169 days and counting - this is the number of days that have gone by since the Executive has seriously considered the issue of fuel poverty.
It is estimated that fuel poverty is affecting at least 100,000 households across Northern Ireland. Given the temperatures in recent days it must be anticipated that a mixture of high energy prices and the weather will mean that many other households will be affected.
The Assembly was briefed on a very timely and valuable report by Professor Christine Liddell of the University of Ulster. In the report, which was commissioned by Save the Children, Professor Liddell writes that:
"The fuel poverty rate among families with children here is one of the highest in the developed world...Lone parent families are hardest hit."
So can our Assembly do anything about fuel poverty. For once the answer is yes.
The Minister for Social Development Margaret Ritchie has had a paper waiting to go before the Executive for several months. Elements of the paper will have direct financial benefits to the fuel poor as well as setting in place some measures to tackle the problem more widely. It was expected to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the Executive, however, it was not.
It looks unlikely that there will be any major announcement on this front before Christmas. Which with the usual delays could mean weeks if not months before the impact of any new measures to tackle fuel poverty is delivered on the ground.