With the cold months ahead, many households in Germany are worried about how they can afford to heat their homes.
Now the Association of Towns and Municipalities has urged the government to put in place higher heating cost subsidies for low-income households.
“We are seeing an explosion in energy prices, especially for gas,” association managing director Gerd Landsberg told Bild.
“It’s clear that energy should not only be something for the rich. Therefore, the next federal government is called upon to support financially weak families and to mitigate the explosion in heating costs.”
At the same time, Landsberg warned of higher costs for local governments.
The strong increase in gas prices will “hit many municipalities hard – through higher energy costs for buildings and higher heating cost subsidies for Hartz IV (unemployment benefit II) recipients”, he added.
According to Landberg, municipalities expect a deficit of between €8-8.5 billion this year. Next year it could be similarly high.
“If the rise in energy and gas prices continues unchecked, there is a threat of a dramatic social imbalance,” Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Association of Consumer Organisations, told the Tagesspiegel.
Verena Bentele, president of the social association VdK, spoke out in favour of annually adjusting the housing allowance for people with low incomes in order to help people manage the rising energy costs.
In view of the immense price increases for energy, the state must create social compensation for those on low incomes, she said.
It can’t be the case that almost half of all households in major German cities have to spend more than 30 percent of net income on rent, and for a quarter – at least 40 percent, Bentele told the newspaper.
“Politics must finally create framework conditions so that housing, electricity, heat, and also healthy food are affordable for everyone in the country,” she said.
Why are energy bills going up?
Gas prices on the European markets have reached a record high in the past weeks. It’s down to a number of factors including demand soaring again ahead of winter and after the Covid shutdowns. Limited supply is also contributing to the price increases.
Consumers in Germany, are already feeling it. Gas prices in particular have risen sharply, but electricity prices for households have also climbed to record levels.
The CEO of the energy company RWE, Markus Krebber, expects further price increases.
“I expect electricity and gas to become more expensive in the next few years. It is not yet possible to say how strong the increase will be. Nobody expected the current explosion in stock exchange prices,” he told the Rheinische Post at the weekend.
Households with low incomes have to spend proportionately significantly more of their cash on energy than households with medium or high incomes.
This is why some EU countries have already initiated measures to protect consumers. France has announced a tariff brake for electricity and gas, and plans to give poorer households €100 each towards the bills.
Italy plans to spend three billion euros to relieve households of part of their electricity and gas bills, for example through tax cuts.
Spain has called for measures at the EU level, such as a common platform for gas purchases.
Luxembourg blames speculation in the gas market for the price increase and proposed a revision of the EU directive. “We have to stop the extremely speculative behaviour of some traders,” said Luxembourg’s Energy Minister Claude Turme.
Rising energy prices also have other undesirable side effects: inflation has been rising sharply for months. In September, it rose above the four-percent mark for the first time in Germany in almost 28 years.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, goods and services in Germany cost an average of 4.1 per cent more than a year earlier. As a result, the spike in energy prices can lead to other products also becoming more expensive.
Teenage girl travelling on scooter seriously injured in collision
A teenage girl was seriously injured after she was struck by a van while she was travelling on a push scooter in Dublin, gardaí have said.
The collision happened on Walkinstown Avenue in Dublin 12 shortly after 6pm on Wednesday.
The scene was preserved for technical examination, and investigations are continuing.
Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information on the incident to contact them at Crumlin Garda station on 01-666-6200, the Garda confidential line on 1800-666-111 or any Garda station.
Any person, whether a motorist or pedestrian, who was travelling along Walkinstown Avenue on Wednesday between 5.45pm and 6.30pm is also asked to come forward.
Gardaí have asked that any camera footage is made available to them.
Preparation for next winter’s wave of pandemic already under way, says Tánaiste
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic could continue into next winter saying we need to “seize the summer” while preparing for a possible resurgence.
It comes as the Government announced new restrictions in response to the continued high level of cases of the virus and the threat of the new Omicron variant.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin listed the new restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sectors in a televised address where he told the country he shares “the disappointment and frustration that this will cause”.
Mr Martin said it is “not about going back to the days of lockdowns” but about adjusting the guidelines to the current threat from the virus.
The Government has accepted recommendations made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which will be in place from next Tuesday, December 7th until January 9th.
Under the new measures nightclubs will closed and there will be tighter measures adopted again in bars, restaurants and hotels.
Tables will be limited to six individuals and no multiple bookings will be allowed though closing time remains at midnight.
There is to be a maximum of 50 per cent capacity at indoor entertainment and sporting events.
Covid passes will be required for gyms, leisure centres, and hotel bars and restaurants.
Mr Martin confirmed the Government has adopted Nphet’s advice on household visits and limiting them to three other households, while acknowledging the need for flexibility.
Mr Varadkar said this will be advice and it won’t be enforced by gardaí. The Government is not telling people what they can and can’t do in their own homes, he said.
The current rules for weddings remain unchanged.
At a press conference on Friday evening it was put to Mr Martin that he had previously said that once a sector was opened it would not close again and the new measures amounted to an admission of failure.
He replied: “Not at all. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment… the threats with the virus change and I think the vast bulk of society is open and remains open.”
Strong seasonal component
Mr Varadkar conceded that the pandemic could still be around next winter.
He said some experts have suggested the pandemic could last five years adding: “I certainly hope that’s not the case.”
Mr Varadkar said it is clear there is a strong seasonal component and that means two things have to be done.
Firstly he said “we need to seize the summer”.
“The last two summers we had the toughest restrictions in Europe… I’m determined that will not be the case next summer. We should open safely if we can”.
Secondly, he said: “We also need to prepare for next winter while dealing with this winter because there will be new variants”.
That includes building up the capacity of our health service and in the test, trace and isolate system, which he said the Government has been doing.
Mr Varadkar did say that scientists believe they can tweak vaccines for new variants within three months and there will new anti-viral tablets available next year and “that will help too”.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said one thing that gives him confidence is the booster vaccine campaign and indications that the jabs will still provide protection from the Omicron variant.
The Government announced a series of expanded financial supports for the hospitality and entertainment sectors and workers who may lose their jobs.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be temporarily reopened to new entrants in order to cater for people who lose their jobs as a result of the restrictions. Further details are to be announced in the coming days.
There is to be an extra €25 million to support the live entertainment sector.
Mr Varadkar said that the Covid Response Support Scheme (CRSS) will be reformed to help more businesses.
Up until now it was only paid to businesses that had to close or saw a 75 per cent reduction in turnover. It will now apply to businesses like restaurants, pubs, theatres and nightclubs who are impacted by the restrictions though there will be terms and conditions involved. Minister Paschal Donohoe is looking at raising the weekly €5,000 cap.
The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) – the rates of which were cut this week – will stay at the new reduced rates.
Mr Varadkar said this is because the majority of businesses and jobs supported by the EWSS are not in sectors affected by the new restrictions.
He said the Government want to make sure EWSS is targeted at those that need it the most.
There will be a €62.3 million targeted commercial rates waiver for the first three months of 2022 for businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sector that are impacted by the restrictions.
Nphet proposes cap on households mixing over Christmas period
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that no more than four households should mix over the Christmas period.
Nphet met on Thursday to consider advice for the Government on the latest pandemic situation, at a time when Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised at a high level and further information on the Omicron variant is being awaited.
It last night sent a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly which recommends a maximum of six people at a table in bars and restaurants, the closure of nightclubs and limits on households mixing.
The contents of the letter are expected to be discussed by Ministers and senior officials at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Friday.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government would move “as quickly as it can” to examine the latest recommendations from Nphet and to decide if further restrictions will be introduced. She said the Cabinet would need to be given time to “look at this advice and take it on board”.
During an interview on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms McEntee said the Government had to ensure it was clear about about what it would do in terms of restrictions and why before anything was announced.
“Of course if there are impacts on businesses at any stage of this…I hope people would agree that we haven’t left people wanting,” she said. “We have always responded where business has needed additional income. Where individuals have lost their jobs. We have always provided that support. This won’t be any different.”
Tests for travellers
Separately, the Government has notified airlines that the introduction of a system of PCR and antigen testing for passengers arriving into Ireland has been delayed by 48 hours.
|Confirmed cases in hospital||Confirmed cases in ICU|
The measure was due to come into force on Friday, but Aer Lingus said airlines had been informed on Thursday night that the regulations would now begin on Sunday. All arrivals into the State – whether vaccinated or not – will need a negative Covid-19 test result from then onwards.
Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be a professionally administered test.
No self-administered tests will be accepted under rules approved by Cabinet. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours before arrival. Persons arriving into the State from overseas who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required also to have a certified negative test.
Hospitality sector meeting
Meanwhile, Government members are due to meet representatives of the hospitality industry on Friday. Ministers have said there will be supports for the sector if new pandemic measures will impact on their ability to trade.
Ms McEntee said she was particularly conscious that people had been asked to pull back and to reduce their social contacts.
“I am talking to businesses particularly in the hospitality sector and I know the impact that is having on them. This should be their busiest time and it’s not. We are taking this on board. We are going to support all of these businesses as we have always done during the pandemic,” she said.
The Minister dismissed suggestions that the Government was flip flopping or that there was confusion behind the scenes, saying the State is in a “fluid situation” because of the nature of Covid-19.
“What we have seen with the antigen test is that the market has corrected itself. That wasn’t a matter of flip flops or changing. We simply saw the market adjust itself. It is not about Government changing direction. We have to change direction sometimes because of the nature of this pandemic. Everybody is doing their best here,” she said.
‘Random and arbitrary’
Earlier, Maynooth University professor of immunology Paul Moynagh said the latest restrictions reportedly proposed by Nphet could lead to some benefits but seem ed “random and arbitrary”.
He told Newstalk Breakfast that “big mistakes” have been made with regard to messaging to the public.
“Back in September contact tracing was stood down the reason being that children were missing too much school. But we had the option of keeping contact tracing and using antigen testing. And there has been a resistance over the last year from Nphet in terms of using antigen testing,” he said.
“We saw over the last number of days the reluctance of Nphet again to impress advice from experts in the area of ventilation and air filtration. There seems to be this reluctance to accept scientific advice from outside.”
Prof Moynagh said there was a need to look at this reluctance and “learn from our mistakes”.
“Whereas at the moment it seems that mistakes are made and that narrative is defended. And again we end up now with new restrictions that I am not convinced are going to be very impactful,” he said.
“We know they are going to be highly impactful in terms of the sectors for example. I am not convinced by the strategy that is being used at the moment.”
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