Editorial: Stormont must return to help tackle crisis
The British chancellor's confirmation yesterday that households here will be included in Westminster's £400 energy bill discount scheme was both welcome and timely.
However, the scale of the cost of living crisis has now increased so much, that the measure will not be enough to see many families through the coming winter.
Although Nadhim Zahawi said that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the north will be included in the scheme, the absence of a functioning Stormont means it is not clear how it will be delivered, or when it will start.
The payment is intended to support home heating and cooking, but there is also a growing need for help with spiralling food prices.
More significantly, persistent poverty and inequality in the north have been running at twice the level in Britain. This suggests that the crisis here will be much worse than what Westminster is allowing for, with health experts warning of possible deaths among the young and the elderly if we have a cold winter.
The crisis is likely to cause significant social and economic disruption, on a scale similar to Covid. The only vaccine for this emergency is sustained government intervention, which appears unlikely without a fully functioning Stormont.
The absence of a fully working prime minister in London does not help.
While there is no guarantee that Stormont could successfully tackle the crisis, there is every certainty that its absence can only add to the scale and complexity of the problem.
The difficulty is that a functioning executive could only deal with the consequences of the cost of living crisis, not its causes.
The difficulty stems from rapid inflation, triggered by the outworking of Covid, the war in Ukraine and a significant reduction in crop yields across many parts of the world because of climate change.
To tackle the consequences of this complicated scenario, Stormont requires more funding from London and, depending on the amount it receives, it may also need to consider the redistribution of some of its existing resources through an emergency winter budget.
Selecting the best way forward is a matter for informed decision-making at executive level. Until Stormont returns, this process cannot begin and the plight of the most vulnerable in our society will only worsen.
We need Stormont back - and we need it now.