That Dáil Éireann:
— the cost of household energy is spiralling, with more than 30 different price increase announcements from Irish energy suppliers over the past year;
— costs have risen by around €500 for an average household, with energy suppliers announcing further rises next month;
— home heating oil has increased in price by over €1,000 for 1,000 litres this year;
— Bord Gáis Energy have announced price rises of up to 39 per cent next month;
— the price of coal increased by €4.50 per bag last week and is anticipated to increase by a further €2.50 at the beginning of April;
— according to the Government's most recent strategy to tackle energy poverty, up to 28 per cent of households in Ireland are in or at risk of energy poverty, equivalent to some 475,000 households;
— the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has had a 49 per cent increase in the number of requests for help with energy costs in February 2022, compared to the same period last year;
— a recent RED C poll from January 2022 found that 37 per cent of people have cut back on essential heating and electricity use, and 17 per cent have cut back on other essentials such as food; and
— there are currently no supports for the vast majority of workers and families to assist with rising heating costs;
further notes that:
— the Government's recent measures to reduce excise duty do not extend to home heating oil;
— the Fuel Allowance is only available to limited households and does not include those on the Working Family Payment (WFP);
— the Government have continually insisted that households can seek support for energy costs through the Exceptional Needs Payment (ENP), yet those working 30 hours per week or more cannot avail of this; and
— the carbon tax increase in May will further increase the price of home heating oil, gas and solid fuels; and
calls on the Government to take appropriate emergency action, to include:
— the introduction of a "cost of living cash payment" of €200 for every adult with an income less than €30,000 and €100 for every adult with an income between €30,000 and €60,000;
— the further reduction of excise duty on petrol and diesel;
— the securing of a derogation from the European Commission in order to reduce Value Added Tax on bills temporarily and as required;
— the removal of the excise duty on home heating oil for a temporary period;
— the extension of Fuel Allowance eligibility to those who are in receipt of the WFP;
— the establishment of a discretionary fund of €15 million, to assist households with utility debt;
— the relaxation of the rules for the ENP, including the 30 hour working rule on a temporary basis;
— the collection of data from Community Welfare Officers on the number of requests received for assistance under the ENP; and
— the cancellation of the increase in carbon tax scheduled for 1st May.
When it comes to many of the issues of the day, with all the data and percentages, the lived reality can sometimes be missed. I have engaged with many people ahead of this motion, both online and in person. They included a mother who gets up in the middle of the night to refill her little boy's hot water bottles because she cannot afford to buy oil, a nursing student commuting daily for college having to miss days as she cannot afford to fill her car five days of the week, a working couple who will have to decide next month whether to make their mortgage payment or get a fill of oil and a worker in the oil industry who told me how older people are crying on the phone wondering how they will keep paying for coal. This is not make-believe. The CEO of ALONE, an organisation that advocates for older people, has said older people are choosing between heating and eating. That is someone's mother, father, granny or granddad deciding whether they should buy fuel or buy food. Imagine that is a decision to be made by older people living in our State in 2022. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has seen a 49% in calls in February of this year compared to the same time last year. People are ringing it seeking help with energy costs. The Government does not have to listen to Sinn Féin or other Opposition Members in this House, it could just listen to the people who are out there, that is, the workers, the families and organisations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that are spending millions every year helping people with energy costs. This is now the reality for workers and families right across this State.
Just last week, Bord Gais announced unprecedented increases in electricity and gas. Those increases will kick in in just a couple of weeks' time. They will see gas bills increase by €340 per year and electricity by €350. This price hike follows almost 40 price hikes from energy providers in the last year. Home heating oil, which many of the people of Roscommon and Galway whom I represent rely on to heat their homes, has doubled in the last year. Carbon tax, which the Minister of State's Government will increase from 1 May, will further increase gas and oil prices at a time when many households are spending more their bills than they ever have before. We also know coal is up 50% since September of last year and further increases are expected next month.
At every point when we have raised the cost of living crisis and especially energy prices - and we see again it in the Government's amendment this evening - it speaks about the budget last year and the social welfare increases that are more or less irrelevant given where we are now compared to where we were last October. Of course, those increases in social welfare came when we had two previous years with no increases whatsoever and we are also at a point where every single working-age weekly social welfare payment is already well below the poverty line. The Government speaks about those increases like it speaks about the fuel allowance, namely, as if it were doing people a favour. The reality is we have entire cohorts of people, including those who rely on social welfare like lone parents, carers and persons with disabilities, and also entire cohorts of workers who are getting up early in the morning, paying their taxes and are not able to cover their basic costs week-to-week. The Government has also overemphasised the fuel allowance. It is still not back up to the 32 weeks that Fine Gael cut back in 2012. Again, many households are locked out of the fuel allowance. This is a point we have made repeatedly. This includes those out sick from work on the illness benefit, those on low wages relying on the working family payment and many older people who have a small occupational pension. The exceptional needs payment is then cited as an additional support for those who might be struggling with their fuel costs. What is not said when the Government brings that forward as a suggestion is that if a person works 30 hours or more per week he or she cannot get the exceptional needs payment. That means we are leaving entire cohorts of workers - people who are paying their taxes and working - unable to afford mounting fuel bills every single week and month. The exceptional needs payment is not mentioned in the Government amendment, which is a wonder. There are measures brought forward in this motion related to social protection that can and should be taken by the Government to give people the assistance they need.