Northern Ireland left out in the cold – thanks to the frozen Executive?

It may not be much but it’s a whole lot better than you’re getting in Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown’s winter fuel package will apply to England, Scotland and Wales – but not to our wee Province So, despite having the highest fuel bills in the UK it’s nada on :

Free cavity wall and loft insulation for pensioners and poor households
50% off cost of insulation for all households
Freeze on this year’s bills for poor consumers
Partial reversal of cut to warm front programme giving free central heating to poorest pensioners

What does apply to NI? Payments already announced :
Cold weather payments to go up from £8.50 a week to £25 a week for pensioners, disabled people and unemployed families with children under five – if temperatures drop below zero for seven consecutive days . And the winter fuel payments for the over 60s, up £50 to £250 a year.

Why was NI left out? It’s a murky story but it’s hinted that the Executive has an even better scheme sitting in a drawer and waiting for approval. Can this be true Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Margaret Ritchie? What is this £36 million warm homes scheme about and when will it be implemented? I hear a vague suggestion of next week but it’s far from certain. It all depends on whether the Executive can get its act together. We should be told.

And another thing. In GB under a carbon emissions reduction scheme ( Cert), GB customers benefit to the tune of £20 a year off their bills. The NI equivalent the energy efficiency levy, is worth just £7 to customers. I guess that NI is left out because it’s out on a limb from the national grid distribution system and utilities structure, but why couldn’t a different scheme be co-ordinated in the interests of the uniquely hard-pressed NI public? The regulator also needs to explain. This is a case of devolution letting the people down very badly.

What a grim comment this is on the vagaries of devolution, our paralysed Executive and the disastrous energy policy they inherited. At the very least, the massed ranks of the PR people in Stormont should be asked to write a press release explaining the position I’m stumbling about trying to get a handle on, how does NI compare with GB in this area and when/if it will get better? The public would be very, very interested.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    The DUP will have to justify why they have held off talks with SF – they were told by El Gordo in June to sort out Police and Justice – they are very bad dogs indeed.

  • Bob Miller

    As Prime Minister Gordon Brown prepares to visit Northern Ireland next week, the Labour leader has been accused of supporting “state euthanasia” for UK pensioners hit by fuel poverty.
    Speaking on behalf of Unite the union’s Retired Members Association in Northern Ireland, its Secretary Eugene O’Callaghan recently released a statement, which said the Labour Party needed to introduce legislation to improve the standards and benefits for pensioners who are suffering the most because of the present economic crisis.
    He accused the government of complicity in allowing elderly people caught up in fuel poverty to die.
    “Thousands of pensioners in Great Britain are dying unnecessarily because they cannot afford heating payments. This has now become state euthanasia by the back door,” claimed Eugene.
    And Gordon Brown has been told to get his ‘finger out’ and address the issue of pensioners’ welfare if he wants Labour to win the next General Election.
    “While Labour is now saying that there will be no ‘windfall tax’ on oil, gas and electricity companies there was no guarantee that any of this money, if it had been raised, would have been used to ring fence improvements for the socially deprived in our society and that includes the11.6 million pensioners in the UK.
    “Therefore, Labour needs to re-establish its connection with the poorest in our society. The party needs to be reminded that with nearly 12 million pensioners in the UK, which makes up a quarter of the population, 56% of them regularly turn out to vote.
    “Improving pensioners’ standard of living is a priority for the Brown-led government and Unite’s Retired Members Association would suggest an alternative funding source for combating the dramatic increase on the costs of food and fuel,” said Eugene.
    He explained further by saying finances for improving pensioners lives could be gleaned from the surplus £38 billion in the National Insurance Fund. The surplus is expected to rise to £74 billion by 2012.
    “At the moment monies taken from the NIF is lent to the government by way of investment in gilt-edged securities and interest is paid to the NIF as it falls due. Obviously the government would need to change the ‘golden rule’ governing the NIF, which at present does not allow money taken from the NIF to be used to finance current expenditure.”
    “The government,” he added “claims to be the fourth richest country in Europe but pays the most miserable state pension.
    “The Labour Party could go a long way to reduce pensioner poverty if it took £10 billion of the NIF surpluses and introduced a number of measures which at least matches those of its nearest neighbour the Republic of Ireland.”
    (note: see which lists the full Household Benefits Package entitlements).
    Eugene continued by saying: “While Brown has said that he will bring pensions into line with average earnings in 2012, if it could be afforded, we are suggesting that he could raise the basic pension immediately by adding the current pension credit payments to the basic £89 payment per week. Everyone is guaranteed the minimum income payment of £124 per week under exiting means-tested rules. But in one fell swoop why not make the basic payment £124 and therefore you instantly make savings on administration costs.
    “If the following measures were put into place then instead of seeing the demise of the Labour Party at the next election Gordon Brown, or whoever is leading the party, could change its current standing with the pensioner electorate. We on Unite’s Retired Members Association feel if the government introduced these measures then the Tories could not oppose them and it would turn round the fortunes of the Labour Party.
    “Gordon Brown needs to get the finger out and introduce the following policies if Labour has any chance of winning the next general election.”
    Unite is also calling on the TUC to convene a special meeting of all charities and trade union bodies involved in pensioners affairs to push forward these policies.

  • Steve

    Hey maybe its just the english don’t want to put money into assets that wont benefit their country

  • Toby

    It is unclear why there should be such concern that the NI Executive is not automatically adopting the approach in England- the point of devolution is not simply to do more of some things but also to do less when it doesnt make any sense for us to do so. In this case, there is a need to consider whether our houses are more energy efficient than in England or how the programmes already in place in NI compare with those being announced today. In terms of the EEL, do customers not pay this and hence why it should be cut? Overall, however if the Executive spends more on housing, this simply means that health or education services will be cut- thats the reality. In addition, with spend per head more than 25% per head higher than in England, its a bit pathetic to be asking for yet more.

  • Brian Walker

    Toby, it’s very fair to question the entire policy. This as you’ll be aware, is also happening in England on different lines. You’re absolutely right about different policies being at the heart of devolution. But my essential point is this and I don’t think it can be denied. If a concession affects the whole of GB including SNP governed Scotland, at the very least a cogent explanation should be offered as to why NI isn’t included. From Nigel Dodd’s remarks, it seems the Executive would like it to be. Either way, it’s terrible politics to keep mum and wring their hands. If the Executive was regarded seriously by the community there’d be uproar against them. This episode I suggest shows how low are people’s expectations of the Executive so far.

  • aquifer

    UK energy policy? they are having a laugh. They let the market decide to build cheap turbine generators to burn Russian gas, then they heaped uncertainty onto wind energy developers so that Germany and Denmark with less wind resource have many times more turbines. And when the flabby males in suits are about to be found out, they re-discover the Viagra of the energy scene, Nuclear, at only $1Bn a tab.

    The good news? Energy is now so expensive that buying insulation on a credit card can add up.

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all,

    Well –it seems to me that this bill highlights the main issue….that the british take care of their own…and they don’t feel that northern ireland people whether they be irish or unionist…are their own. I find it fitting that for the majority of people who want to remain with britian…they now will feel the reality of the situation…they’ll be left out in the cold.

  • Toby

    Brian, do you think the Executive is capable of articulating why the different circumstances in NI mean that we should not or do not need to follow policy innovations in England eg do you think a Minister will ever say they have enough money? To be fair, the lack of maturity in our MLAs/media means that they would be attacked in the Assembly whilst the public now expects the state to resolve all problems with little or no recall to personal responsibility. The alternative of stating that the policy in England is rubbish also will not work as this would jepordise relations with our paymasters. Therefore, its political the best move to keep mum or issue bland statements.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Exactly Kathy, NI isn’t in Britain so it’s always an after thought to the British goverment. Let the Irish look after themselves is pretty much how they see it. And who can blame them?

    But of course as long as there’s a Unionist majority in the 06 the begging bowl to London will be sole method of “self sufficiency”.

  • Reader

    Kathy_C: Well –it seems to me that this bill highlights the main issue….that the british take care of their own
    Your new words for today are “devolution” and “subvention”.

  • fair_deal

    “Gordon Brown has agreed a £910m package of measures with the big energy companies aimed at helping people with soaring gas and electricity bills.”

    Most of this package is paid for by GB energy companies. NI is a separate energy market. The bits that are from the Exchequer eg fuel payments NI is getting. No need for conspiracy theories, nationalist wet dreams or despair about devolution.

  • miss fitz

    I was unsettled by a comment on the radio yesterday with all the talk and debate on this very pressing subject. Someone mentioned that 600 pensioners died in Northern Ireland last year as a result of fuel poverty.

    Is this right? I mean, can it be checked to confirm that this number of people here died last year due to hypothermia or other related illnesses?

    If it is right, its an outrage and I dont understand why people are not more exercised. But I really worry that people are stirring up a lot of anxiety and upset to an already gloomy scenario, and we are throwing figures around without much justification
    I will be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts on this.

  • fair_deal

    Consumers could end up paying for this

    Miss fitz

    AFAIK the stat is based on health records for those who died from cold related illnesses. So it would seem legit.

  • barnshee

    “Well –it seems to me that this bill highlights the main issue….that the british take care of their own”

    The “british” take care of not only thir own but every resident of NI at HUGE cost to the tax payer
    The (Joel)b Barnett formula provides a subsidy for the aforementioned residents as amongst others it unwrites the salaries of tens of thousands of overpaid arseholes in central and local government –not to mention the ludicrous “ministers” and “MLAs” in the local comedy show, the N Ireland “assembly”.

    I for one cannot understand why HMG does not return to the “assembly” only the appropriate tax revenues with a rousing fuck off and a suggestion, if they want more, raise more themselves (if they could/would/dare)

  • miss fitz

    Please dont get me wrong on this, I am a true advocate of consumer rights, and have spent much of the past few weeks helping people to fill their oil tanks for the winter months.
    I did a little further research on this after I posted (oops) and it seems that this is a grey area.

    The DSD feels that up to 240 deaths a year are caused by illnesses related to the cold, but since we have poor summers, they seem reluctant to ascribe these deaths to winter cold alone. Many of the illnesses come about through circulatory impairment as well as respiratory illness, but death due to primary hypothermia appears rare enough.

    The emotive image of people freezing in their houses is possbily not an accurate one, but the overall urgency of fuel poverty should not be dismissed. Wild figures of hundreds of people freezing to death makes us innured to these real problems and issues

  • IJP

    Miss Fitz

    I think it’s a good bit more complicated than that, but very basically I think that’s right – putting more burdens on people of low income and low health level is a genuine threat to life.

    Which makes this Executive‘s decision to cap rates for the wealthiest people in our society and transfer that burden to the poor all the more shameful.

    A very direct and immediate decision this Executive could make is not only to postpone moving the cap to properties valued at £400K+, but to remove it altogether. The guaranteed stream of money from that could be allocated to tackling the problem of fuel property directly – not just by lifting the medium-term rates burden, but by actual financial intervention in the areas of most need.

    This is an immediate problem for the coming months, a shift in energy policy at this late stage will not help directly. Nor indeed would a general change to rates. It is the rates burden that needs fixed, and from there that a stream of money could be made available.

  • barnshee

    “A very direct and immediate decision this Executive could make is not only to postpone moving the cap to properties valued at £400K+, but to remove it altogether”

    Well done —now the housing market is down kick it to death.

  • miss fitz

    You know more about this than I do, but shifting the stream of income from rates will not be able to directly impact on energy bills. I took several more calls this afternoon from pensioners who are really upset and worried about their future given all the negative news on energy this week.

    I understand that the levy on energy companies is now being diverted to the Warm Homes scheme, and according to the DSD report, making homes more energy efficient has a direct impact on improving temperature related health concerns.

    One of my calls today came from a lady who is 82 years old and has not had her heat on since last January. She was frantic about the future. While I was able to help this particular person, it isnt going to work for everyone, and the tank of oil needs to be provided before the heat can go on.

    What we really need is a good look at the benefits paid to those most vulnerable members of our society who cannot provide the most esesential elements of safety and warmth in their homes. Direct fuel payments of a realistic and reflective value to those people is what we need.

    It’s worth pointing out that it has been several years since the extreme cold payment has not been paid here in 4 or 5 years, so that was potentially a window dressing measure.

    I look forward to seeing what the Minister will announce next week, and I am more looking forward to the Executive coming together on these crucial bread and butter issues

  • IJP

    Miss Fitz

    It would help if, for example, you handed the money out similarly to flood compensation. That’s the point.

    You need to leave the “schemes” out of it – this is an exceptional circumstance and needs urgent action.

    “Window dressing” is about right. And congratulations on your own work – every little counts.

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all…

    It would be interesting if people posted on this board what they pay during the winter in fuel bills…and where they lived to compair

  • Reader

    IJP: Which makes this Executive‘s decision to cap rates for the wealthiest people in our society and transfer that burden to the poor all the more shameful.
    For now my rates bill is comfortable enough. When I retire it will be more of a problem. Will you still regard me as wealthy when I am struggling to pay 2 thousand pounds a year to get my bins emptied once a week?
    I have a counter proposal – tax other people, not me – foreign holidays, new cars, plasma screen TVs and more tax on tobacco.
    Or you could advocate what other more thoughtful political parties are working on – a local income tax. What a radical notion; basing a tax on the ability to pay!