring people have an adequate income, controlling the cost of utilities for low-income households as we make the transition to renewables, expanding access to free energy efficient upgrades and investing in public transport and rural transport.

The impact of Covid-19 can be viewed as a test of the economic disruption that we want to avoid as a country as we transition to a zero-carbon economy. The motion reflects on the circumstances facing those most vulnerable during the pandemic and who we should continue to protect as we emerge from Covid-19. This is actually an opportunity for Government to establish a template or just transition model by addressing first and foremost energy poverty in the country.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry The Dáil is debating the issue of fuel poverty. From time to time the Dáil has debates of this kind.

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