asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will set up a national survey of the circumstances of the elderly whose lives are at risk from exposure to conditions of cold in their own homes.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on 13th March.—Vol. 888, c. 239]
I am at a loss to know what that reply was. Has the Under-Secretary read the excellent pamphlet issued by Help the Aged called "Death in Winter"? Is he aware of my series of Questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, the answers to most of which amount to passing the buck to local authorities? There is a need for the Department to take the lead in this matter, to establish a national survey and to come forward with solutions which are mandatory on local authorities.
My Department and I have seen that report, which we are considering carefully. We should like to have time for its consideration before commenting on some of the facts and figures contained in it. My Department is very much aware of this problem. On 2nd December it issued a circular to all health authorities drawing their attention to the needs of these people, who may or may not be at risk.
Is not my hon. Friend aware that were he to undertake this research, which is badly needed, he would discover that the bills we pay for keeping people in hospital longer, and for taking them into hospital earlier when they become ill because their homes are inadequately heated, are enormous? There is an overwhelming case for some sort of free electricity allowance to enable this problem to be alleviated.
No one disputes the need to help these people. The suggestion regarding the survey may well not be the best way forward, since by the time the survey had been conducted and published it would be out of date and would not be of much help in identifying these people.