Derry & Strabane Council formally declare Cost of Living Emergency

A cost of living emergency has been declared in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area following a motion brought forward by Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle.

The Ballyarnett councillor emphasised the need for help from the Executive for people facing challenging circumstances because of the ongoing cost of living crisis, before speaking about two cases he has dealt with in recent weeks.

He said: “One is a lady on her own, her family don’t live near her. She was a week away from getting her pension, she had no money and there were two tins of peaches in her cupboards and that was it and she was terrified to tell her family. Then there was a family in Shantallow that I visited just last week with two people working in the house but because the cost of living has gone up so much with their heating oil, the insurance for their car and the price of food they were now down to £8.40 at the end of the month. All those people deserve as much support as we can give them.”

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Colr. Doyle’s motion stated that ‘Council recognises the need for financial support for all our people is now critical, that the Executive should be providing that support to all our people’ and ‘that this Council writes to all Departments to seek further emergency support for our constituents and to inform the Ministers that we are declaring a cost of living emergency in this District, and that we require the resources of a re-established Executive resources to be mobilised to support our constituents.’

People gather in Waterloo Place for the Derry Against Fuel Poverty protest in Waterloo Square on Saturday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2209GS – 074

Councillor Doyle said: “The people of this city are suffering from a rise in inflation that hasn’t been seen in decades. People are worried about their gas going from its current price which is astronomical to a point where people will be paying £10 for three units. One of the focuses of this motion is to ensure the support that is coming forward from the Executive focuses on all of the people based on the need for support. In recent times we have seen £650 overall being given out from the British treasury, any input into people’s pockets is welcome, but there are so many people who are excluded either because they work or because they work and also claim benefits to top up their income.

“There is a lot of anger out there because people feel that for those who are working for example, who have rising costs in food and fuel like everyone else that they have been left behind. The only help that people across the North have seen in recent times is a system where they could get a small number of units of electricity where they had to jump through a number of hoops and where the scheme itself almost collapsed a number of times.

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“The £650 that’s being offered now in two instalments doesn’t, and won’t help everybody who needs it. Indeed £650 right now will only get you 300 litres of oil. What I’m seeking to do through this motion is to make Ministers sit around a table and do what they can but they are limited, of course, because the DUP have walked out of the Executive and out of Stormont.”

He added: “It will be worse in the winter and we have a responsibility to reach out to ensure that every resource available to the Executive at this time is focused on helping all of our constituents.”

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Some of the attendance at the Derry Fuel Poverty Rally in Waterloo Place on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2213GS – 074

SDLP Colr. Rory Farrell laid: “We have completely ignored the elephant in the room. The DUP’s boycott of the Assembly. There’s £435m gathering dust in Stormont that should be in people’s pockets but can’t be spent because the DUP are refusing to go to work. There are literally hundreds of thousands of workers and people who have paid taxes all their lives, who are struggling to cope and won’t get a penny of support because the DUP are refusing to go to work. In Britain there is a £400 universal payment going to every household to provide support for energy bills. That can’t be delivered here because we don’t have a government and we don’t have a government because the DUP are refusing to go to work.”

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Agreeing, Sinn Féin Colr. Patricia Logue added: “There is no justification for any party to block the only avenue of help reaching those people and families in need.”

People Before Profit Colr. Shaun Harkin accused the DUP of ‘holding people to ransom’.

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He added: “I don’t think we should pretend that even if the DUP went back into government, the Executive or Assembly would begin to act with the urgency that we need to see around the cost of living crisis.

“Working people who haven’t had a bit of support from Stormont or Westminster aren’t sitting around waiting for Executive parties to go back in, they are taking strike action and you are going to see more and more workers going on strike for their cost of living pay increases.”

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SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney agreed with other councillors where the issue lay, saying: “The DUP is the problem and that’s the reality.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said: “I know from speaking to people on the ground in the Waterside who are traditional DUP that they are disgusted at the stance that’s been taken to try and block support being given to people at a time of crisis.”

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He also proposed an amendment which stated that ‘this council recognises the need for financial support for all our people is now critical, that the Executive should be providing support to our people’.

The amendment passed with 30 votes for and 4 against and the substantive motion passed with 30 votes for and 4 against.

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Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter