Letters: Baby P and social services

We need social workers who can see through the lies
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The Independent Online

I am now in my 53rd year and I still feel let down by the social services department for the way they didn't protect me as a child. This was in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, nearly 50 years later, I read your reports about Baby P and find that nothing has changed, and vulnerable children are still being let down by a "caring profession". I'm not writing this for people to feel sorry for me; after all I am alive. Baby P is not.

My mother seriously abused me as a child, all under the watchful eye of the social services. I can remember sitting with my social worker, covered in bruises, and trying to tell him how I felt, and him replying, with hands clasped together and a nod of the head, that he understood. By the time I was 15 I had enough guts to tell him that he understood sweet FA and if he could take off his rose-coloured specs and see things for what they really were and not what he had read in a textbook, then maybe he would be able to do the job he was paid to do.

Why are they still employing this type of person to deal with the most vulnerable in our society? These people have been brought up in cotton-wool homes, living cotton-wool lives, going to cotton-wool schools, then to cotton-wool universities. They then get a job in social services and have to go out into the real world, dealing with people who are surviving in the real world by whatever means possible. It's no wonder they burn out and can't do the job properly.

Let's start training people from the real world who know how to spot a liar, will not be told by parents when they can and cannot visit, who won't be fobbed off with one lame excuse after another.

It's about time for this whole country to stand up and demand that our children are given the protection some of them so obviously need. Otherwise nothing will change in the next 50 years.

name and address supplied

A bad law to curb prostitution

Whenever the state tries to introduce a law which requires citizens to do the impossible, one suspects that something is going on. When the Home Secretary wants a law that will require customers of prostitutes to develop psychic abilities, one suspects that she wants to make all prostitution illegal but knows she would never get away with it.

A punter could, I suppose, say to any woman who seemed not to be natively British, "I'm sorry, my dear, but before we get down to it could I have a look at your passport and/or work permit?" And if she could not provide such a document, one could make one's excuses and leave.

But I am unable to imagine what steps he could take to ensure that the woman was not being coerced into the act. Her bare word is not likely to be good enough. Perhaps he could employ private detectives to observe her for a couple of weeks before approaching her?

If it were me I'd make prostitution even more legal than it is at the moment with a view to regulating it. I'd require anyone offering sex for sale to carry a licence issued monthly or quarterly after a check-up for sexually transmitted diseases. That way trafficked women would never obtain proper documentation and you would have a basis for requiring punters to make checks.

But this will not happen. The Home Secretary seems to believe that she knows who the Bad Guys are.

Michael Cule

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Trafficking and enforced labour is abhorrent , but existing laws are already sufficient to deal with that, if used effectively. Punishing clients for incorrectly distinguishing exploited sex workers from independent consensual ones is like equating a need for cheap clothing with personally mistreating sweatshop workers. It does not help the workers themselves.

As Deborah Orr points out (19 November), only people with an empathy failure would be comfortable with clearly exploited providers of sex. Jacqui Smith's plan to hold clients responsible for exploitation of sex workers is not only unworkable, it blocks the ability of concerned clients to report any enforced prostitution they might suspect.

Much better to educate and encourage clients to anonymously report exploitation, and keep vulnerable women visible and within reach of genuine help.

Michaela Warner

London E2

(Michaela Warner is the writer's professional name)

Is it not intrinsically wrong to introduce a law under which people cannot know if they are committing an offence or not?

This is quite different from the principle that ignorance of the law is no defence. It is saying that, while paying a prostitute can still be legal, since you are ignorant of the facts of the situation we hope you'll be frightened off engaging even in legal acts. It appears to be cynical social manipulation, and bad law.

If the Government wishes to ban all prostitution they should introduce a bill to do so. If they wish some prostitution to remain legal, they should introduce a system of regulation that allows and controls it.

Martin Smith


Back the troops by opposing the war

I agree with M J Hurley (letters, 13 November) that we all have a duty in a democracy not to forget our troops risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One method of giving support which might seem unlikely, but which I and my colleagues have been assured by many soldiers' families, as well as members of the forces themselves, is of value, is helping to run a stall to protest against the war.

It is a very pleasant surprise to me that on more than one Saturday recently a clear majority of those signing our petitions, which include those aimed at ending Guantanamo Bay, as well as bringing our troops home and prosecuting the former prime minister (equal front-runners), are either serving members of the forces or their close families. Our discussions with servicemen and women have always been friendly and informative, whether we have agreed or not.

M J Hurley would have us support our troops by ensuring that the Government equip them properly. As long as they are out there this goes without saying, but does it really do them any more service to pretend that their mission in Iraq or Afghanistan has adequate justification than it does to pretend that their Snatch Land Rovers have adequate armour? Let's give our much-maligned squaddies the credit for maybe having noticed both of these deficiencies for themselves, and support them by preventing those in power, whether elected or not, from sending them overseas so doubly ill-equipped ever again.

Mark Kesteven


On this seventh anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, perhaps we should be asking what it's purpose now is.

Seven years ago Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan and the justification given for the war was the need to capture him and other al-Qa'ida fighters following the attack on the Twin Towers. This is no longer the case. If Osama bin Laden is alive, it is said he is probably in Pakistan, so carrying out bombing raids in the mountains of Afghanistan seems a bit pointless.

Another justification was the position of women under the Taliban. While there were some improvements following the defeat of the Taliban, the situation has now drastically changed. A 2008 UN study estimates that gender inequalities in Afghanistan are worse than all other countries in the world, except Niger. Rates of maternal death have risen while literacy among women has dropped to 3 per cent. There are also widespread reports of a rise in honour killings and women's suicides.

As the war can no longer be justified on these grounds, the best way to mark the seventh anniversary would be for our government to recognise this fact, pull out the troops and encourage its Nato allies to do the same, and develop a plan for real reconstruction of this war-ravaged country.

Sheila Robin

London NW6

Why not a bonus for the economy?

David Prosser suggests Goldman Sachs have a bonus pool of around £11bn (Outlook, 18 November). This sum is sufficient to pay the projected 3 million unemployed nearly £4,000 per year. Alternatively it is sufficient to fund a million small businesses to the tune of £11,000 each. If spread among the unemployed and small businesses it would certainly be spent and go a long way to creating the fiscal stimulus our leaders say is necessary.

What a shameful set of values our Government and Opposition both seem happy to endorse.

David Rhodes


One question David Prosser's interesting article did not answer is how the bank executives' performance over the past year qualified them for bonuses in the first place. Their organisations have suffered a massive drop in share price; and they have had to cut staff numbers. This would mean failure on any common-sense criteria – so which criteria were used, and who set the criteria ?

Peter Ward

Epsom, Surrey

The Prime Minister has sensibly been pressing for financial institutions to be more transparent in their dealings. His message would carry greater conviction if his government were more open with the electorate and revealed the full extent to which it has incurred debt over its PFI and PPP projects, rather than hiding behind commercial confidentiality.

Some investors must have sold sterling because of the fear that these packages of unknown debt are left out of the country's accounts.

Mark S Bretscher


Flash of lightning in Washington

P J Stewart (letter, 18 November) is correct that B-R-K is an ancient Semitic root, the basic meaning of which is "knee" or "kneel". However there are two letters in Semitic alphabets, both of which often transliterated as a "K", though one of them would be more correctly rendered as a "Q". It is not clear which one is the source of the name of the forthcoming president of the USA.

If it is the latter, then his name comes from the root B-R-Q, which means a flash of lightning. Perhaps this quality of suddenly lighting up the darkness during a violent storm is what he needs more than anything in our turbulent world.

Martin D Stern

Salford, Greater Manchester

Coy campaigners

Coy campaigners

I am a paid-up member of a political party, and, by becoming such, I felt that I was making a public statement of my political aims and beliefs. Surely, anyone who joins any such party does so to make his or her support public. The complaint by the BNP about the leaking of its membership list therefore seems to me to be ridiculous.

Robert Thompson

Rimboval, France

Old entrepreneurs

Yet again this "youth"-obsessed government ignores the major section of the population – those over 40 – who have talent, creativity, energy and, most of all, experience to contribute to the economic upturn ("Young entrepreneurs will be the key to kickstarting the economy", 18 November). It is nothing less than institutionalised age discrimination by Mandelson and his like – along with the equally discriminatory, tedious reference to "hard- working families". The future wealth creators are men and women of all backgrounds and all ages.

Dave Massey

London SE24

Strictly spoilt

The Strictly Come Dancing judges have behaved like spoilt children who have a tantrum when they can't get their own way. If, as they say, it's supposed to be a dancing competition and not a personality contest, then they should have invited only competent dancers to participate in it. I've never seen the programme, but I would certainly have voted for John Sergeant next weekend.

Brian Rushton

Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire

Cooke lecture

We were delighted that The Independent printed an extract of David Mamet's BBC Alistair Cooke Memorial Lecture (19 November). The Lecture, to mark what would have been Alistair's hundredth birthday, was recorded in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Can I remind your readers that they can hear the lecture in its entirety and the lively question and answer session that followed either by going to the Radio 4 website or by tuning into the BBC World Service this weekend at 1806 GMT Saturday or 1306 Sunday.

Maria Balinska

Editor World Current Affairs Radio, BBC News, London W12


We do not read of people wave-flagging, or tote-gunning, or for that matter beat-breasting. So Long John Silver when he bangs (swashes) his shield (buckler) with his sword, or perhaps just "waves it around extravagantly" (letter, 19 November), should be described as buckler-swashing. If he was swash-buckling he would be fastening his belt around a wave or some damp ground.

John R G Turner