Tom Richmond: Winter deaths – and why all parties must back Labour’s Dan Jarvis

Dan Jarvis is campaigning to end winter deaths caused by fuel poverty.

Dan Jarvis is campaigning to end winter deaths caused by fuel poverty.

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A QUITE profound speech was delivered in the House of Commons this week. The problem is that very few MPs – never mind members of the public – saw or heard it.

Made at 11.30pm on Monday – don’t get me started on the unfathomable timetabling of Parliamentary business – it was delivered by Barnsley’s Dan Jarvis, the backbencher who many would like to see leading the Labour party.

The subject? Winter deaths and the fact that 117,000 elderly people have died prematurely in the past four years because they could not afford to heat their homes, and how hypothermia can cost the NHS £850m a year.

It was not party political – Mr Jarvis made the point that successive governments have not done enough to tackle the issue of fuel poverty – and there was an acceptance on his part that there will be no easy solutions.

But it was heartfelt. “The way in which a society cares for the most vulnerable is an important metric by which any society should seek to be judged,” he said. “At the moment, given the numbers of people who are dying each year, we as a country are failing that test.”

And it was scathing about the lack of joined-up policy-making – he said the Department of Health, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government all appear to have separate strategies.

On top of this, there’s the work being done by local authorities – Barnsley Council has just provided gas central heating to an 84-year-old who had never previously been able to heat the first floor of his home – and the charity sector.

And this is before the roles and responsibilities of the energy companies are taken into account, and whether they should be doing more to help insulate the homes of those pensioners most vulnerable to hypothermia.

The response of Jane Ellison, the Health Minister, was courteous. “We must all look at what more we can do to bear down on this problem,” she said.

Yet these words were spoken without conviction by a Minister who clearly has not got the power, authority or inclination to question the effectiveness of Ministerial colleagues and their civil servants. I just hope someone in Government sees sense and invites Mr Jarvis to come up with a policy framework that can be endorsed by all parties.

Gordon Brown had the right idea in 2007 when he tried to reach out to opponents and form a government of all the talents, although little came of this well-intended initiative.

However this should not prevent David Cameron from doing likewise. The energy Mr Jarvis brings to this important issue must not be allowed to go to waste. If Scandinavian countries can put in place measures to keep the elderly warm, why can’t Britain, which normally has much milder winters in comparison?

Mr Jarvis, now is your time.

CARE of the elderly is not the only policy sphere where there needs to be some joined-up decision-making – the same equally applies to flooding.

I could have predicted this week’s findings of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee before they were even written – not enough funding and the reluctance of Ministers, and senior civil servants, to accept any responsibility.

I thought Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss might have learned some lessons after the Yorkshire floods.

Obviously not. Rather than trusting the Environment Agency’s six-year plan to luck, she needs to make sure that the budget reflects Britain’s interests, and not those of her boss George Osborne, and consent to producing six-monthly progress reports to be presented in person to Parliament.

THE EU referendum masks the Government’s quandary over airport capacity in London and the South East. Ministers still appear to be in favour of a third runway at Heathrow despite Gatwick having the land to expand.

Why London? What about maximising the potential of Robin Hood Airport, serving Doncaster and Sheffield, with rail spurs to both the East Coast main line and new HS2 route? Not only would it boost the North’s economy, but it might stop the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport which grinds to a halt at the first sign of bad weather.

UNLIKE Chancellor George Osborne, who has not answered emergency statements to Parliament on four occasions this year, Home Secretary Theresa May attended the Commons in person on Monday to explain the Government’s inability to deport foreign criminals.

After I accused Mr Osborne of cowardice two weeks ago, the ConservativeHome website has waded in and accused the Chancellor of ducking EU referendum debates: “It is unmanly for him at once to gesture towards the heat of battle while creeping quietly towards the tents.”

Cutting.

AFTER my verbal volley last year against the BBC’s newfangled tennis highlights non-show, I see the Corporation and La Clare Balding are reverting to the traditional Tonight at Wimbledon programme for this year’s All England Championships.

Game, set and match.

HAVING challenged Leeds Council many years ago in this column to bring a world triathlon event to the city that gave the incomparable Brownlee brothers to the world, I can’t believe that it is finally happening. Good luck to all concerned – what better way to showcase Leeds to the world?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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