The government has yet to provide a single targeted relief to people who are struggling to survive

Patronising comments by Junior Minister Seán Fleming on the cost-of-living crisis are indicative of a government that is out of touch and lacking in empathy, according to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.

“Advice from Junior Minister Seán Fleming, to “shop around” and “stop complaining”, was a real Marie Antoinette moment. It’s easy to shop around when you’re in the top 5pc of income earners. It’s not so easy to do this when you’re deciding whether to eat or heat your home.

“The comments are indicative of a government response to this crisis that has been slow, out of touch and lacking in empathy. We have been talking about a cost-of-living crisis for many months. The government has yet to provide a single targeted relief to people who are struggling to survive. A €100 electricity credit, announced in December, is unlikely to materialise until March or even April.

“There are targeted measures the government could take now that would make a real difference to people. Core social welfare rates – which were only increased by a paltry €5 in January – should be increased by a further €5. We know pensioners are among those most impacted by high energy costs. A €5 increase to the pension, which had not been increased for two years, was never going to be enough. The minimum wage must also be increased to factor in record levels of inflation.

“The fuel allowance should be extended beyond March and must also be paid to low income earners in receipt of the Working Family Payment. Currently, they are ineligible for this payment. The Exceptional Needs Fund should be doubled, and restrictions loosened, so that families at risk of fuel poverty can be assisted.

“A €300 refundable tax credit, for those earning below €50,000, should also be introduced. This would target support to those low and middle income earners who desperately need it. As it stands, the government is about to spend more than €6 million on electricity credits for holiday homes. This is not a good use of State resources.

“Innovative measures in relation to the cost of public transport should also be introduced. Reduced fares for off-peak travel should be introduced to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transport. It was reported this week that traffic is back at pre-pandemic levels while public transport is at just 60pc capacity. This imbalance must be addressed.

“A State-run school transport scheme for school children should also be established. A consultation on the bus scheme for schools is currently underway. Implementing a transport scheme for all students would save parents time and money – and also remove cars from the road at rush hour.

“The government cannot simply tinker around the edges when it comes to the cost-of-living crisis. It must be ambitious and innovative and provide real support that will make a meaningful difference.”

8 February, 2022


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