Belfast Telegraph

Fuel poverty’s icy grip tightens on our disabled kids

By Lisa Smyth

Disabled children in Northern Ireland are more likely to be living in fuel poverty than any other part of the UK, new research has revealed.

A leading UK charity has said that the number of households with a sick or disabled child living without heating is 10% higher here than any other part of the UK.

Contact a Family is a member of the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition which is calling on the Executive to eradicate fuel poverty.

Northern Ireland has the highest level of fuel poverty in western Europe and, as a result, some of the most vulnerable in our society are being put at even greater risk.

A report by the charity, Counting the Costs 2010, found that 34% of families in Northern Ireland with a disabled or sick child are going without heating — over 10% more than in the rest of the UK.

Frances Murphy, manager of Contact a Family in Northern Ireland, said the statistics highlight the need for Government action to eradicate the problem.

“Families of disabled children are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty,” she explained.

“They often live on below average incomes and are more likely to be stuck indoors. Many conditions worsen in the cold weather, so parents are forced to have the heating on constantly.”

Ms Murphy called on Northern Ireland politicians to work together to implement a range of measures she believes will help to resolve the problem.

“Contact a Family calls on the Government to pilot the extension of a Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 to families with disabled children under five who are in receipt of DLA at the middle to higher rate of the care component and/or the higher rate mobility component.

“We also call on Northern Ireland Electricity and Airtricity to offer social tariffs and promote the use of the priority register to families with disabled children.”

A spokeswoman from the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition said: “With over 10% of Northern Ireland’s population in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, there is a clear danger for those vulnerable households.

“Unlike those aged over 60 there is currently no support offered for individuals who are permanently sick or disabled.

“They must rely on their benefit entitlement to pay for high energy bills.”

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