Cold comfort at Christmas

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THE RELENTLESS focus on the threats posed by global warming has served to divert attention from the fact that, in this country at least, the biggest climatic killer by far is cold weather.

Indeed, in North Yorkshire alone over the past two years, almost a thousand winter deaths have been attributed to the cold as ever-rising fuel bills add to the financial pressures facing those struggling to heat their homes.

Against such a background, it seems – at first glance – to be madness that emergency winter fuel payments are distributed to pensioners who are in no financial difficulty whatsoever while young families with children are left to fend for themselves.

However, as the charity, North East Energy Action, points out, means-testing winter fuel payments for the elderly would be counter-productive. As the example of the Government’s Pension Credit has shown, means-testing tends to result in a large proportion of people refusing to claim for a benefit, even though they may well be in need of it.

Instead, it would be far better for those who have no need of the £200 fuel payment to give the money to charities who have already identified the most vulnerable households, young and old, and who know where the money can be put to the best use.

Rather than the cumbersome and costly business of state means-testing, this would be a far more effective and efficient way of using this money wisely, although its success, of course, will depend on the goodwill of those who know that they can easily afford to go without this payment.

However, bearing in mind not only the potential death toll, but also the cost to the NHS of emergency hospital admissions, what better way is there of demonstrating the Christmas spirit than for the comparatively well-off to redirect this money to those in the direst need?

Hidden crimes: New blow to police credibility

WHEN IT was reported last month that almost a million crimes a year had been disappearing from police statistics, so that forces could meet official targets for certain offences, it was disturbing enough.

Yet now it seems that these murky machinations may be even more worrying than suspected, as a new report claims that the perversion of figures is far more widespread than previously acknowledged and that a judicial inquiry is necessary to discover why the full extent of this manipulation has been largely hidden until now.

In his report last month, Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor issued a damning verdict on forces afflicted by poor training, poor leadership and general incompetence. But today’s Civitas report, by former chief inspector Rodger Patrick, says that Mr Winsor has failed to appreciate the extent of the problem.

Mr Patrick says the Inspectorate has not taken into account the number of victims being rebuffed at police stations so that either no record whatsoever is made of the crime or else it is merely recorded as a “suspicious incident”.

If such manipulation is part of a deliberate policy being overseen by senior officers, then clearly it is a matter for the Home Office to investigate as quickly as possible.

However, while Theresa May’s period as Home Secretary has been characterised by her willingness to confront the police over their failings, it has also been distinguished by a dramatic reduction in crime.

Can Mrs May, then, be persuaded to grasp the nettle on this issue when the certain outcome will be a big and damaging rise in reported crime? For the sake of the police’s credibility, she must do so.

London’s limits: Potential of regional tourism

HOW MANY of the tourists who flock to London each year realise that Britain extends further than the boundaries of its capital city?

Precious few, according to the regional tourism bodies themselves, and becoming ever fewer as the Government’s cuts to tourism spending bite harder and the regions find it more and more difficult to sell themselves.

Of course, some regional organisations are faring better than others, with Welcome to Yorkshire’s hosting of the Tour de France Grand Départ generating £102m in revenue in Yorkshire alone.

Then again, not all tourism agencies have the drive and vision shown by Gary Verity and his team who have led the way in showing the potential of tourism for reviving regional economies, a clear message to those in the Treasury who believe that tourism investment is an unnecessary expense, or that the world begins and ends in London.