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COLIN CAMPBELL: Support might not be enough but is better than nothing

By Colin Campbell

Support to cover fuel bills has been a help to the most vulnerable.
Support to cover fuel bills has been a help to the most vulnerable.

A letter from the Department of Work and Pensions that I’d be receiving a £500 winter fuel payment put a spring in my step on a chilly winter morning.

That same day I got an email from an ex-newspaper colleague and friend: “I’m in the money...” it sang gleefully.

He’d received the same missive from the Department of Work and Pensions.

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Good news for recipients of pension age, surely.

But not for some determined critics.

Reports of this extra income were accompanied by denunciations about funding inadequacy and declarations from various charitable organisations and pressure groups that “it wouldn’t be enough”.

This winter we have not seen a resurgence in the dire warnings last year from the likes of “money-saving expert” Martin Lewis who became a seemingly permanent fixture on our TV screens declaring that millions faced a stark choice between “freezing or starving”.

Doom-laden Mr Lewis made it clear it was only heroic restraint that prevented him from adding the words “to death” to his pronouncement.

And high energy bills were undoubtedly a problem for very many people, and even a crisis for some.

But the government stepped in to provide monthly fuel bill support.

If my parents had received a similar £500 winter fuel payment back in the 1960s or 1970s they wouldn’t have just thought they were “in the money”, they’d have thought they’d won the pools.

Battling to make a living out of a 20-acre croft with no government support of any kind, they brought in two elderly people who lived all year round in small caravans and gave them a place to pitch their homes on wheels.

One was a retired farm labourer, Sandy, who was around 70, and the other was a very prim and proper woman in her 60s, known only to me as Miss Pritchard, who was never seen not wearing her tweed jacket and skirt, always looking like she was on the way to teach a Sunday School class.

And there they were, a rugged old man living all winter in one flimsy caravan and an elderly, very well dressed woman of impeccable manners living all winter in another.

And no one thought anything about it.

As each year passed, awareness of old people having to live in small caravans because they had nowhere else – and recognition that they shouldn’t have to – grew to the point where in the 1980s and 1990s it became unthinkable.

But there was a time when real hardship existed and just had to be endured and there was no state intervention and plethora of social workers on hand to try and sort out every problem.

Thankfully, those days are gone now.

But I do think of them when I feel the need to turn up the central heating a tad in my sometimes chilly abode, or feel the weather’s just too grim to venture outside.

High fuel bills are still a problem for people but at least support for the most vulnerable – the elderly – is freely available.

Around eight million people will also receive another £300 in cost of living support, adding up to an overall package of support worth £1200 for many.

It may be not “enough” in tough times, but it must be a help.

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