Alexander Britton: Not a civilised way to treat the elderly
I'M not particularly looking forward to getting old.
No, that's not quite right.
I am looking forward to the extra experience and wisdom that an extended life leads to.
In fact, I've already started planning my retirement reading – the list of books I will hopefully plough through before my eyesight begins to fail.
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But it isn't all sunshine and rainbows, as was starkly pointed out earlier this week.
After receiving a letter suggesting that some old people were spending hours in shopping centres across Nottingham in a bid to stay warm, we set about finding out the true extent of the problem.
And, as it turns out, the results were more depressing than I previously thought.
Half of the pensioners we surveyed said they struggled to heat their homes in the winter, with some taking to Broadmarsh or the Victoria Centre for a warm place to pass the day.
It's a sad, sad thing to contemplate.
If the saying that the measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members is to be applied, then we are not doing all that well.
I am certain I am not alone in wanting my old age to be comfortable and not in the grips of an extended panic about where the money to pay for the leccy will come from.
But until scientists find a way of generating electricity out of hand-wringing and crocodile tears, we're going to have to come up with some workable solutions.
It will no longer suffice to stand back and let it carry on.
But where will the money come from?
Some have suggested that the billions the Government hands out in foreign aid should be cut and that we should start looking after "our own".
But is it any less harrowing to think about people dying from drinking dirty water abroad than it is to think of pensioners unable to heat their homes?
I don't know about you, but I just can't pit people against each other like that.
Perhaps instead we should be focusing on what the Government can do, both in terms of being a safety net for when people are struggling as well as a force to lobby for change in industry.
Firstly, the winter fuel payment is something that helps but would seem not to be enough.
And with recent figures suggesting that £13 million in the payments – designed to help the elderly pay their heating bills – go to pensioners living in Spain, France and elsewhere in Europe, it also appears to be not always given where it is needed most.
And energy companies have a lot to answer for too.
EDF has already said it puts its vulnerable customers on cheaper tariffs, but they are but one of six major energy companies.
The others really ought to be feeling a pang within their collective consciousness and follow suit.
Thousands of elderly people die every winter because of the cold weather and the difficulties in meeting the rising cost of heating, and if that isn't a scandal that we should be striving to put right as a society, I'm not really sure what is.