Our society should take no comfort from the disturbing statistic that the UK has a higher winter death rate among older people than other European countries – even those with much colder climates than ours.
More of our homes are less energy efficient than our continental neighbours' – another disappointing indictment of our collective priorities – and all of which means older people need all the help they can get to keep their households as warm as possible as temperatures begin to fall. That in turn means that the Government's Winter Fuel Payment is an especially critical benefit, an essential lifeline for many pensioners during the cold winter months.
Not all, of course, need to rely on this handout, which is why the Surviving Winter appeal, which we again endorse today, is so simple and so helpful to so many.
This wonderful initiative, conceived and piloted in Somerset by the county's own community foundation and now embraced and rolled out by fellow foundations across the rest of the country, enables those who don't feel they need their Winter Fuel Payment to donate it to someone who is struggling. It is as uncomplicated as that – and therein lies the certainty of its success. Winter is a dangerous time for the nation's senior citizens. Of the seven million households struggling to get by in a state of fuel poverty, the over-60s make up around half. Many are faced with a stark choice: fuel or food. The colder weather also causes health problems such as heart attacks, strokes and bronchitis. And the relentless rise of energy bills can only exacerbate these unhappy trends.
But while the energy companies cannot be counted on to demonstrate their social responsibility credentials, the people can.
Surviving Winter is about matching those vulnerable older people in need over the winter with those who can help, on a local level. And as a philanthropic organisation with a proven track record, the community foundations have the expertise to match money with need across the country. They were – and remain – one of the greatest examples of the big society long before the Prime Minister decided to give the term capital letters. And their Surviving Winter initiative embraces all that is commendable in our society. Small wonder so many high-profile senior citizens have been delighted to endorse it, among them Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis.
We hope this year's campaign will be as successful as 2011's.