Letter: Action now to keep the elderly warm

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The Independent Online
Sir: Action, not the needless wringing of hands, is called for if we are to remedy the appalling consequences of fuel-poverty in the UK ("Dickensian season for the elderly", 24 December).

The problem has reached massive proportions, because of the Treasury's consistently perverse calculus that short-term budget cuts are more important than investing to save lives, energy and money. At least six million people are classified as fuel-poor, and the level of "Extra Winter Deaths" which result because so many vulnerable people live in constantly cold, damp, energy-wasteful houses, ranges from 30,000 to 60,000 fatalities annually.

In January, a cross-party group of MPs, led by Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), will reintroduce the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation (15 Year Programme) Bill, with the support of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, Friends of the Earth and Neighbour Energy Action.

Once law, the Bill would mandate successive governments to insulate effectively 500,000 homes a year for 15 years. The payback will be huge. Conservatively, up to 50,000 new jobs will be created through manufacturing, installing, servicing and repairing a range of energy-conservation goods and materials. The Treasury and taxpayers will gain some pounds 9,000 per year for every person escaping the dole queue. Polluting emissions will tumble and domestic fuel bills will fall.

Most importantly, tens of thousands of lives will be saved every winter, and as we implement this "prevention is better than cure" strategy the NHS will save hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

This is no millennium fantasy, but the best Christmas present society can give to itself. Treasury short-termism will only be overcome if voters and taxpayers demand the Bill becomes law.

CHARLES SECRETT

Director, Friends of the Earth

London N1

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