Tá costais fhuinnimh sa tír seo ag ardú agus tá teaghlaigh amuigh ansin ag streachailt lena gcuid billí a íoc. Tá fíorbhrú ar dhaoine le airgead a fháil chun a gcuid tithe a théamh an Fómhar agus an Nollaig seo. Tá an Rialtas ag déanamh neamhairde air seo. Níl sé ag gníomhú cosúil le rialtais eile ar fud na hEorpa. Cén fáth? Tá pacáiste de thacaíochtaí de dhíth ar dhaoine anois le dul i ngleic leis an ghéarchéim seo.
There is no doubt that winter is here. Those on low and middle incomes are facing energy price hikes in the months ahead. Today, we hear from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that inflation is now running at 5.3%, the highest rate in more than 20 years. This is largely driven by energy costs. The CSO tells us that, in the past 12 months, the price of electricity has shot up by 21%, the price of gas by 26% and the cost of heating one's home by a staggering 71% if using oil. In a survey published by my colleague, Deputy Kerrane, in which 14,000 people took part, 99% of respondents said that the Government was not doing enough to tackle the cost of living. Some 77% said that this has had an impact on their mental health.
Since the beginning of this year, suppliers have announced more than 35 price increases. Bonkers.ie shows that those price hikes could increase annual household energy bills by as much as €1,300. Workers and families need a helping hand now.
Across Europe, we see governments responding to soaring energy prices in order to shield households. In Spain, VAT on electricity bills has been slashed by 11%. In Italy, the Government has launched a package worth €6.2 billion to protect households from rising energy prices to the end of the year. This Government has done nothing despite the fact that we in this State face the highest energy prices in Europe. We in Sinn Féin call on the Tánaiste's Government to wake up. We have repeatedly called for relief to be provided to low and middle-income households, households that will struggle when they receive their bills for electricity, heating and oil in the coming months.
In October, the Commission launched a toolbox for action to support member states in tackling rising energy costs. We have said that the Government should work with the Commission to reduce VAT on domestic energy bills, thereby providing an immediate 12% cut in energy prices for households this winter. The Government rejected that proposal but we have put forward many others. For example, I am sure the Tánaiste is aware that many jurisdictions operate discount schemes for households. Under these schemes, the electricity or gas provider applies a discount to the household's energy bill, with the amount of the discount then reimbursed to the provider by the State. I am sure the Tánaiste is aware of this because a similar scheme already operates here through the free electricity allowance. This allowance is automatically deducted from the household bill and the supplier is reimbursed by the State. A similar scheme could be rolled out if the political will was there to provide immediate financial relief in respect of the electricity and home heating bills of low and middle-income households this winter.
Has the Government even explored that option? If not, will the Tánaiste consider or commit to exploring that option? We are asking the Government to wake up to the fact that people are hard-pressed. These numbers do not lie. There has been a 71% increase in the cost of heating your home if you use oil. There has also been an increase of more than 20% in the cost of electricity and gas. Despite their households having cheaper energy costs than those in this State, other European Union member states are acting, in some cases through multibillion euro packages, to support workers and families through this period. In light of the fact that the Government is reported to be considering a financial package, how long must workers and families wait for it to act? Households cannot wait any longer.