Why does snow always seems to catch us by surprise? Once the joy of a pretty snow-filled landscape has passed the realities of getting out and about and keeping warm set in – and it’s hard work. This year, as we enter the third week of severe cold weather, it’s clear that the UK just isn’t built for this.
Over the past few years snow problems seem to point to one thing, councils having enough grit. But even if enough had been supplied, with this much snow and ice it will mostly be used on main roads rather than our residential roads. That doesn’t help if you just want to get to the corner shop for a few essentials while you wait for the thaw. It’s even worse if you’re venturing out on foot. The government’s latest response is to get the public to clear the roads.
This seems to be a logical response. But many people have been put off this notion of helping themselves and their neighbour by fears over health and safety. The Transport Secretary, Phillip Hammond MP, told the BBC the government has a “common sense” code of practice which, if followed, should protect the public from legal action as a result of attempting to clear snow.
Hopefully this will be enough to instil some confidence into neighbourhoods to get out and do it themselves. Yet local and national government still need to be accountable for keeping us well in a cold snap. Especially if this weather stays with us through the coming weeks. We already face the stark reality that the UK has one of the highest winter mortality rates in Europe – higher than even Sweden or Finland.
These are avoidable deaths that could be prevented if we knew how to cope with the dropping temperatures. Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign urges national and local government to put in place an emergency winter plan to protect vulnerable people from cold weather. Next year we can’t be shocked when the snow comes early, whether it’s your neighbour or the local council, it should be clear what we can do to get through the winter.