Wednesday, December 30, 2009

American unemployment

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 31 million people currently unemployed -- that's including those involuntarily working parttime and those who want a job, but have given up on trying to find one. In the face of the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, millions of Americans are hurting. "The Decline: The Geography of a Recession," as created by labor writer LaToya Egwuekwe, serves as a vivid representation of just how much. Watch the deteriorating transformation of the U.S. economy from January 2007 -- approximately one year before the start of the recession -- to the most recent unemployment data available today. Original link: sion.html. For more information, email

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


"Certainly, I could see no reason for the huge price differential between a 6-litre V10 DB9, which today costs £116,908, and a DBS, which looked exactly the same and had exactly the same engine, and today costs £166,872. But then I drove it and everything became clear. The DBS was, in fact, a DB9 where every little detail was about 10% better. The brakes, the responses, the steering, everything. They were sharpened up. Shaved. Improved. This was a Taste the Difference Aston Martin." (Times, 26 December) RD

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Abramovich's house, on a landscaped hillside, includes this swimming pool with
rock waterfall.

"He thinks nothing of shelling out as much as £30 million for a single footballer. So for Roman Abramovich, the £54 million price of his new Caribbean holiday home will have been a drop in the ocean. The owner of Chelsea football club bought the 70 acre estate on the exclusive island of St Barts. The Gouverneur Bay Estate was once owned by David Rockefeller of the American banking dynasty and most recently by software tycoon Jeet Singh. ... Mr Abramovich, who is worth more than £5 billion, bought the lavish waterfront property in September in the most expensive deal ever for a Caribbean island." ( Daily Mail, 23 December ) RD

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Capitalism by its very nature must deceive and distort reality in order to hide its exploitative nature, thus it can use terms like "fair wages" when they really mean "fair robbery". It is however in the pursuit for markets and sources of raw materials during war that its chicanery reaches new heights. No country in the world has a "Ministry of Aggression" they are all called the Ministry of Defence. Likewise when non-combatants and civilians are killed in wars they are not murder victims. They are classed as "co-lateral damage". Here is another recent example of language distortion to hide the heinous nature of the profit system. "A second British soldier has died after being wounded in a suspected "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said. The soldier, from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, has not been named but his family has been told. He died on Tuesday, having been wounded in a fire fight near Sangin, central Helmand Province, on Monday. A soldier killed in a separate suspected friendly fire incident has been named as L/Cpl Michael Pritchard." (BBC News, 22 December) "Friendly fire"! That is hardly any consolation to the victim's family, but like "co-lateral damage" it is the language of the cheats and deceivers that defend the profit system.  RD

Monday, December 21, 2009


Among the residents at Bergen's County Housing, Health and Human
Services Centre is Kevin Howley, right, with Angela Altschuler, a

Financial "experts" keep claiming that capitalism has recovered from economic crisis and point to the increase in some stocks and increases in bankers bonuses as evidence of that recovery. They completely ignore the mounting unemployment and the repossession of workers houses. Here is a recent example of homelessness in the USA. "That insecurity is becoming more common in the suburbs these days. Officials say that homeless shelters are suddenly filled to capacity, with some suburban communities resorting to housing families in motels, for the first time in years. On Long Island, Nassau County officials have seen the number of people seeking shelter rise by 40 percent compared with this time last year, while in Suffolk, the number of families seeking shelter for the first time rose by 20 percent. In Connecticut, in an annual one-day survey taken in January, the number of people in emergency shelters was 33 percent higher than the year before." (New York Times, 11 December) RD


"Fancy a tipple to celebrate that bonus? At the World Bar, an exclusive Manhattan Lounge overlooking the headquarters of the United Nations, staff are ready to serve up a $50 cocktail blending Remy XO cognac, Pineau des Charentes and Veuve Clicquot champagne topped with a layer of 23-carat liquid gold. The World Cocktail is a popular purchase during good years for Wall Street bankers ..."

( Observer 13 December ) RD

Friday, December 18, 2009


Safety in Old Masters:
Raphael fetches £29 million

Away back in the 19th century Oscar Wilde remarked of someone " A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." One wonders what he would make of an art auction that took place in December 2009. "The Old Masters auction at Christie's took a total of £68.4 million, including £20 million paid for a Rembrandt portrait painted in 1658, soon after the artist was declared bankrupt. (First Post, 9 December)

During his 63 years Rembrandt produced 600 paintings, 300 etchings and nearly 2000 drawings. He lead a hand to mouth existance but now some parasite buys his paintings for £20 million. That's how capitalism works. RD


The charity World Vision is running an appeal for funds that it calls Child Health Now. It recently took a full page advertisement in The Times (16 November) that illustrated the plight of the world's poorest children. It reported that twins in Zambia had severe diarrhea but that the clinic they attended had only enough drugs to treat one of them. The untreated one consequently died and joined the estimated two million children that die every year of this untreated condition. The advertisement then went on to point out "A simple mixture of salt, sugar and water that costs just a few pence can save a child's life, without requiring hospital treatment." The death of a child for the lack of something costing a few pence is shocking enough but the charity then claimed "Today, World Vision launches its Child Health Now campaign, calling for an end to preventable child deaths. ...If the UK government, and the international community, channeled more aid into simple community provisions, like vitamins and rehydration salts for children cut off from health systems, the lives of six million children a year could be saved." What the well intentioned World Vision do not understand is that we live inside a capitalist society where the priority is making profit not saving children. As we reported in the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard "Military spending worldwide rose by 4 per cent to $1.46 trillion." Immense expenditure to protect markets, sources of raw materials and profits, yet millions of kids die for the lack of a few pence. RD

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Socialists have no time for so-called "think tanks", usually they are just a crowd of plonkers that tell us we are lucky to be exploited by such nice people as the owning class but here is one that stumbled on something worthwhile. "Hospital cleaners are worth more to society than bankers, a study suggests. The research, carried out by think tank the New Economics Foundation, says hospital cleaners create £10 of value for every £1 they are paid. It claims bankers are a drain on the country because of the damage they caused to the global economy. They reportedly destroy £7 of value for every £1 they earn. Meanwhile, senior advertising executives are said to "create stress". The study says they are responsible for campaigns which create dissatisfaction and misery, and encourage over-consumption." (BBC News, 14 December) Of course think tanks, because they are servants of capitalism see everything in terms of pound notes, but even they must see that all useful work and a lot of useless work is carried out by the working class. The owning class produce no wealth whatsoever. All they do is consume wealth and of course fund "think tanks" that very occasionally say something worthwhile. We imagine a few workers employed by the New Economic Foundation may be looking for a new job after their employers read this report. RD

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Capitalism is an explosively competitive society. We have had two world wars. One was supposed to be "the war to end all wars" the other was supposed to be a "war for democracy". That was all nonsense of course. War inside capitalism is the logical outcome of competition for sources of raw materials, trade routes. Markets and spheres of political dominance. Where is the next powder keg of competition? No one knows, but here is a possibility. "At the crossroads between east and west in the desert nation of Turkmenistan, a quiet battle is under way for natural gas, oil and influence, and the U.S. and Europe are losing out to China and the Muslim world. There's a lot at stake: the Central Asian country has the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil reserves, putting it in the same energy league as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq. Plus, its position just north of Afghanistan could be hugely beneficial to NATO as it seeks more reliable supply routes to its troops on the ground there." (TIME, 29 November) Socialists are as clueless as everyone else about where the next conflict will arise. What we are certain about is that thousands of men and women will die in conflicts in the future over their master's quarrels. We are also certain that only world socialism can stop such a tragedy. RD

Onward Christian Bankers

Onward Christian Bankers



Banking, insurance companies and the myriad financial off-shoots that make up the City of London are central to the running of modern capitalism. They produce nothing of course but then neither do the industrial capitalist class. It is probably a bit unfair to say the City produces nothing. It certainly produces nothing useful, but it certainly produces hypocrisy in large doses. "As bankers last month began gearing up for a bumper bonus season, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican church, bemoaned their lack of repentance. “We haven’t heard people saying, ‘Well, actually, no, we got it wrong and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, empty’,” Mr Williams told bankers in September. Such rhetoric echoes that of Lord Turner over the summer, when the chairman of the Financial Services Authority spoke in moralistic terms about the need for banking to become ‘socially useful’ again. Hector Sants, his chief executive, has even explained his move to a regulatory job in terms of a sense of Christian ‘duty’ to give something back to society after a 30-year career in money-making." (Financial Times, 7 October) We expect Archbishops to utter hypocritical nonsense, after all it is their stock in trade, but when financiers rant on about "Christian duty" and banking becoming "socially useful" it is a bit hard to bear. Speed the day when banks and other financial institutes are part of the unlamented history of capitalism along with all its apologists, both religious and secular.

This item is from, November's Voice From The Back regular column in Socialist Standard, published since 1904 by The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


"Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street." (Huffington Post, 13 December) RD

Monday, December 14, 2009


India's Prime Minister inspects the guard of honor

From time to time politicians tell us how they are concerned about the poor and the underprivileged but of course that is a load of bollocks. All they are concerned with is lining their own pockets and boosting the profits of the owning class they represent. The Indian and Russian working class live in conditions that even the British working class would deem as intolerable but here is an example of how their politicians function. "Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Moscow on Sunday to ink billions of dollars of weapons deals and for talks on a landmark nuclear deal that could significantly widen atomic fuel imports from Russia. India, along with China, is one of Russia's biggest clients for arms sales but New Delhi has been upset in recent years by long delays in the delivery of a refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier under a $1.6 billion contract. The signing of arms deals and talks on a civilian nuclear deal to widen uranium fuel deliveries are set to take centre stage in the three-day visit, officials said." (Yahoo News, 6 December) In the streets of New Delhi and Moscow you can be accosted by out of work workers begging, but meanwhile politicians in first class hotels are dealing in billions of dollars. That is capitalism for you. RD

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food for Thought

 A recent article on Darwin (Toronto Star) compares Origin of a Species to the book of Genesis. The author concludes that the latter is far better written but finishes with,

" And so we are forced to the conclusion that, in almost every respect, Genesis is a better book than Origin of a Species, in the purity and the intensity of its style, in its recognition of human realities. It's just that Genesis is a pack of lies that has served the cause of bafflement for millennia, while The Origin of a Species is true and has done more to liberate us from ignorance than any other book."


At 90 years old, Save the Children is the longest running children's charity in the world. It is now launching a new online campaign for funds. A spokesperson said,

"If we concentrate all of our money and resources, we can save one million lives per year, but we know that with a little more support, we could save another six million lives per year."

Of course, no analysis of the system that brings this about, or the trillions of dollars spent to save the financial sector over those lives. It's not difficult to predict the charity will be making the same comments for many years to come. John Ayers

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Food for Thought

On the environmental front, optimism seems to be fading fast on getting any meaningful controls on greenhouse gases as world leaders cop out one by one. With headlines like, "Europe, UN scale back Climate Pact Ambitions", "American Foot Dragging Leads Negotiators to Seek Political Deal Rather than a Legal Treaty" and "(PM) Harper Signals Trouble Ahead at Climate Change Conference" it appears to be same old, same old. The world is divided into many competing interests in capitalism, and no agreement is going to sit well with every capitalist group's interests for long, as we repeatedly say.

During Hilary Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan, she was confronted by locals complaining about the indiscriminate bombing and many civilian deaths from the American drones. She graciously replied, "There is a war going on." This eerily echoes former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright's infamous comment more than a decade earlier when confronted about the 1.5 million Iraqis who had died as a result of the US lead blockade on that country, "It's not a number we keep count of." They must come out of the same mould. John Ayers


"Shell wins Iraq oil field rights. A joint venture between the UK's Shell and Malaysia's Petronas oil companies has won the right to develop Iraq's giant Majnoon oil field. A total of 44 companies took part in a bid for 10 fields in the second such auction since the invasion in 2003. Shell and Petronas beat a rival bid from France's Total and China's CNPC. Although Majnoon is a huge oil field, with reserves of 13 billion barrels of oil, it currently produces just 46,000 barrels per day. ...Shell and Petronas have pledged to increase that output to 1.8 million barrels per day."

(BBC News, 11 December) RD

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Al-Qaida Kills Eight Times More Muslims Than Non-Muslims
"Few would deny that Muslims too are victims of Islamist terror. But a new study by the Combating Terrorism Centre in the US has shown that an overwhelming majority of al-Qaida victims are, in fact, co-religionists. In the battle against unbelievers, can one also kill Muslims? Even the terror network al-Qaida is troubled by this question. A leading al-Qaida idealogue for the terror network, Abu Yahya al-Libi, has developed his own theologically-based theory of collateral damage that allows militants to kill Muslims when it is unavoidable. Even the Iraqi affiliates of Osama bin Laden's terror group, who are known to be particularly bloodthirsty, claim that they too consider this question. For instance in a message claiming responsibility for an August attack in Baghdad, the group wished those Sunnis injured in the "operation" a speedy recovery and expressed their hope that those killed would be accepted by God as "martyrs."
(Spiegel on line, 3 December) RD

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


The case for a transformation of society from one of class division to one of social ownership was made very powerfully by two recent press reports. Here is how the present class division favours a tiny minority. Take the example of John Paulson, a hedge-fund manager in New York. "His firm made $20 billion between 2007 and early 2009 by betting against the housing market and big financial companies. Mr. Paulson's personal cut would amount to nearly $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day." (Wall Street Journal, 15 November)

At the other end of the class division we read of this. "According to the FAO, the number of malnourished people in the world rose to over 1 billion this year, up from 915m in 2008. Economists at the World Bank reckon that the number living on less than $1.25 a day will rise by 89m between 2008 and 2010 and those on under $2 a day will rise by 120m". (Economist, 19 November) Some people trying to survive on a couple of dollars a day while some useless parasite rips off millions, don't you think we need a new society? RD

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


A miner smokes a cigarette during a break

"China has some of the worst coal mines in the modern world, and it's coal industry is the deadliest on earth. In the first half of this year, 1,175 miners were killed in accidents, because of the furious rush to hack out the black stuff and ship it to the surface fast enough to keep the nations turbo-charged factories pumping out the product. The disasters are so frequent they barely register in the Western news any more. If any other developed nation lost 100 workers in a single industrial accident, it would be front page news. But when 104 miners were killed at Xinxing pit under a state owned mine in Heilongjiang province last week, the facts barely registered."
( Independant, 3 December ) RD

Food for thought

"Every six seconds a child on this planet dies of hunger. We've had industrial revolutions in the West and more recently in China and South Asia; budding revolutions in super jumbo aircraft and plug-in electric cars; and Seinfeld episodes that can be downloaded onto cell phones worldwide." So begins an article in the Toronto Star (15 Nov 09) by David Olive.
In it he cites Jacques Diouf, of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, who thinks we can feed everyone but we are missing the political will. Olive applauds Melinda and Bill Gates foundation that last month gave $120 million to small-scale farmers in the developing world and writes that it is an example to be followed. How can otherwise intelligent and apparently sane people totally miss the point in all this that is capitalism 101 to all socialists?
 In good times the worker has to demand higher wages and benefits because in slump times, he will surely be under pressure to relinquish those gains. This of course is well documented in the auto industry where unions were forced to accept massive cuts in wages and benefits won over the last decades. Now it is the turn of public sector employees. In a Toronto Star article (7 Nov 09) by Thomas Walkom, "Next Under Attack: Public Sector Unions", he writes, "Governments used the recession of the 80s to curb wages. They used the recession of the 90s to gut social programs. The theme of this recession promises to be a concerted assault against unions. Note it is governments that lead the charge on behalf of the capitalist class." Several provincial governments have announced plans to cut back on the number of employees, or their benefits so they are no longer, "…sheltered from recessions."
That this is generally done with the support of the working class in general who are prodded to envy anyone with more benefits than they have, is an indication of the low level of class- consciousness of the workers and the amount of work we socialists have to do. John Ayers

Monday, December 07, 2009

How capitalism works

This week the House of Commons will debate a private member's bill designed to control Canada's mining industry and, particularly, its activities overseas. 43% of all world mining activity is attributed to Canada and 60% of the world's mining companies are registered here. Their assets are valued at $79 billion. Not surprisingly, the bill is opposed by the industry, the Conservatives, and the 193 mining lobbyists in Ottawa. Specifically, the industry stands accused of rights abuses (such as taking land, destroying cultures, threatening and attacking protesters) in 30 countries. The Toronto Star reported (22 Nov 09) that the companies reply was that they are doing nothing wrong – mining copper, gold, and other metals, brings only prosperity to these poor regions. (They only mine out of the goodness of their hearts, of course). Notice how the government supports them.
Similarly, Big Coal in Appalachia tramples the rights of those who live in the region with impunity and with government support, helped by the annual expenditure of $47 million and 2 800 lobbyists in Washington. The companies blow the tops off the mountains in order to open pit mine, much more efficient than tunneling. Where there used to be 150 000 men working underground, there are now just 17 000. Massive slurry impoundment dams have to be built to contain the toxic wastes produced and further explosions are a danger. The worst spill was in Martin County, Kentucky, which loosed $300 million gallons of toxic waste, more than twenty-five times worse than the Exxon Valdez. All legal and approved, more efficient for producing profit. John Ayers

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Despite the Government's efforts, around 20 per cent of the population is still
stuck in poverty
"Labour's strategy for tackling poverty has reached the end of the road and Britain risks a return to Victorian levels of inequality, according to a major two-year study seen by The Independent. With 20 per cent of the population still stuck in poverty, the report calls for sweeping reform of the tax and welfare systems under which higher earners would finance more generous. universal benefits. The £43,888-a-year ceiling on national insurance contributions (NICs) would be abolished, so people earning more would pay NICs at 11 per cent on all their income above that level, instead of the current 1 per cent. The study, by the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society and Webb Memorial Trust, argues that Gordon Brown's "quiet redistribution" of wealth now lacks public support - and declares that one of the reasons is Labour's tough language about benefit fraud and claimants." ( Independant, 30 November ) Rd


"With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs. Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, long-time recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare." (New York Times, 29 November) RD

Saturday, December 05, 2009


"Wanted: Clean-living young people for a long career (women need not apply). Responsibilities: Varied. Spiritual guidance, visiting the sick, public relations, marriages (own marriage not permitted). Hours: On call at all times. Salary: None, bar basic monthly stipend. He hasn't placed classified ads in the Irish press just yet, but according to Father Patrick Rushe, coordinator of vocations with the Catholic Church in Ireland, "We've done just about everything" else to attract young men to the priesthood. And yet the call of service in one of Europe's most religious countries is falling on more deaf ears than ever. Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, made a grim prediction about the future of the church in Ireland: If more young priests aren't found quickly, the country's parishes may soon not have enough clergy to survive." (TIME, 29 November)  RD


"Poverty has been rising in the UK since 2004 and is now at the same level as the start of the decade, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says. The group said that issues of unemployment and the repossession of homes had become more acute before the recession started. ... The report, produced by the New Policy Institute, found that two million children lived in low-income, working households. This was the highest figure since the Foundation started collecting records. " (BBC News, 3 December RD  

Friday, December 04, 2009


"Can a bullet, a bomb or a hand grenade ever be 'friendly'? Environmentalists seem to think so. Having 'greened' their homes, their eating habits and their fashion choices, eco-campaigners now want to 'green' warfare too. They want to make the military obliteration of human life, the destruction of families, homes and towns through fire and fury, a more eco-friendly pursuit ­ one which will still kill and maim people, of course, but which won't cause too much damage to the surrounding soil or trees. Last week, the 10:10 campaign group welcomed MBDA Missile Systems into its fold. Founded by eco-filmmaker Franny Armstrong and backed by the Guardian, 10:10 is about encouraging individuals and organisations to reduce their carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. ...The 10:10 organisers say they had a long and tortured debate about whether to accept MBDA. In the end they decided that they should, because the important thing is that MBDA "reduce their emissions by 10 per cent... What they do with the rest of their time is a different matter, on which we couldn't possibly comment." In other words? All we're interested in is reducing emissions. You can make deadly weaponry; you can ship it around the world; you can sell it in war zones where it will be used to blow up things and people ­ just make sure you do it in an eco-responsible fashion. Destroy human life, by all means, but please do it sustainably." (First Post, 30 November) RD


"And while it's been 20 years since Central America's last major civil-war battle, the isthmus is actually more dangerous today. Thanks in large part to exploding gang violence and useless justice systems, Central America has seen 79,000 murders in the past six years, more than the 75,000 people killed in El Salvador's 1980-1992 civil war or the 50,000 killed in Nicaragua's 1980-1990 contra war." (TIME, 30 November) RD

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Food for Thought 2

America On Line (AOL) is planning to lay off 2 500 workers, more than a third of its work force as unemployment refuses to go down. Some are alright though. The Thomson family, who control Thomson Reuter News among many other things, has amasses $22 billion, up 19% on last year, read the Canadian wealth list. John Ayers


Business as usual will not do it.

"In 1974 Henry Kissinger, then America's secretary of state, told the first world food conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later, in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry."
( Economist, 19 November ) RD


If words were food, no one would go hungry

"According to the FAO, the number of malnourished people in the world rose to over 1 billion this year, up from 915m in 2008. Economists at the World Bank reckon that the number living on less than $1.25 a day will rise by 89 m between 2008 and 2010 and those on under $2 a day will increase by 120m. A quarter of a century after a famine in Ethiopia which dramatised failings in the food system, famine again stalking the Horn of Africa." (Economist, 19 November) RD

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Food for Thought

 On the economic front, the recession keeps hanging on. Bankruptcies soared September over August. The export oriented manufacturing sector failures were up 71%, retail business insolvencies up 69%, the high tech sector failures up 119% and personal bankruptcies spiked at 15 465, up 45% over last year. It also seems the Dubai building bubble has burst as they have requested suspensions on loan payments in the $70 billion range that will send shivers around the financial market. How stupid is this system that will result in many thousands losing their livelihood and being idled when there is so much to be done, but then, no one ever accused capitalism of having common sense! John Ayers


"Liverpool. A designer has produced the world's most expensive mobile telephone, featuring almost 200 diamonds and costing £1.92 million. The casing of the iPhone 3GS Supreme is made from 22-carat gold. The front bezel has 136 diamonds, while the Apple logo is made from 53 of the same jewels and the front button has a diamond of more than seven carats. Stuart Hughes, from Liverpool, took ten months to make the phone, which comes in a chest made of granite and Kashmir gold and lined with nubuck leather. It was commissioned by an anonymous Australian businessman." (Times, 30 November) RD

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


"The number of deaths during the coldest three months of the year was up almost 50 per cent on the previous year to 36,700, sending extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves, new figures showed yesterday. The rise in "excess winter mortality" for England and Wales for the three months to February was the biggest for years and the highest total in a decade, sparking fresh calls for ministers to combat high energy prices. ... As fuel bills have soared over the past six years, the number of households in "fuel poverty" – defined as having to spend 10 per cent or more of their income on power and heat – has risen five-fold to 6.6 million this year. Britain has a worse record on winter deaths than colder European states such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Age Concern, the charity for the elderly, warned that unless heating was made more affordable, further large-scale deaths would occur this winter. ... Last winter more than 90 per cent of deaths were pensioners, who are among the least able to afford heat but the most vulnerable to cold-related disease, such as seasonal flu, hypothermia, bronchitis and emphysema." (Independent, 25 November) RD