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Big chill set to last through weekend

Britain looks set for colder temperatures today with the big chill lasting at least until Sunday as the row over cold weather payments hotted up.

Forecasters predicted that stronger winds from the North- east would cause parts of the country to feel even colder today, with snow flurries in Kent and the East Coast causing more problems for motorists.

Meanwhile Harriet Harman, shadow Social Security Secretary, said it was a "scandal" that millions of people were so poor they had to choose between heating and food. She called for improved pensions and for VAT on fuel to be cut from 8 per cent to no more than 5 per cent.

David Winnick, who led a delegation of Labour MPs to Downing Street calling for change to the way cold-weather payments are made, said: "It shows the farcical nature of the system that exists that it has taken over a week of very, very cold weather before at long last payments are being made,"

Social security minister Andrew Mitchell replied that he was satisfied with the way cold-weather payments system operated. "We have announced that the scheme is triggered today across large parts of the country. A further pounds 8m will be being paid." Some pounds 19m had been paid out since Christmas, he added.

The coldest place in Britain on Wednesday night was RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where a temperature of -12C was recorded. And a London Weather Centre spokesman warned: "If anything things are going to get colder."