Gale’s View - No light but at least some heat!  December 3rd 2008

The Chancellor's Pre-Budget statement, a back-door full budget in all but name, has saddled the country with a debt that it will take years to pay off. Reaction has been swift. On behalf of the elderly the Charity Help the Aged has rejected the proposals as "a truly skin-flint package for the UK's older citizens", local small businesses, having read the fine print, find that there is little or nothing in it for them, those owning empty business and retail premises in both Margate and Herne Bay have indicated that changes to business rates "will apply to 70% of empty properties numerically but only a small percentage revenue-wise. They have therefore kept most of the revenues and sold it as good news".  And local sports clubs like Herne Bay Roller Hockey are disappointed that even their modest proposal to be allowed to reclaim Gift Aid on subscriptions on sports clubs has been ignored saying "What kind of message does it send out when big charities like the National Trust can claim Gift Aid on subscriptions to preserve stately homes but those working with our children to keep them fit, healthy and off the streets are not allowed"?

Be in no doubt: it will not be just "the rich" but every family in the land that will, in the long run, pay the bill for a national debt that is larger than at any time since the end of the second World War.  This burden has been incurred to encourage people who have already run up the largest level of personal debt in the developed world to go out and spend still more.  "Madness" is the word that springs to mind!

In the midst of this economic gloom there was little light but one glimmering of heat.  To assist those in fuel poverty the Chancellor slipped out the borrowing of £100 million pounds in "new money" to supplement the cash already spent by the Warm Front heating and insulation scheme.  That, at least, could offer some cheer to some of my elderly, frightened and cold constituents currently facing a harsh winter.

In Margate, Herne Bay and the surrounding villages 24.8% of pensioners, which means 6,740 people, are claiming pension credit. 12% of the people in East Kent live in fuel poverty and that figure translated into 106 excess (above average) winter deaths between 2001 and 2006 and, in North Thanet 110 excess winter deaths in 2005-2006 (the last year for which figures are available) alone.  I regard those figures as wholly unacceptable and I welcome any measure, however meagre, that will help the elderly not simply to pay rising fuel bills but to heat and insulate their homes.

Through Warm Front there is help, advice and some funding available to make homes more energy efficient, cheaper and healthier and in recent months I have already been able to assist some of those that I represent to access this assistance and to benefit from the heating and insulation grants available.  While local authorities and housing associations are responsible for maintaining and improving social housing it is very often house owners and private sector tenants who live in under-heated and badly insulated homes unaware of the fact that grants of up to £2,700 are available for improvements - and £2,700 can by a lot of lagging and draft exclusion as well as improvements to heating systems.

As with all government assistance there is bureaucracy and form-filling involved.  Please do not let that dissuade those who qualify for assistance from asking for it. If you think that you could benefit from the Warm Front scheme, or if you know someone whose home is colder than it needs to be this Christmas, then please either contact Warm Front direct  0800 316 2805 or ring my own office (01843-848588) or e-mail galerj@parliament.uk. We will be pleased to help.

Government gives nothing away. Warm Front is funded by the taxpayer and, like the billions borrowed by Chancellor Darling to prop up the economy the money has to be paid back by all of us. But while this Chancellor is making £100 million of our money available to help keep homes warm in winter we must make sure that those who need it receive this help.  Act now.

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