A few months ago, a Norwegian students’ group made a spoof video sending up Live Aid, and the clichéd Western view of Africa and the stereotypes perpetuated by the aid industry. It has now been viewed two million times, making it one of Europe’s most successful political videos. It starts with an African equivalent of Bob Geldof.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what’s going on there right now. It’s kinda just as bad as poverty if you ask me… people don’t ignore starving people, so why should we ignore cold people? Frostbite kills too. Africa: we need to make a difference.”
The joke organisation is called Radi-Aid, where Africans share heat with Norway. Here’s the video:-
The Norwegians can joke about this because there, people don’t really die of the cold. In Britain, we do.”Every winter in the UK, 25,000-30,000 deaths are linked to the cold weather,” chirps the NHS website, as if this were as grimly inevitable as the winter itself. That’s about one death every seven minutes. The long, harsh winter of 2012/13 looks set to push the death toll over 30,000 – way more than the casualty rate for, say, breast cancer or road (and all other) accidents. Jack Frost is one of Britain’s biggest killers.
I’ve never worked out why there isn’t more outrage over this, and look at this in my Telegraph column. There’s so much concern about the effects of global warming, and carbon taxes introduced to make bills more expensive. This will have no measurable impact on global warming, but can be sure to lead to colder homes and – quite possibly – shorter lives. Right now, there are pensioners over Britain who worry about putting the heating up because bills (having doubled over the last seven years) are so expensive. And Ed Davey’s figures show his carbon taxes would make these bills higher still.
While we worry about global warming, the cold is the real killer. Ed Davey has five main climate change policies that push up our bills: the Emissions Trading Scheme, Carbon Price Floor, Renewables Obligation, Energy Market rigging and feed-in-tarrifs. These five policies add an average £62 to fuel bills today, and are expected to add £199 in 2020 and £271 in 2030. Without those five policies, fuel bills would fall by 10pc by 2020, rather than rising by 6pc. And in 2030, they’d be 4pc lower than today, instead of 18pc higher
Davey does have plans that lower bills. Better insulation and more efficient boilers are welcomed by everyone. But bringing bills down should be his entire policy: he should be going for cheaper energy, not greener energy.
The UK rates for ‘excess winter mortality’ ought to be seen as a national scandal: they are almost twice that of far-colder Norway. Spain is actually worse than Britain: the cold hits countries whose houses don’t keep in the heat as well. The Norwegians are not born with cold-resistant genes: they have just, as a society, worked out how to prepare for winter. We’re still struggling.
Insulate: the way to save lives. The remedy that the Norwegian students joke about, sending radiators to cold folk, is not far off the mark. The most effective way to help is to help with boiler upgrades, loft insulation and other measures to make British homes more energy-efficient and, ergo, cheaper to heat. The research into this is pretty clear:-
Higher mortality rates are generally found in less severe, milder winter climates… Countries with comparatively warm all year climates tend to have poor domestic thermal efficiency. Because of this, these countries find it hardest to keep their homes warm when winter arrives. (Healy et al, 2002)
Various government schemes have been trying to remedy this. Yet the insulation budget is being cut – and is anyway a fraction of the cost of the Winter Fuel Payments, a scheme where the word ‘fuel’ is redundant. It gives a cash bung to all pensioners even if they’re millionaires or expats living in the Costa del Sol. Just 12pc (pdf) of the payment goes to people in actual fuel poverty. It symbolises the failure of successive governments to take the problem seriously.
Yesterday, I was blogging about Radio Four’s Thought for Today and how I miss the insights of Rabbi Lionel Blue. One of his phrases was ‘moral long-sightedness’: the ability to see (and get worked up about) problems thousands of miles away while being blind to problems on our own doorstep. Yes, overseas aid is important. But people are dying in Britain, too, under our noses. Even the Iranian press is looking at this aghast.
No one would wear a wristband for British pensioners, at least 150 of whom are likely to die from cold-related illnesses today. Perhaps the cause of death is too mundane and the solutions too familiar to generate much excitement. Saving their lives has somehow become the least fashionable cause in politics.
If we were to scrap Winter Fuel Payments and properly insulate homes, we may – like Norway – be able to make jokes about harsh winters. As things stand, dying of the cold is a very British disease.