Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Leek Old and the Cold

It is bitterly cold and at such times it is too easy to be preoccupied with keeping warm: but the effects of the icy weather were bought home to me by a conversation I had with a friend in a Leek pub recently. He told me that a neighbour in his 80s kept warm by spending time wandering around a local supermarket so frightened was the old man at the prospects of running up a large energy bill that he was unable to pay.
I find such anecdotes appalling..
It beggars belief that in the early years of the 21st century that in one of the richest countries in the world that we are unable to keep our older citizens adequately warm. It should be the cause of a national outcry.
The cold can kill and in Britain we cull many people through our inadequate response to the winter weather. Last winter over 25,000 more people, the majority elderly, died in the winter months than in the summer, an increase of seven per cent on the previous year according to government data- and that was in a milder winter.
It is inevitable that the death toll will be higher this year as fuel costs have risen dramatically and more people are finding it harder to make ends meet. Gas costs have surged by 50 per cent in a year and electricity by a third, adding around £400 to annual bills. It is predicted that the winter will be a severe  one and those in poverty will be faced with a choice of eating or heating..
I will make a terrible prophecy that the newspapers will carry the news of the death of some elderly person in circumstances that could so easily be avoided. But it does not have to be so. Countries such as Canada and Sweden have far fewer hypothermia related deaths despite enduring harsher winters. What are they doing right that we are not?
 There is so much more energy companies and the Government could be doing: clear marking of electrical goods; pressuring the energy companies to reduce the prohibitive costs of pre payment meters; allowing people to pay bills at post offices again; and helping with winter bills now. Proper energy conservation measures like those in Germany and Sweden where all the housing stock will be adapted to low energy use should have begun years ago. A proper windfall tax with all the money being used to help the most in need would be a great help. Instead, all we have are measures that warm the pockets of the energy companies leaving the many householders of North Staffordshire who are in fuel poverty out in the cold.