Budget 2021: ‘No households pushed into fuel poverty’

According to the Irish Rural Link, Budget 2021 must “not only be poverty proofed, but also rural proofed”.

The national network which aims to represent the interests of rural communities – Irish Rural Link – has launched its pre-budget submission in advance of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s annual Pre-Budget Forum.

It is calling for the establishment of a heating system conversion fund and a remote working taskforce as part of Budget 2021.

‘Regionally balanced Covid-19 recovery’

Irish Rural Link said that economic recovery from Covid-19 must be “regionally balanced and inclusive of everyone and this must be reflected in Budget 2021”.

It also outlined that a number of positive aspects have emerged from Covid-19 – such as remote working, the value of volunteering and the value of community services such as Meals on Wheels – but these must be supported.

“We have seen the benefits remote working has on people’s work-life balance with zero commuting time. This, in turn, benefits our environment and climate change,” the network said.

“We are calling for the establishment of a remote working taskforce, whose purpose is to investigate the type of supports needed, including taxation-based, so that remote working can be encouraged.”

‘No households pushed into fuel poverty’

While the country moves towards decarbonisation, the network is calling for a “just transition approach to this and to ensure that no more households are pushed into fuel and energy poverty” and that those who are already experiencing it or are at risk of fuel poverty are “lifted out of it”.

While some of the measures currently in place such as increasing fuel allowance, the fact remains that these households still need to heat their homes with fossil fuels and/or home heating oil.

“We are therefore calling on the establishment of a fund based on grants and low or no interest loans designed to assist all households that wish to convert their homes to sustainable heating systems.”

The network is also calling for protection for incomes of households in receipt of social welfare payments and on lower incomes in rural areas in light of “increasing costs for essential goods and services”.

“Such households living in rural areas continue to face higher income inadequacies than their urban counterparts. Real investment in public services in rural areas are needed to help reduce the cost of living.

“Budget 2021 must not only be poverty proofed, but also rural proofed – so the mistakes of the recovery from the financial crises are not repeated where there is greater regional divide and increased social exclusion for the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society.”