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An emergency group set up during the Covid-19 pandemic has been re-established to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Stormont Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey made the announcement as SSE Airtricity revealed a 42.7% increase in gas prices from July 1.
Ms Hargey said she is barred from bidding for funding for measures to alleviate the crisis by the absence of a Stormont Executive.
The DUP is refusing to nominate ministers until the UK Government takes action on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
.@CommunitiesNI Minister @DeirdreHargey convenes VCS Emergencies Leadership Group to inform and shape the response to the cost of living crisis which is impacting workers, families and communities https://t.co/s0Wv10NZeh pic.twitter.com/1KWzb0jilr
— Communities NI (@CommunitiesNI) June 1, 2022
Speaking following a visit to the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), Ms Hargey said the emergencies leadership group allows the community and voluntary sector to work with her department to look at interventions on the ground.
“I think the same urgency (as during Covid) needs to be applied to the crisis that we now find ourselves in around the cost of living and the same energy and attention needs to be taken to that,” she said.
The group also includes NICVA, the Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma and Older People’s commissioner Eddie Lynch.
Ms Hargey added: “We have £420 million here that we could release today if we had a functioning Executive, so I think the focus of all politicians and everyone who was elected a few weeks ago need to get back round the table and reform an Executive.
“I have been working to make bids for that money in order to look at new energy schemes that we could roll out, to look at discretionary support and putting more money in to help people in financial crisis but in the absence of an Executive, that creates an obstacle in terms of unlocking that money.
“I think in the midst of crisis when people are really struggling, this is an emergency and you can see that with the increasing costs around household bills, we have a responsibility to get back in around the Executive table, to unlock that money and to work in this public emergency to respond to the needs of families and communities.”
Ms Hargey said her Sinn Fein colleague, Finance Minister Conor Murphy, is continuing to work with the Treasury to find a way to deliver a £400 energy grant in October in the absence of an Executive.
“We’re trying to find a workaround for that, the issue is we shouldn’t need to find a workaround. If we had a functioning Executive that money could come across as soon as possible,” she said.
“We would have schemes that we have run before such as the high street voucher scheme, that we could find an avenue to get that money out and into people’s pockets as quickly as possible.
“We haven’t found a solution yet and that is unfortunate, and I think that is really adding to people’s worries.
“They’re angry they don’t have an Executive but we need to find a workaround and Conor Murphy is working with the Treasury to see how we can do that and give certainty to those families, but we will do all that we can to make sure that £400 payment hits the pockets of every household here.”