The massive hike in the cost of oil, gas, petrol, diesel and food shows no signs of abating or even levelling off as inflation spirals and as the Russian invasion of Ukraine brings uncertainty over sanctions and supply lines to the west.
The price increases are staggering and it all begs the question: why are we being left at the mercy of outside forces for the basic necessities when we have the potential to harness far more energy and produce more foodstuffs locally?
Not only does it make sense economically to ratchet up investment in wind, hydra and solar energy infrastructure and in food production but it makes sense environmentally too. Leaders at the European Parliament, meeting to discuss further sanctions on Russia following the invasion, made just this point. They said Europe will now have to look at alternative means of securing energy by intensifying work in this area. So, was this not being intensified before? And if not, why not?
While the prices we are being forced to pay now are the highest they have ever been, this is not the first time oil and gas prices have risen dramatically, even in the last few years. For those who are eligible, the mitigating impacts of the special grant aids in the north and the 200 euro off energy bills in the south are diminishing daily as prices rise and rise for basic necessities.
We have seen in recent times the power of politicians working together for the benefit of local people. Just recently mitigations against the bedroom tax were extended long-term. We need to see the same approach to this urgent crisis.
There will be another crisis developing in other sectors before too long as well. If people have to borrow, scrape and save to find money to heat their homes then they won’t be able to spend it on other things, with a knock on effect on shops and other retailers, businesses, hospitality and services, who are also seeing their costs and overheads increase. Similarly if petrol and diesel prices remain this high or go even higher then people will be restricting their journeys with a knock on effect on the hospitality and tourism sectors. Can we really afford that just as we are emerging from COVID restrictions?
While investment in renewable energy sector will be a long-term project it must start now, and must ensure that at some point in the future people here have access to stable, low cost or even free energy produced and supplied locally or regionally.
In the short-term, they need to go back to the drawing board and work together to lobby for or deliver more support for the increasing number of people who are struggling to heat their homes.