Elderly staying in bed, refusing showers because of cold in homes, Dáil told

SF calls for extension of fuel allowance to recipients of Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Sinn Féin’s  Maireád Farrell also demanded a double payment of the weekly allowance in February and said ‘it will cost €20 million and will not break the bank’. Photograph: iStock

Sinn Féin’s Maireád Farrell also demanded a double payment of the weekly allowance in February and said ‘it will cost €20 million and will not break the bank’. Photograph: iStock

 

Some elderly people are staying in bed until the afternoon because of the costs of keeping their homes heated, the Dáil has been told.

Others are staying in one room of their homes all day, usually their kitchen, until they go to bed “because they simply can’t afford to heat the rest of the house”, according to Sinn Féin public expenditure spokeswoman Maireád Farrell.

She said a carer in Galway looking after elderly people told her that “some even decline to have a shower because the house is so cold”.

Ms Farrell was speaking during debate on a Sinn Féin motion introduced by the party’s social protection spokeswoman Claire Kerrane, calling for an extension of the €28 fuel allowance to all recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

Ms Kerrane also demanded a double payment of the weekly allowance in February and said “it will cost €20 million and will not break the bank”.

The Roscommon-Galway TD also called for a temporary suspension of the rule that people must be in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for over 15 months before they quality for the fuel allowance.

She also said there should be a discretionary fund of €5 million for utility bill debt and the Government should also ensure the budget for exceptional needs payment is sufficient.

Ms Kerrane said that almost 480,000 people are in receipt of the Pup but the only new message from the Government “is that they’ll be receiving a tax bill and in some cases that bill will be up to €1,400”.

She added that some 10 organisations including St Vincent de Paul, Spark and Focus Ireland believe that what is being provided towards fuel poverty “is not enough”.

Illogical and cruel

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said it was “illogical” and “somewhat cruel” that a person who loses their job had to wait 15 months before receiving the fuel allowance. “Does the person who lost their job not suffer the cold for 15 months?”

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said however she accepted the spirit of the proposal but the main difficulty is that “it is not a targeted use of resources”. The fuel allowance has always been paid per household and not per individual and if they accepted the motion “you could have multiple fuel allowance payments going into the same house regardless of whether it is needed or not”.

The total cost would be €227 million and this would have a knock-on impact on the ability to fund other critical programmes. The Government has spent over €10 billion on the Pup and wage subsidy supports, she said.

Ms Humphreys insisted however “I want to make it very clear that the Government is absolutely committed to supporting those on low incomes with their home heating costs”.

She said more than 372,000 households each receive €784 in total for the fuel allowance which runs from October to mid-April, costs over €350 million, and increased by €3.50 a week in the budget from €24.50.

In addition 465,000 households receive an electricity or gas allowance of €420 a year through the household benefits package at a cost of €265 million a year.

Ms Humphries stressed that if there are people experiencing genuine difficulties heating their homes “please direct them to my department because we are here to help” and over 2,000 payments had been made under the supplementary allowance scheme.

Former minister for the environment Richard Bruton said that energy poverty had halved in the past three years and the key to tackling such poverty was the energy systems that people have.

“If you have a low rating home it’s 10 times the heating bills of an efficient one. If you’re using an open fire it’s four times the cost of heating your home than an efficient gas system.” He said that 215,000 low income family homes had been upgraded.