MP says churches could save lives this winter

By Cara Slavin

As the cost-of-living and energy crises worsen, Dr Whitford warned that lives are at risk as winter approaches.

“More people get ill in the winter anyway, but if people are sitting in cold houses and not eating enough, lots of medical illnesses get worse,” she said.

“Particularly for elderly people living on their own there’s a real danger of dying this winter.”

Dr Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, said that, while churches will face cost challenges around energy, parishes could work together across denominations to take turns heating their church hall and providing food.

“People can come and sit and read or eat something and be warm,” the Catholic MP said. “It’s not the same as being in your own house, but local authorities are looking to keep libraries open and maybe churches in every town could work together.”

In a joint statement earlier this year, Scottish Church leaders said many people would face ‘the grim choice between eating or heating’.

They also applauded the work of charitable organisations during the crisis.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul told the Scottish Catholic that the increase in demand was exacerbated by a decrease in donations, also fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis, calling it a ‘downward spiral.’

Dr Whitford said that ‘because inflation is running at about 10%, in essence the budget is worth 10% less than it was’, noting that it has already fallen by nearly £2 billion in value since the last Scottish budget set in December.

“The NHS is an enormous energy user,” she said. “I’m worried about extra pressure on the NHS because we’re going to have people who are in danger of hypothermia, particularly for elderly people, who can die from it.

“Or because of malnourishment we’re going to see more people ill because of the cost-of-living crisis and the energy crisis.

“That will be putting on more pressure.”

She said Catholic schools could emulate the role churches have been playing throughout the cost-of-living crisis by operating centrally in the community.

“It makes other people who are not Catholic or part of the school community see you as a beacon within that community,” she said.

She added that individuals had a part to play by encouraging community.

“If we’ve got an elderly neighbour, chap the door and see if they’re okay and ask if they’re warm. Could we include them in our dinner by either inviting them or bringing it over?

“In the same way as we saw communities doing a lot during Covid, ordinary communities and individuals need to do as much as they can as well.

“To me, the centre of our Faith is love, and that should mean thinking of all the people around you. And even though not everyone can do huge things, if everyone does a little bit, it really adds up.” 

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