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Editorial: Stormont must step in

IT is possible sometimes amid the daily discussion of soaring inflation and energy costs to lose sight of the brutal reality behind those figures.

SSE Airtricity yesterday became the latest firm to reveal swingeing price rises for gas and electricity customers, with hikes of 28 and 35 per cent respectively taking effect from October 1.

It comes on the back of a succession of similar announcements over the last year and will certainly not be the last before this winter is out.

Average gas bills have more than doubled and when combined with electricity increases, it means tens of thousands of consumers now face a combined annual bill of around £2,500.

For the large numbers reliant on oil to heat their homes, the news is no better as prices remain more than twice the level of this time last year and will likely rise further this winter.

For low-income families or many older people, where energy bills account for a higher proportion of monthly budgets, this is simply crippling and will doubtless have a devastating impact on physical and mental health.

The Consumer Council said it is "angry and fearful" on behalf of householders, many of whom are already on the brink.

Some progress appeared to made yesterday in ensuring a £400 energy bill discount from the British government will extend to Northern Ireland, but it is clearly nowhere near enough.

In Britain, a cap on the average annual energy bill is due to rise by a shocking 80 per cent to £3,550 this autumn, and it is feared it could top £5,000 by the new year.

Tory leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have so far made only vague proposals to assist households which fall woefully short of the kind of intervention that is required.

However, public pressure is at least likely to make the Conservative government increase support. In Northern Ireland, the continued DUP boycott of the devolved institutions means a locally-accountable executive is missing when it is needed most.

During the Covid pandemic and 2008 financial collapse, huge sums of public money were released by the Treasury and this cost of living emergency clearly merits a similar response.

It also makes the argument for the DUP to suspend its protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol and begin addressing the very real and immediate crisis facing its constituents simply unanswerable.

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