YP Comment: Chilling facts on winter deaths. Fuel poverty: Will MPs ever act?

How many more deaths will it take before the issue of fuel poverty is taken seriously?
How many more deaths will it take before the issue of fuel poverty is taken seriously?
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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.

The Barnsley 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 – The Yorkshire Post included – 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 because they’re too proud to ask for help or go into debt. They need help – not party political pointscoring – before they, too, become just another grim statistic. And this is before failings with social care are even contemplated.

Powerhouse role for businesses

IT it significant that Bradford, Hull and Middlesbrough have been named as vacancy hotspots in a new survey – all three are continuing to count the cost of previous economic downturns as an above-average number of people chase each vacancy. This is further compounded by all those school leavers who do not have the skills required by those employers who are choosing to invest and expand in these areas.

This is why today’s a call for a new business forum to be launched to work alongside various Northern Powerhouse policy initiatives is important if public and private sector investment in this region is to be maximised.

While improved transport links are fundamental to the North’s future prospects, the issue of skills must not be under-estimated – examples of businesses bemoaning the calibre of school leavers, and even high-flying university graduates, have become all too common in recent times.

With Theresa May and Philip Hammond yet to adequately explain how, and why, the Northern Powerhouse schools budget was cut by £10m in last week’s Autumn Statement, an issue highlighted by The Yorkshire Post on Saturday, proper oversight and scrutiny of political initiatives is crucial.

Who better to provide it than the region’s brightest and best business leaders, the very entrepreneurs with a proven track record when it comes to creating jobs and prosperity?

Taken for a ride

FOR years, a lack of transparency over ticket prices on the country’s railways has epitomised rip-off Britain at its very worst. For years, politicians have tried – and failed – to get to grips with this issue.

If Theresa May’s government succeeds where others have failed, her administration will have performed a first class service on behalf of consumers. Yet, just like late-running trains, the PM will forgive us if judgement is delayed until rail operators, ticket offices and automated machines sell the cheapest tickets as a matter of routine. Mrs May’s good intentions will only work with proper enforcement – the one word missing from the Department for Transport’s latest signal of intent.