IT is a sobering thought that the attendance at four separate Premier League football matches at the weekend was exceeded by the 24,300 pensioners and vulnerable people who died from hypothermia and related illnesses last winter.
It is even more sobering that the total population of Harrogate equates to the 150,000-plus individuals who have died over the past five years because of fuel poverty – and the failure of successive governments, Tory and Labour, to identity, and assist, those who can’t afford to heat their home.
Yorkshire MP Dan Jarvis describes it as a ‘quiet crisis’ as he urges Ministers to come up with a “credible, ambitious, cross-government strategy” to tackle a state of affairs which others liken to a national scandal.
Part of the problem is that Ministers view Mr Jarvis’s Commons interventions with suspicion because they think the issue is party political. It is not. His views are sincerely held and the issue of fuel poverty transcends several Whitehall departments, countless quangos, the privatised energy suppliers, housing providers as well as every NHS trust and local council in the country.
With National Energy Action now warning that the Government’s target to end fuel poverty by 2030 will not have been met when a child born today reaches their 80th birthday, politicians of all persuasions are duty-bound to work together and face up to those difficult questions ignored for too long. Should profits from the ‘big six’ energy firms be spent on insulating the homes of those most at risk of hypothermia? Should all pensioners continue to receive the winter fuel allowance or should this money be means-tested in future? Can levels of foreign aid be justified when the Government can’t afford to help the poor in this country? And so it goes on.
As overnight temperatures plunge, Theresa May should not hesitate to accept Mr Jarvis’s willingness to lead on this issue on behalf of the whole country. Someone, somewhere, needs to make a start before it is too late for those poor pensioners who feel helpless and powerless as they shiver silently in their homes