SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has warned that welfare reform will push more people into fuel poverty.
His comments came during the Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee’s discussion of an independent report calling for the creation of a single Executive department with responsibility for all energy matters. The independent report, ‘Energising Northern Ireland’, was commissioned by the Consumer Council and produced by former UK energy Minister, Lord Whitty.
The report was discussed at the Assembly committee on Thursday 17th May.
Mr McGlone said: “The report makes three main suggestions including the creation of a single Executive department with responsibility for all energy matters. This would obviously have to be part of a wider restructuring of the Executive, but there are clear benefits in having responsibility for all energy matters focused in one department.
“The other main recommendations are a radical reduction of our dependency on home heating oil and the development of renewable electricity-based heating for areas where the gas network is unlikely ever to reach.
“During the discussion at the Committee I made the point that although the report makes reference to fuel poverty and ensuring that people maximise their benefit entitlement it does not take into account the effects of welfare reform.
“Reduced levels of benefit payments and reduced entitlement to claim will push more people into fuel poverty. That has the potential to undermine whatever good came from following through on the recommendations on this report.
“Fuel poverty blights the lives of many families and individuals living on low incomes and welfare reform will make the lives of many others already under pressure even worse.
“The Committee agreed to write to the Social Development Minister highlighting the damaging and unwelcome impact welfare reform will have by increasing the number of people living in fuel poverty.”