Hargey Concerned For Vulnerable People In Cost-Of-Living Crisis

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has expressed her concern over cost-of-living pressures on households with vulnerable people including those with disabilities, pensioners and children.

As part of ongoing strategic engagement the Minister was briefed by leaders in the community and voluntary sector at meetings with the Joint Forum and Emergencies Leadership Group on the impact of the current crisis on families and rising demand for support services.

Minister Hargey said: "In a matter of days thousands of households here, which are already in crisis, will be faced with yet another increase in energy prices.

"As I continue with my engagement with groups and organisations on the ground I am hearing a consistent story of many households with vulnerable people including those with disabilities, pensioners and children, affected by impossible choices around the basic essentials of light, heat and a warm meal.

"I am determined that my Department will continue to do all it can to help those in need with our ongoing schemes like Affordable Warmth, Make the Call, Social Supermarkets.

"I have also tasked officials to develop options to provide further support, but any new initiatives would require a budget and a functioning Executive.

"There can be no doubting now that the absence of these is affecting lives in a very negative way."

Among the groups represented at the meeting held at NICVA’s (NI Council for Voluntary Action) office in north Belfast were Consumer Council, Advice NI, Inspire Wellbeing, Fermanagh Trust, Red Cross and other voluntary organisations providing crucial support to those struggling against a backdrop of rising energy and food costs.

The Minster continued: "I want to pay tribute today to all the groups involved in the Emergencies Leadership Group who represent the efforts of all those in our community who are working tirelessly on the frontline to support individuals, families and workers at this difficult time.

"My Department will continue to work closely with the community and voluntary sector to provide all available supports, albeit that options are significantly constrained at this time."

Ongoing work within the Department to support people during the cost of living crisis includes:

• Maximising benefit uptake through the Make the Call service

• Delivering winter fuel payments (November/December)

• Closer working and collaboration between Make the Call service and Advice NI including strengthening the processes for referring people in problem debt for specialist assistance

• Work with stakeholders to ensure that people who are repaying social security debt can access support from the Department

• Roll-out of Social Supermarkets

Earlier in the day Minister Hargey met with the Joint Forum, which is facilitated by the Department for Communities and NICVA. Membership includes 15 voluntary sector leaders and public sector representatives from across government and local councils.

The Minister endorsed recommendations for a future work programme, adding: "My Department has taken significant steps on embedding fair funding principles into our grant programmes and to making sure that our grants support fair terms and conditions for voluntary and community sector staff and flexibility of operation for our partners. It’s not enough for one Department to do this – the sector deserves consistency and fair funding across the board. I will be asking all Executive colleagues to support the development of a new Concordat, which will set out a set of shared principles for fair and equitable funding approaches."

The new Concordat between government and voluntary/community sector will support the next Programme for Government and greater Ministerial involvement in the work of the Joint Forum, led by the Communities Minister.

Thanking the Joint Forum, she added: "Across government we rely on the sector to directly support communities, to advocate for the most vulnerable in society and to contribute to the co-design of public services.

"To be really effective, government needs to understand the strengths and resources that the voluntary and community sector offers and it needs to tap into the lived experience and the expertise that this sector holds, and the connections that the sector can make with people right across our society and in every community."

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