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Editorial: DUP must return to executive

THE initial reaction of home heating oil users to news they will receive just £100 to help with sky-high bills this winter will have been one of disbelief, followed probably by anger.

This one-off payment is all that was pledged by the British government yesterday to compensate for prices that have more than doubled in the last year, and could rise yet further over the coming months.

The Consumer Council says 900 litres of oil cost an average of £930 on September 15. In the same week last year, it was just £385.

While gas prices have been rising even more sharply, the support being offered to those customers under the UK government's Energy Price Guarantee is significantly higher – it has said an average household is expected to save at least £1,000 a year on gas and electricity bills.

While home heating oil users will still benefit from a cap on electricity costs, the extra £100 is a derisory sum that would not even buy 100 litres today, equivalent to only a couple of weeks of heat.

It is perhaps not a surprise that ministers in London would not prioritise the needs of oil users given that they make up only a tiny proportion of the energy market in Britain.

By contrast, two-thirds of homes in Northern Ireland are reliant on oil as their main source of heating and in many cases, they will be left wondering how they are going to be able to keep their homes warm this winter.

A bill of almost £1,000 to refill a tank will simply be beyond the means of some families, who will face the desperate decision of either going without heat or cutting back on food or other essentials.

Households had been waiting anxiously for news of how the energy guarantee would apply to the different energy market in Northern Ireland and the disappointment demonstrates the vacuity of the DUP's argument that the UK government is best placed to provide such support.

This is a transparent attempt to deflect from the reality that the party's ongoing boycott of the institutions is preventing real cash in Stormont coffers being directed to help people in desperate need – a key reason for devolving powers to local politicians.

The very real crisis faced by thousands of families as the winter months approach makes the case for an immediate return to the executive unanswerable.

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