By Oran Burke
Temperatures are expected to plummet over the weekend as the first cold snap of autumn passes over the country.
Arctic winds will bring cold air from the north and the Met Office has released a severe weather warning covering the northeast of Scotland, Shetland and Orkney.
Many areas of the country will see a drop of up to 10 degrees with the north and midlands being particularly affected with councils in these areas preparing to grit roads.
Driving conditions are expected to be treacherous in the worst affected areas with warnings of ice on the roads.
As this weekend is the start of the half-term break for many schools, it is expected that roads will be busy with the RAC estimating that 28% of the nation plan to make a journey this weekend.
Earlier this year a severe cold snap across Europe caused travel chaos and the deaths of many people.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable and the NHS recommends checking up on them regularly. This will be particularly important given the recent rise in energy bills.
A report by the House of Commons Committee on Climate Change estimates that gas prices have risen by 121% in the period from 2004 to 2011 with the number of households in fuel poverty rising from 2 to 5.5 million in the same period.
Many of those affected are thought to be elderly and Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK said in a statement, “Every increase in energy bills puts more households in fuel poverty and a large percentage of these will be older households.
“Switching off the heating is not the right response – there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows that cold homes can seriously endanger health, especially for older people.”
Age UK is an international charity which aims to free older people from poverty, isolation and neglect and they provide advice on how the elderly can keep warm during the winter months.
NHS figures indicate that 1,876 patients were treated in hospital for Hypothermia in 2010/11, up from 950 in 2006/07. Three quarters of these were people over 60 with cases in this group increasing more than any other – from 633 to 1,396 over the period.
In Brighton and Hove the Neighbourhood Care Scheme matches volunteers with elderly people in their neighbourhood to provide day-to-day support and create a spirit of good neighbourliness.
The organisation provided more than 10,000 hours of support last year and is aiming to increase the number of volunteers trained and the areas of the city covered.
The scheme, while concentrating on year-round care, creates a network which will also be beneficial during cold snaps such as the one this weekend.
However there are worries about the scale of budget cuts and how these will affect the elderly. Many councils are reducing services across the board to try and enforce the strict austerity measures laid down by central government.
A survey of 110 councils by Age UK last June found that social care budgets for the over 65s were being cut by more than 8 per cent due to a drop in funding.
Councillor David Rogers of the Local Government Association (LGA), speaking about the report said, “As the LGA warned last year, and this report backs up, government funding cuts have left councils with huge gaps in their adult social care budgets.”