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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nimo Omer

Friday briefing: What happens when an ‘Arctic blast’ hits amid an energy price crisis

A person walks along a snow covered pavement in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh.
A person walks along a snow covered pavement in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Good morning. In years past, reports of cold weather might have brought up hope of a white Christmas. This winter, however, the prospect of snow on Christmas Day isn’t a cause for celebration for millions of people in the UK, who may be in a position where they have to pick between eating and staying warm. It’s -6C and -7C in parts of the country as this email is sent, while temperatures are expected to drop to -10C in northern Scotland. This Arctic breeze has triggered a level three “severe” cold weather alert for England, which is expected to continue until 12 December. However, if these low temperatures persist then it is likely that it will stay.

In response, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has activated emergency measures to protect vulnerable people, such as those sleeping rough. The UK Health Security Agency is encouraging people to warm their homes to at least 18C – a recommendation many will want to follow, but struggle to afford. Today’s newsletter takes a look at the effects on people’s health and finances as the temperature continues to drop. Here are the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Iran | Security forces in Iran have been shooting female protesters in the face and genitals at anti-regime protests, according to interviews with medics. The Guardian has spoken to 10 medical professionals who warned the injuries could leave hundreds of young Iranians with permanent damage.

  2. Financial regulation | Jeremy Hunt is due to unveil a 30-point package of City policy changes on Friday rowing back on regulations in order to boost competition and growth. The changes are Hunt’s attempt to rebrand what predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng called a post-Brexit “Big Bang 2.0” for the City.

  3. Harry Dunn | The mother of British teenager Harry Dunn has said her promise to win him justice has been fulfilled after his killer was sentenced, but said it was “despicable” that she had failed to appear in court. Anne Sacoolas, a US citizen, received an eight-month suspended sentence and was disqualified from driving for 12 months.

  4. Health | Data from the UK Health Agency has revealed that 15 children under the age of 15 have died in the UK from strep A since September. The vast majority of infections are relatively mild, but sometimes the bacteria cause a life-threatening illness.

  5. Russia | US basketball star Brittney Griner has been freed from Russia after 10 months in jail on drugs charges. Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for the arms dealer Viktor Bout.

In depth: ‘Warm banks’ and fuel debt – how the vulnerable will try to get by

A person sits in the warmth of a library in London, Britain, 08 December 2022.
A person sits in the warmth of a library in London, Britain, 8 December 2022. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Amid the energy crisis, many people have understandably been putting off heating their homes – and with mild temperatures in parts of the UK over the last few months, it was an option for many households. However, as temperatures sharply plummet this week, we are facing the bleak winter that was predicted earlier this year – and many people are gearing up to make some tough choices.


Why is it so cold?

On Wednesday overnight temperatures dropped dramatically, as Arctic winds – forced south between high and low pressure systems in Russia and Greenland – created an “Arctic blast” over the UK and northern Europe. The temperature drop feels even more dramatic because we have had an unseasonably warm autumn and, in recent years, December has not been a particularly cold month for many parts of England.


The effects of the energy crisis

A few months ago, there were dire warnings of power cuts in the UK. Thankfully, that is now looking unlikely because European countries have refilled their gas storages far quicker than expected. While this is welcome news, the question of whether people will even be able to use this energy remains. New research shows that more than three million low-income households cannot afford to heat their homes, and the charity National Energy Action estimates that there are already 6.7 million households living in fuel poverty. Even with the energy price guarantee, bills are almost double what they were last winter and 2.4 million people have used credit cards or borrowed money to pay them this year. For many, the choice is between putting themselves in an even more financially precarious situation or risking the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families.

People have been doing everything they can to cut costs; earlier this year, for example, Alex Lawson reported in the Guardian that some parents were eating cold meals to save on power. More than 3,000 warm banks are listed by the Warm Welcome Campaign, with libraries and other public spaces being offered up to be used in this capacity – an example of communities coming together to protect the most vulnerable, but also a damning indictment of the decaying social safety net. “It doesn’t just help financially, it’s emotionally too, it’s a feeling,” Linda Jay Jordan, 33, told Jessica Murray in Birmingham yesterday. “While you’re here you’re not thinking about the bills. It’s warm and welcoming. The atmosphere is lovely.”

To offset some of the financial burden, the government has confirmed that people in more than 300 postcode areas across England and Wales will receive cold weather payments, which come into effect when an area has experienced an average temperature of freezing or below for a seven-day period. However, at £25 a week this may not go far for many.


What are the health impacts?

While many will feel the health effects of low temperatures, homeless people and rough sleepers are perhaps the most vulnerable group. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said that emergency accommodation will be open to rough sleepers until Monday, with City Hall adding that every borough in the capital will ensure that no one will be asked to leave until more permanent provisions are put in place for them.

More broadly, those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes often experience worsening symptoms during periods of cold weather. For older people the problems are further exacerbated the longer the exposure to the cold lasts, worsening arthritis, and increasing the likelihood of accidents at home, as well as strokes and heart attacks.

Authorities are urging people to check in on vulnerable members of the community and to offer extra help. While this is vital in ensuring that people are safe, individual efforts like this are merely a plaster on a deeper wound.

What else we’ve been reading

World Cup

Nasser Al Khater, CEO of the Qatar World Cup 2022, in October.
Nasser Al Khater, CEO of the Qatar World Cup 2022, in October. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The appalling human cost of the Qatar World Cup was brought back into focus yesterday when the chief executive of the tournament appeared to dismiss the importance of the death of a migrant worker, a Filipino national working at the Saudi Arabia national team’s training site who died after he “slipped off a ramp while walking alongside a vehicle and fell headfirst against concrete”.

When asked about the subject, Nasser al-Khater questioned why journalists were bringing up the matter. “Death is a natural part of life – whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep,” he said.

There are two quarter-finals today: Croatia v Brazil at 3pm UK time, then Netherlands v Argentina at 7pm UK time. Ciaran McLoughlin examines the Argentina side, writing that while Lionel Messi has unsurprisingly taken the headlines, much credit for the team’s success belongs to Julián Álvarez. Meanwihle, Nick Ames reports on Brazil and Croatia’s preparations, with Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic saying: “The match ahead of us will be the most demanding game; I can compare it to France in the final [in 2018].”

Meanwhile, as build-up continues to England v France on Saturday, Jacob Steinberg reports on Jordan Pickford’s importance to his side, and how the goalkeeper manages to find a higher level during tournament football. And Ben Fisher reports on France defender Dayot Upamecano’s warning for Kyle Walker: “You have to go to bed early to be able to defend well” against Kylian Mbappé, he says.

For all the latest on Qatar, from the scandal to the scores, sign up to Football Daily – our free, sometimes funny, newsletter

The front pages

Guardian front page, 9 December 2022

“Iran forces ‘shooting at faces and genitals of female protesters’” is our Guardian Friday print edition’s splash headline, while the picture is of Harry and Meghan as their documentary series is released – we have a separate round-up of how the papers cover all that today. The Daily Mail says critics accuse the pair of wanting to “bring down the monarchy” in an “assault on the Queen’s legacy”. The Telegraph says it was a “direct hit on late Queen’s legacy” while the Times quotes a source describing the series as a “soap opera”. “Stop this royal circus” demands the Daily Mirror’s headline while the Metro focuses on Harry’s suggestion that “Royal’s don’t marry for love”, an apparent swipe at Prince William and King Charles. The Daily Express says “So hurtful! Royals ‘deeply upset’ by Harry’s slurs”. The Sun has “Harry the Nasty”, an apparent reference to a 2005 front page in which it called him “Harry the Nazi” over a costume furore. The Financial Times offers a reprieve: “Hunt loosens financial services rules to free City potential as growth driver”.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

Gary Oldman in
Gary Oldman in "Slow Horses," premiering December 2, 2022 on Apple TV+. Photograph: Jack English/Apple TV+

Slow Horses season 2 (AppleTV+)
A caper [with Gary Oldman, above that takes in high-class hotels and multimillion-pound houses in London, as well as council flats, towpaths and backstreet import/export businesses, all filmed with a gorgeous crispness that feels as luxurious as the casting … The show does stretch plausibility by placing proper espionage thrills – a bicycle v taxi surveillance race, or a night-time heist on a high-security data repository – alongside the pratfalling comedy caused by the Slough House team’s acid bickering and occasional ineptitude, which the script turns on and off at will. Yet it’s always entertaining: odd as they may be, these Slow Horses are a cut above regular spies. Jack Seale

Hilma af Klint: A Biography by Julia Voss
Growing up in austere Lutheran Sweden in the late 1800s, Hilma af Klint studied art at university: a rare feat for a woman. In the face of a society riddled with misogyny, a quiet, conventional career in portraiture seemed the best she could hope for. But then, Af Klint started to receive messages from another world … Madoc Cairns

Emancipation (Apple TV+)
Whatever his current travails, Will Smith brings a movie-star presence to this brutally violent civil war drama, with a physical stillness and defiantly steady gaze. Inspired by the true story of “Whipped Peter”, the escaped slave whose shockingly disfigured back became an iconic abolitionist image, it is a strong, fierce, heartfelt movie. Peter Bradshaw

Mandela: The Lost Tapes (Audible)
In 1993, Richard Stengel recorded more than 60 hours of face-to-face interviews with Nelson Mandela. For the first time, this series sees him broadcast them. From Mandela confessing his willingness to embrace violence to Stengel realising that his time in prison meant he had never heard a Beatles song, it is a vivid portrait. Hollie Richardson

Today in Focus

Artist Oleksiy Sai shows off his recent work in his new studio in Kyiv

The artists defying Putin’s war on Ukrainian culture

From poetry to pop music, Ukrainians are using art to take a stand against Russia – and Putin’s assault on their identity. From dancers to documentary makers, they explain how work they have created in the conflict zone is a weapon of resistance

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

Ben Jennings on the Meghan and Harry documentary

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement supporting Indigenous-led conservation during COP15 U.N. Biodiversity summit in Montreal.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement supporting Indigenous-led conservation during COP15 U.N. Biodiversity summit in Montreal. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

With Cop15 under way in Montreal, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has put his money where his mouth is, pledging C$800m (£510m) over seven years to indigenous-led projects across the country, spanning land the size of Egypt.

“Indigenous communities leading on this is a really good thing,” said Trudeau. “What we’re able to do here is not just show a story of conservation, but a story of reconciliation, about recognising that it’s these partnerships that are going to be essential going forward.”

Cop15, which is dedicated to protecting the world’s biodiversity, is pushing plans to conserve 30% of the planet – with Trudeau pressing large countries like China, Russia, Brazil and the US, to expand conservation areas vital for a successful agreement. He has urged them to get behind a “Canada level of ambition” for the final text.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until Monday.

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