There are a number schemes in place in my Department which are helping to deliver on Goal 3 of the Positive Ageing Strategy which is to Enable people to age with confidence, security and dignity in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. The Digital Skills for Citizens Scheme is an initiative under the National Digital Strategy for Ireland. My Department provides funding to community and not-for-profit organisations to deliver informal basic digital skills training where people attending classes will learn the skills they need to take their first steps to getting online.
Training is taking place across all counties and is targeted at people over 45, farming communities, small business owners, the unemployed, persons with disabilities and disadvantaged groups. This Scheme replaced and builds on the BenefIT Scheme that my Department operated between 2008 - 2016 which delivered over 157,000 training places.
Since training commenced under the Digital Skills for Citizen Scheme in 2017, €5.5 million has been invested in providing 10 hours of free basic digital skills training to over 54,000 participants including 20,500 citizens over the age of 65.
The Digital Skills for Citizens Scheme is improving wellbeing, raising awareness about online services and providing the opportunities for family and friends to stay connected, therefore reducing loneliness as well as achieving cost savings and efficiencies.
My Department also funds a number of energy efficiency grant schemes that are administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Over 400,000 households have carried out energy efficiency upgrades with the help of these grants, making their homes more comfortable, healthier and more cost effective to run.
The Warmth and Wellbeing Scheme established in 2016 as a joint energy, social and health policy initiative, was designed to objectively measure and validate the health and wellbeing impacts of improving the living conditions of vulnerable people living in energy poverty with chronic respiratory conditions, demonstrating the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. Over 1200 homes in the pilot area have now been upgraded. Older participants have reported that the scheme has been very beneficial to them.
Under the Climate Action Plan 2019, the Government is committed to implement a carbon tax rate of at least €80 per tonne by 2030, accompanied by a trajectory of increases over successive annual Budgets. This would raise an additional €6 billion that could be invested in decarbonising the economy while also protecting the most vulnerable from the increases in living costs associated with the carbon tax. This commitment will send a strong signal to householders and firms of the need to invest in low-carbon alternatives, where possible. Budget 2020 confirmed a €6 increase in the carbon tax for 2020. This is projected to raise €90 million in 2020, all of which will be ring-fenced to support climate action and protect those most vulnerable.
This increase applied from midnight on Budget Day to auto fuels but its application to other fuels will be delayed until May 2020, after the winter heating season. The concept of a Just Transition and protecting the most vulnerable are at the heart of the Climate Action Plan. Budget measures which will support Just Transition actions in 2020 included:
- Using €13m from Carbon tax revenue in 2020 to retrofit the homes of people living in or at risk of energy poverty through the Warmer Homes Schemes. The total 2020 funding available will be €52.8m.
- Using €21m from Carbon tax revenue in 2020 to make changes to the Fuel Allowance Scheme led by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which will increase the income of households who get the fuel allowance by €2 per week (an annual increase of €56).