In context of political failure, local councils must act to safeguard poor and homeless during cold snap 

ahIn absence of political action, numbers dying in winter in Northern Ireland unnecessarily has risen 130 percent in three years to 1,500

Poverty leaves many reliant on old, dangerous or un-serviced heating devices for heating or going to bed early and visiting public places to avoid the cold

Albert Hewitt, Unite Community Coordinator called on councils to step forward to address the life or death situation in which many homeless people find themselves during the current cold snap. 

“With temperatures set to fall below minus five tonight across large swathes of Northern Ireland, Unite is calling for urgent action now to prevent further deaths on our streets and of those in fuel poverty in their own homes. In the absence of a functioning Executive or Assembly, our councils must step up to the plate and take action to safeguard the most vulnerable in our society.

“Today across Northern Ireland thousands are so trapped by poverty that they are genuinely unable to afford to heat themselves properly; meanwhile due to the introduction of Universal Credit and the abject failure of the Executive’s mitigations package, hundreds more are now rough-sleeping on our streets than this time last year.

“Statistics released at the end of 2018 confirm that there has been a 130 percent increase in the number of excess winter deaths in the three years since 2015-2016. In Northern Ireland, 1,500 a year now die entirely unnecessarily from cold. In the attempt to survive, all too many are forced to rely on old, dangerous or un-serviced heating devices; many more are going to bed early or visiting public places during daylight hours like libraries, cafes or even A&E to avoid the cold and increasing numbers struggling with electricity bills are using candles for lighting. This is the reality in 2019 for thousands of working-class people including many who experience in-work poverty. Our politicians cannot go closing their eyes to this crisis – they must act. 

“Campaigners for the homeless have called for the grounds of City Hall in Belfast to be opened up as a stop-gap solution to provide food and appropriate shelter for rough-sleepers. We need to similar actions to be taken by councils across Northern Ireland – this is a life or death situation. For our part, Unite in the community activists will be stepping up our efforts in support of local shelters and food banks to help those in need”, Mr Hewitt said.

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