My column in the Morley Observer

More than a million older people live in cold homes because they’re unable to afford to adequately heat their homes. According to Age UK, tens of thousands die prematurely each winter. To mark the Cold Homes’ campaign I joined pensioners at Morley Elderly Action to discuss winter warmth over a cuppa.

“I always make sure I keep the heating on in one room,” one pensioner told me. Wearing lots of thin layers, having regular hot drinks and eating proper meals is other advice from the Cold Homes campaign. And with the cold weather still with us, we seem set to have a few more chilly weeks to go before spring.

Winter Fuel Payments were a huge step forward in helping pensioners out of fuel poverty. £200 extra (£300 for the overs 80s), makes a massive difference when you need to have the heating on all day to keep warm.

But even with winter fuel payments helping out with the cost of winter bills, each year in Britain, one older person dies every seven minutes during the winter months and many more become seriously ill due to living in a cold home. Cold homes remain a major contributing factor in the staggeringly high numbers of excess winter deaths that occur every year.

That’s why the Cold Homes’ campaign is still so important. It calls on the Government to commit to a major programme to make millions of homes much more energy efficient.Such energy efficiency improvements would not only result in warmer homes and lower bills, but could also lift nine out of ten homes out of fuel poverty. Unfortunately, support for households in fuel poverty has halved under this Government which is a really big concern for local pensioners.

With the economic recovery still extremely fragile, there will be some difficult decisions for whoever wins the General Election in May. And I’ve said that with public services still under such pressure, we should stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners with a pension of over £42,000. Because in difficult times, it’s important to ensure that the support that is available reaches those who need it most.

As most Observer readers will know, Morley Elderly Action does brilliant work supporting local pensioners and ensuring they get all the information and advice they need. But what’s clear from the Cold Homes’ campaign is that many winter deaths could still be prevented if everyone lived in a warm home. So as well as keeping winter fuel payments for 95 per cent of pensioners, the Government also needs to make sure pensioners have access to support to make their homes as energy efficient as possible. That way people can save money on their bills too.

And we also desperately need to sort out the energy market which isn’t working for families and businesses. I am committed to reforming the market so that it works better for ordinary people. We need to see prices frozen so that bills can only fall but not rise and we need the regulator to have tough new powers so they can force energy companies to cut their prices when wholesale costs falls.

I will continue to press for action on bills and to reform the energy market.

*****
On Friday at Cucina’s on Queen Street I joined an impressive array of new Morley business start-ups. From an innovative new Yorkshire Bridal Shop on Albert Drive to a furniture up-cycling business based out of Tingley, these were locally grown young entrepreneurs who were all taking the plunge and setting up their own businesses.

Those I met had all be supported by Start-Up Loans, a Government funded initiative to provide loans combined with business mentors to get entrepreneurs on their feet. Their businesses were all in their infancy but they were all ambitious for the future and had clear plans for where and how they wanted their businesses to grow.

And that’s the key. If we’re going to get the economy back on its feet and to create the new jobs we need, we need more new businesses and for existing businesses to be able to grow and prosper. That’s why I’ve said I want to cuts to business rates to help small businesses. And it is why, as well as existing initiatives like Start-Up Loans, we also need a properly funded British Investment Bank that can really boost lending for small businesses to grow and create the new jobs we need.

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Posted February 25th, 2015 by admin