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Editorial: Support welcome but more needed

THE package of financial support announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in response to the cost-of-living crisis will provide some welcome relief to those who are struggling most.

The headline announcement was a payment of £650 for the lowest-income families, to paid in two instalments in summer and autumn this year.

A one-off payment of £300 will also go to pensioner households, while those in receipt of disability benefits will receive a further £150.

It is right that help should be targeted at those in greatest need. Families already barely getting by on the smallest incomes have been disproportionately hit by prices rising at the fastest rate in 40 years.

With home energy bills likely to run into thousands of pounds this year, the extra money will only go so far. But for those faced with the choice of either putting food on the table of heating the home, any help is certainly better than none.

Of course the cost-of-living shock is being felt in every household and that is why a £400 discount on energy bills was also announced for all families this autumn.

The British government had previously only offered a £200 repayable loan and was forced to accede to pressure to levy a windfall tax on energy firms to increase support.

However, it is a source of enormous frustration that a question mark hangs over how households in Northern Ireland will access this scheme.

Such funding would normally be distributed via a mechanism called the Barnett consequential, but the absence of an executive means it cannot be allocated to ministers.

The government has said it will consider other options but appealed to parties to return to government as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, finance minister Conor Murphy said £14m going to Northern Ireland following an increase in England's Household Support Fund will also take the form of a Barnett consequential.

This brings the total that cannot be spent due to the DUP boycott of Stormont to £435m, a figure that has been rising almost as fast as the energy bills it should be tackling.

While the Chancellors's intervention yesterday was welcome, it is clear such sums in the hands of local politicians could make an enormous difference to hard-pressed families and under-funded public services.

Every possible pressure should be brought to bear to ensure an executive is formed without further delay.

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