Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time for action on fuel poverty

The latest statistics on fuel poverty in Northern Ireland are harrowing.

It is shocking to realise that this kills some 1,000 people in this Province every winter, and that almost half of our households are struggling to stay warm.

Fuel poverty here is the highest in western Europe. Almost 50% of those affected are over 60, and 63% of lone parents, and their children, also suffer from this appaling situation.

It is currently so bad that some families are forced to choose between heating and eating. There are also disturbing stories about children wrapped in duvets or lying in bed to shelter from the cold while they do their homework.

Given such a background, the Belfast Telegraph is strongly backing a campaign, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, to demand action from our politicians.

This newspaper is calling on the public, church leaders, trade unions and the business sector, as well as people from every walk of life, to give their support to this campaign.

Politicians ultimately depend on our votes to keep them in positions of power and influence, and it is the voters who can help to impress on them the severity of the fuel poverty situation.

Antoinette McKeown, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council, the lead organisation of the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, has called on politicians to pursue a clearer strategy in tackling the problem.

As she points out, those in most need should be targeted first, and without clear objectives and monitoring, as well as adequate budgeting, there is little prospect of the authorities facing up to this challenge realistically.

There are many different needs in Northern Ireland, but it is unthinkable that 1,000 of our neighbours and countless other citizens of all ages are suffering from a problem which should, and could, be solved with determination and a minimum of goodwill all round. This is a time for action, not for cold words of comfort.

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