HC Deb 13 December 1988 vol 143 cc761-3
9. Mr. Darling

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he plans to add to the advice given by his Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) at Reading, to pensioners on keeping healthy during the winter months.

16. Mr. Hardy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he has received any representations from pensioners or pensioners' organisations about the advice given by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) at Reading on the subject of keeping healthy during the winter.

Mrs. Currie

On pensioners' health day in Reading the Government drew attention to simple advice on self-help which can make a difference to winter mortality. For the second year running we have a "Keep Warm, Keep Well" campaign, involving the five Government Departments and voluntary organisations, which is proving to be very effective. We have received around 400 letters on the topic. The telephone helpline, run by Help the Aged, is now receiving over 700 calls per week. We are very pleased with the success of the campaign.

Mr. Darling

On reflection, does the hon. Lady consider that her remarks were ill-judged and stupid? For how much longer will she be allowed to act as court jester, deflecting attention from the fact that for many pensioners this Christmas the choice will be between heating their houses and eating? Is she aware that the best Christmas present that she could give most pensioners, and, indeed, many Conservative Members, would be a month's silence.

Mrs. Currie

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that the worst winter in recent years for excess winter mortality and hypothermia was 1979. If the Opposition had their way, there would be no such campaign. There was no campaign in the 1970s when winter mortality was much higher than now. The advice is plain common sense and the Opposition would do better to back it.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her advice for the elderly. Will she confirm that about 20 per cent. of body heat can be lost through the top of the head and that if one wore a hat, the heat loss would be reduced.

Mrs. Currie

My hon. Friend would look very fetching in a woolly hat.

Mr. Hardy

Will the rather expensive and perhaps hard-boiled Under-Secretary restrict her more extravagant comments to cold days since the heat of the anger that she usually arouses may produce more gigajoules than a woolly hat?

Mrs. Currie

The hon. Gentleman is being niggardly in his approach to the "Keep Warm, Keep Well" campaign, which is proving to be popular. We printed 750,000 leaflets on the subject and already demand has been sufficient for us to order a reprint. I am pleased with the way the campaign is going.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Scotland where we frequently have low temperatures, grandmother's remedies are often the best? Among the remedies that grandmothers in Scotland regularly suggest is that one should wear wool mittens, wool socks and wool hats. In cold weather that helps to keep the elderly warm.

Mrs. Currie

I am glad to receive that further advice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland also has a campaign in Scotland for keeping warm in winter, and that is going very well.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Given that any attempts made by pensioners to assist themselves to guard against the cold must, of necessity, be cash-limited, is the Minister at least prepared to discuss the possibility of implementing a continuous cold climate allowance for the winter months?

Mrs. Currie

That question should be referred in some detail to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. There is no doubt that elderly people and others can keep their homes warmer if they have them insulated. One organisation supporting the campaign is Neighbourhood Energy Action, which has already insulated over 500,000 homes and would like to do more.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that she should add to the advice she gave about keeping warm in one's own home? The one thing from which pensioners have suffered most grievously—some of them are still suffering—is the inflation that ruined their savings back in Socialist days, and the best advice she could give is for them to ensure that we keep a Conservative Government.

Mrs. Currie

Yes, that is good advice. There is no doubt that whoever we are talking about, they would be well advised to ensure that they do not get cold in winter, especially when they go out. Chills can promote heart disease and may bring on strokes, and that is what causes most of the excess winter mortality.