The ‘true spirit’ of Christmas can mean different things to different people.
For me it’s certainly about the warmth of family and friends and taking time to reflect on the past year as it comes to a close. My 2011 has been a year of great excitement and challenges as I took my seat in parliament and got used to a new lifestyle working between London and Oldham East and Saddleworth. Although I found adjusting to seeing less of my family during the working week a little challenging, to say the least, it just makes me all the more grateful that I am in a position to spend the Christmas and New Year holiday with them. So, Christmas for me will mean spending as much time as possible with my husband, daughters and extended family.
Over the last year as an MP I have been approached by many wonderful charities and asked to sign up to numerous campaigns but, as I sit here writing this message to you, there is one in particular that seems to have particular relevance at this time of year. Age UK have launched their Spread the Warmth campaign is which is raising awareness of the dangers to health of cold weather and cold homes particularly for older people. They are promoting preventative measures that older people can take before a cold spell and encouraging us all to look out for elderly people who are on their own and help reduce the number of excess winter deaths.
Unbelievably their latest figures show that last winter there were almost 22,000 additional deaths among people over the age of 65 in England and Wales. The cost to society and the strain on the NHS is enormous. For every additional winter death, there are also around 8 admissions to hospital, 32 visits to outpatient care and 30 social services calls.
I am also very conscious of the financial worries many families will be having at the moment especially with the potential expense of Christmas gifts. Although most people will agree that the best gift is having the love of family and friends around us, rather than the newest gadget or designer label, it is very easy to find we have overstretched ourselves.
Oldham CAB reported a 14% increase in debt, welfare and housing advice between June and September compared to last year. If debt should be a problem for you or your family don’t struggle on alone. You can download a number of their factsheets covering a wide range of issues concerning debt and money advice from: www.adviceguide.org.uk or on the National Debtline website. Or call 0844 847 2638 Monday to Thursday, 9.30am – 4pm and Fridays 9.30am – 1pm. If you call from a mobile use 0300 330 0650.
My very best wishes to everyone, whether you’re on holiday or having to work, for a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy 2012!