How a society cares for the elderly and most vulnerable is an important yardstick by which we are judged.
So we have some difficult questions to ask ourselves when we discover that here in Barnsley, we have one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the region. On average, 116 people – mainly elderly – die because of the cold every year. That’s 116 too many.
I will be campaigning for some key changes which I believe can have a direct impact on this situation: a 20 month freeze on energy prices; automatic allocation to the lowest tariff for anyone aged over 75; a new energy regulator who can ensure that prices cuts actually get passed on to the consumer; and changes which break the stranglehold of the ‘big 6’ energy companies.
But locally we need action too. Last week I was the keynote speaker at an event organised by Barnsley council to bring together all those who can help turn around these shocking statistics – the local hospital, Clinical Commissioning Group, professionals, charities and volunteers.
Whilst many of us had been working on this problem, greater co-ordination was needed, to combine our efforts to full effect. And this can come, I believe, from the new Director of Public Health in Barnsley.
However, individuals have a part to play too. All of us can take steps to look after the elderly members of our community. In Barnsley, we have a history of community spirit and looking out for our neighbours.
Whether that means helping with the shopping, changing that hard-to-reach light bulb, or just providing some company, there are things that we as individuals can do, and maybe even save a life.
The event last week recognised the scale of the challenge we face here in Barnsley. And there is no shame in saying that the scale is so immense that no one organisation or agency can tackle it alone.
That is why I laid down a direct challenge to every person attending that event – and also to those who are not – indeed, to you and the whole of the town:
Let’s do what Barnsley does best – let’s pull together and work as a town to look after our own – and try to ensure that no one dies because of the cold this coming winter.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 9th October 2013.