Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/607/8675
The real cost this winter
THE BIG freeze has shown the dangers faced by many old people in this unequal society. Every year, official statistics show what they call 'excess' deaths between December and March, but this winter's extreme cold could make matters far worse.
Many old people have been isolated by icy conditions. Scarce salt and grit resources are used on major roads, so many residential streets become like skating rinks. Older people are often stranded at home because they fear falling - hip fractures can cut the life expectancy of over-75s to under a year. Sub-zero temperatures can also trigger heart attacks amongst frail old people.
But the profit-hungry privatised gas and electricity firms charge so much for heating that the winter fuel allowance and extra cold weather payments from the government may not help enough to pay old people's fuel bills.
2.7 million (one in every three) pensioner households in the UK live in fuel poverty, ie they pay more than a tenth of their income trying to keep warm. Higher cold weather payments could lessen the impact of high prices while improved home insulation could cut the cost of heating.
But the state pension is far too low (£95.25 a week for a single person and £152.30 for a couple). The Treasury spends only 5.5% of Britain's gross domestic product on pensions - the European average is 10%. There should be an immediate 50% rise in the state pension as the first step to a decent living pension. Pensioners should also get free heating and free home insulation.
The big freeze has also shown the lack of resources for urgent welfare services. Services that can end old people's isolation are already being cut in many areas. District nurses, for example, who visit vulnerable old people are often left under-resourced with workers overstretched in what are seen as 'invisible' cuts in NHS budgets.
Despite their crocodile tears about the problems of the cold snap, politicians of all the capitalist parties want further cuts in public spending. Pensioners and workers will need to resist these cuts and fight for a socialist society where old people can live a life of dignity, good health and financial security.
In The Socialist 12 January 2010:
Trade Unionists and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party international feature
International socialist news and analysis