Thursday, 15 November 2007

A Cold Winter

My recent absence from blogging is primarily due to a bad cold, followed by some generic winter bug. Why am I divulging unwanted details of my health? Well, because it got me thinking...

The change of weather always sends a wave of such illnesses through the populous. At this time of year we all find ourselves putting on that extra jumper and turning up the heating a bit. Or do we?

Life, unfortunately, is not as simple as that for many people, who will be facing yet another cold winter without adequate heating in their homes. The appalling consequence for some will be tragic. Each winter, many hundreds of pensioners in Scotland die from cold-related illnesses. The number of 'excess winter deaths' had been falling in recent years, but the latest figures show an alarming increase. During the winter of 2006/07, there were 2,560 additional deaths among our pensioners. See the figures below:

And have a look at this press release from Help the Aged, to give you an idea of just how desperate the situation is:

In this wealthy country - especially a country rich in oil, gas and renewable energy - it is almost unbelievable that so many people cannot afford to heat their homes.

We all feel the pinch at winter as we absorb the extra energy costs, but I can't begin to imagine how people can cope with sky-high fuel bills when they are on the basic state pension.

There are some things that governments can do to address this shocking state of affairs, and to be fair, both the Westminster and Scottish Governments are doing some good work in this area - but it's not enough. We need to increase state pensions, abolish the Council Tax which impacts disproportionately on people with low incomes like state pensions, ensure that our homes are better insulated and energy efficient, and meet the demand for the central heating programme. As individuals too, we should be playing our part by looking out for any elderly neighbours at this time of year.

There are no problems in this country that cannot be fixed. This one is not rocket science. One fifth of our pensioners are living in poverty, and they cannot afford to heat their homes. This is purely a question of money and political will. So why are we letting some of our most vulnerable citizens freeze to death each winter?

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