Here are excerpts of Judith Cochrane’s speech on fuel poverty (subject to change on delivery): “Fuel poverty has reached crisis levels. In Northern Ireland more than 60% of older people and 83% of lone older people are living in fuel poverty. Fuel poor households simply do not have enough money to heat and power their homes adequately. The consequences are debts, forgoing of essential needs, excess winter deaths, ill health and mental stress due to the difficulty of paying bills and living in cold homes.
“We can all remember last winter and the unprecedented freezing temperatures which lasted for such a long period of time. Many people faced financial difficulties when it came to heating their homes and trying to prevent frozen pipes. Even those who can usually comfortably heat their homes found that they had to make choices.
“Fuel poverty is fast approaching 50% of households. The main reason for this rapid growth is the 12% rise in fuel prices since 2003.
“Higher fuel prices drive fuel poverty up however, improved energy efficiency can bring it down.
Large amounts of energy and money are wasted trying to heat and power poorly insulated homes.
Bringing the homes of the fuel poor up to the energy efficiency standards of new homes could reduce fuel bills by an average of 52% and carbon emissions by 59% – taking the vast majority out of fuel poverty.
“Tackling energy efficiency in homes should be a key priority for the long-term. Whether that be loft and cavity wall insulation or double-glazing. Whilst I appreciate that DSD has this year invested some money in making homes more energy efficient this has not gone far enough. For example, of the 500,000 homes using oil, around 400,000 of these have old, inefficient boilers yet DSD funding aims to replace 1300 boilers.
“But this is not an issue for DSD alone. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety must also recognise the serious health implications of fuel poverty, given the strong link between fuel poverty and costs to the NHS. For every pound invested in fuel poverty measures, 42 pence is saved in health costs.
“Something similar to The Energy Assistance Package that is being delivered in Scotland should be considered.
There are 4 key steps to this package. No1 – to offer tariff advice – whilst I appreciate that we do not have as much choice as in the rest of the UK we do have some options to seek better tariffs with alternative providers.
No 2 – to provide energy efficiency advice.
No 3 – to bring together all the various energy efficiency initiatives into one programme so that all the options for home improvements can be accessed through a one stop shop. And finally, No 4 – to ensure income maximisation i.e. to offer assistance in obtaining all relevant benefits and sources of income.
“This joined up approach could focus our efforts in truly dealing with fuel poverty.
“Winter fuel payments are a significant benefit to older people and I would urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that they continue to be paid at their current rates, as called for by Age Sector Platform.
“Fuel Poverty is a huge challenge but the Green New Deal can make significant inroads into tackling it. The Green New Deal proposal not only includes an insulation scheme to refurbish tens of thousands of existing but will also look at further use of renewable energy.”