Energy subsidy must return

There can be no doubt that ordinary citizens in all sections of society are experiencing a sense of helplessness as they face an economic crisis of enormous and growing proportions.

The UK's official inflation rate stood at 7.9 per cent last month, a figure which has remained relatively constant since it increased dramatically during the covid emergency which began in 2020, and in the Republic of Ireland was only marginally lower at 6.6 per cent.

A particularly significant finding from the UK's Office for National Statistics only last week was that four people in every ten are finding it difficult to afford their mortgage or rent payments.

It is abundantly clear that we are not dealing with some kind of temporary blip but instead the reality of deep financial woes which will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The Stormont structures will not be providing solutions, thanks to the disgraceful decision by the DUP to walk away from its basic responsibilities there, so we must look for help from the governments in London and Dublin.

We have to hope that the disastrous Conservative administration at Westminster is finally removed from office next year, but a range of interventions will be required long before then.

An absolute priority must be the issue of official support for energy bills which is due to end today, immediately increasing the cost to households by hundreds of pounds a year.

The Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) Scheme was introduced in November 2022, applying a discount to the unit rate for electricity and gas, but has been gradually decreased since then to the stage where it is about to disappear.

It is a particularly stark reality, as highlighted by the Consumer Council, that prices have remained for some time at roughly twice the pre-pandemic norm.

In the period from January to March this year, our energy bills were discounted by up to 13.6p a unit for electricity and 3.9p a unit for gas.

The level was reduced from April to June 2023 to 3.8p per unit for electricity and 2.6p per unit for gas, but the EPG is now due to drop from from about £454 a year for the average household to zero.

With the prospect of energy costs leaping in the winter, there will be overwhelming support for the demand from the Consumer Council that the authorities reinstate a subsidy without delay.