A local woman who has battled cancer and fuel poverty simultaneously has shared her story at a conference in Belfast’s Park Avenue Hotel.
Prompted by a deepening energy crisis, the Fuel Poverty Coalition’s Running on Empty conference aimed to reinvigorate plans to end fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.
Michelle Roe from Newtownabbey is just one of a number of people who had been caught in the grip of fuel poverty.
She said: “My partner and I were both working and had two sets of wages coming in. That changed practically overnight when I got breast cancer, and we are still feeling the impact of it.
“I had chemotherapy and it really changed my senses so that I felt the cold much more intensely.
“We really struggled to pay for heating which meant added stress as I tried to cope with the treatment and battle the disease.
“We have gas heating and I remember thinking how much worse it would have been if we were dependent on oil.”
Chair of the Fuel Poverty Coalition, Pat Austin, said: “The most striking Government commitment that fuel poverty would be eradicated in vulnerable households by 2010 has passed and not been delivered.
“Furthermore, the commitment to eradicate fuel poverty in all households by 2016 will not be met without a radical rethink.
“Thousands of Northern Ireland households are facing unmanageable choices about where to spend their limited income and a brutal set of market conditions mean that the time has come for a reinvigorated approach to tackling fuel poverty.
“That’s why we are holding the Running on Empty conference bringing our 160-strong membership together with experts with over 20 years experience, as well as real families who are living in fuel poverty.
“The statistics are bad but the real life stories make for shameful reading.”
Northern Ireland has the highest level of fuel poverty in Western Europe, with 42 per cent of households spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy.
That’s almost three times the level of fuel poverty in England (15 per cent).
Part of the Running on Empty conference tasked various experts – health, academic, political and economic – to describe in one minute what they would do to eradicate fuel poverty.
Pat added: “The Fuel Poverty Coalition has called on the NI Executive and Assembly to develop a detailed and costed action plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Northern Ireland and to provide continued support to households in severe fuel poverty to stay warm until fuel poverty is eradicated.
“Our Running on Empty conference will provide us with additional tools and arguments with which to intensify our lobbying campaign.”