Cost of living crisis: This winter, the gap between rich and poor feels like the worst it's been since I was a child – Christine Grahame

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This is a difficult column to write, and not just because I have one of those beezer colds with sore throat, dramatic cough, headache and stuffed nose – it’s just one of those things going round.

I have taken my late father’s cure, stay in bed, cozy in the covers, hot drinks and a toddy or two.

No, it’s difficult because I can afford to heat my house, buy my own food and cat food, including cat litter which for some reason has almost doubled in price. Even recently when Mr Smokey, my long-resident rescue cat, was very ill I could afford for him to be put on a drip for two days. Those of you with pets will know the cost of that.

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But many others don’t have that luxury. Just streets away, there are people who cannot afford to switch on the heating even as temperatures plummet. The costs of the simple basics of life – bread, milk, butter – have risen terrifyingly in price.

Yet folk are generous and in my local supermarket the evidence of this is in the food donation trolley. The same is true of feeding pets. I know animal welfare centres, the SSPCA and Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, despite the pressures on their own budgets, are providing food to households so their pets can be fed. Some folk I know would deny themselves food for sake of a much-loved companion.

So this Christmas, more than any I can remember since my childhood, when we were pretty hard up, there is that divide between the haves and have-nots. It is no good me reflecting on the simple Christmas of my childhood at Sighthill in a prefab which leaked the little heat we had like the proverbial sieve or the small presents we received from Santa because we knew nothing else. We were all in the same boat and I had no idea how the “other half” were living.

We had no car and travels on the bus were few and far between. The bungalows of Queensferry Road could have been the other side of the world, not just the other side of Edinburgh. Did they have more than one coal fire?

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I never knew, I do know my mother had to eke out the coal with briquettes and banked up the fire with dross to make the coal last till the following week. An empty bunker was not uncommon on a Wednesday night. It was another world and my younger colleagues had never heard of tartan legs.

High energy costs have prompted some people to seek warmth in 'heat banks' (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)High energy costs have prompted some people to seek warmth in 'heat banks' (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
High energy costs have prompted some people to seek warmth in 'heat banks' (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Today however, the telly and social media thankfully exposes the riches of some and the poverty of others. It exposes how some can throw money at expensive trivia while others count the pennies. That’s what makes this Christmas so different and indeed the winter so difficult.

It is up to each of us, who can, to help in whatever way we can, whether donating to food banks or animal welfare centres, just keeping an eye out for a neighbour who may need support, or at least simply knocking at the door to check they are all right. I’m trying not to be downbeat. Maybe it’s this awful cold but somehow, it’s much more than that.

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

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