Magazine article The Spectator

Cold Hearts

Magazine article The Spectator

Cold Hearts

Article excerpt

Perhaps the least fashionable cause in Britain is the welfare of our elderly. At least 35,000 old men and women will die from the cold this winter: a staggering, scandalous figure. We are a rich country, there are many ingenious and inexpensive ways to heat a house, yet every August, when the number of 'excess winter deaths' are disclosed, the extent of our national incompetence or indifference becomes clear. No one asks why so many more pensioners die each winter in Britain than in Norway. The winter cull of our elderly has become accepted as part of national life.

Had 35,000 died from the heat, there would have been an outcry. Seven years ago, a heatwave was blamed for 2,000 deaths across the country - and it was regarded as the most urgent political priority. Alarmists like Sir David King, then chief scientific adviser, claimed that global warming was a greater threat to Britain than terrorism. But what of the cold? Why such a silence from Westminster? Is it because those who die of cold are often in their seventies or eighties and may not make it to the polling station?

It's easy for a politician, warm and full after a subsidised lunch, to forget that they too will be old and vulnerable one day.

But the elderly are without doubt those to whom we owe the greatest debt. They are the generation who defended this country, who went on to build it with a lifetime of labour - and of high tax contributions. The generation who were promised and paid for a 'cradle to grave' welfare state should be entitled to dignity in old age. …

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