The government must protect low-income families from the severe winter ahead

People don’t pay that much attention to the seasons when they feel comfortable. The winter chill has not yet made itself felt, and yet there is a chilling apprehension in the air.

Electric Ireland Managing Director Pat Fenlon revealed to politicians yesterday that around 125,000 of his customers have already defaulted on their energy bills.

Mr Fenlon told a committee on the environment and climate change he believed the wholesale cost of electricity would rise to €2 billion this year. It’s hard to believe that in 2020 the cost was only 300 million euros.

Blame the impact of the pandemic, but more significantly the total disruption of energy supplies from Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Fenlon pointed to “unprecedented increases in wholesale gas prices” which “have risen by over 1000 per cent over the last 18 months”.

So it was fortunate for the government to announce that the cabinet had just approved a plan to pay every household three electricity credits over the next six months.

It is understood that the €200 credits are paid out in November, January and March.

You will surely be needed. The National Statistical Office has just published glaring figures on the extent of child deprivation here. They show that many parents do not have the money to cover basic school expenses.

Barnardos Children’s Charity said the figures for 2021 were “disturbing”. That was before the cost of living crisis even hit.

Last week the EU made a key pledge that revenues from new measures aimed at unlocking exorbitant profits from energy companies would be shared within the bloc.

The weak must be shielded. It is therefore imperative that the government get clarity as soon as possible on how much money is available from Brussels to alleviate the emergency.

During the pandemic, social solidarity has been crucial to keep the country running. While many scoff at the phrase ‘we’re all stuck together’, there is no doubt that we would not have recovered so quickly without the extra work and commitment from key sectors.

Another telling phrase of the Covid era was “no one is left behind”. The coming months will test the strength of the state’s resolve in this regard.

According to Mr Fenlon, Electric Ireland has a €3million hardship fund to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills. That amount is now under understandable review given the escalating crisis.

We have a tough few months ahead of us. It would be illusory to claim that prices do not affect living standards or that no sacrifices need to be made.

All expectations cannot be met, but the government can and must prioritize low-income families.

As Confucius said, “In a well-governed country, poverty is one to be ashamed of. In a poorly governed country, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” The government must protect low-income families from the severe winter ahead

Fry Electronics Team

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