Of course, nobody wants poor people to be preyed upon, and the comparison of the Government's proposal to introduce interest for social fund loans to loan sharking was somewhat over the top. However, the proposal does demonstrate a consistency in Labour's current thinking on social security policy that seems to be premised upon impoverishing poor people, in this instance to pay for an expansion of credit unions.
This proposal was deeply regressive in the context of the huge amounts of financial support that have recently been made to the banks, where it is taxpayers, rather than the banks' customers, who are providing support. The funding for expanding financial services for the poorest people should adhere to this principle of collective support, rather than making the poorest people pay for it.
The whole exercise, and the reaction to it, detracts from a need to focus upon the scandalously low rates of benefits and the fact that the social fund mainly loans money to be repaid from benefit income. Those systemic issues are the problem, not the fact that the social fund is interest-free and delivered by civil servants as your leader (22 December) implies.
Dr Chris Grover
Senior Lecturer in Social PolicyLancaster University
Gordon Brown wants to reform welfare to get rid of "something for nothing" culture. Will he get rid of the Lottery, which has increased the number of problem gamblers, and stop local authorities who still want to open "medium-sized" casinos?
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
No subsidies for a car dinosaur
As Ministers reportedly "weigh up" a direct loan of £500m to the ailing car maker Jaguar Land Rover, I hope it is not rude to point at their waste line, and observe that the weight of fuel consumed (and greenhouse gas emitted) per mile travelled, for cars in this manufacturer's range, is typically twice what it needs to be, and in certain cases (such as the Prime Minister's car) four times over carbon weight. These cars will soon be dinosaurs.
In simple terms of carbon "bangs to the buck", government money should be targeted at UK companies ready for the transport boom of the future, never to prop up our fossil-pampered past, even if ministers are partial to a Jag or two.
With the risk of bridging loans becoming subsidies Lord Mandelson's message to Tata should be blunt : if Tata have enough money to support the world's most environmentally damaging sport, then they have enough money to solve Jaguar Land Rover's woes by themselves. If they can only afford to do one or the other, then they need to reassess their priorities.
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
Praying for a modern Church
As a practising Catholic, I write in support of Chris Webster's letter (9 December). I pray frequently for changes in the Church's attitude to sex and gender issues.
Like so many among the Catholic laity, I pray for a church that ordains women priests, and allows Catholic married men to become priests. I also pray for a Church that allows married couples to make full use of the gifts of science that God has given humans, so that safe methods of contraception can be used by those of us wanting to ensure we have families we can support, and by those wanting to prevent the passing on of fatal diseases.
However, in defence of a church that I should dearly love to see reformed, I would point out that organisations such as Bible Alive, Cafod and Mother Teresa's Sisters of Mercy are supported by that same church and by the Cardinal personally. Between them, these organisations work to bring hope to prisoners, help to those in need and comfort and dignity in dying. That is to say "concern for their fellow creatures . . . between birth and death".
As Chris Webster says, there are many "Catholics who do not share the official prejudices" of the hierarchy, which is why We Are Church came into being in Austria and has now spread to many parts of the world.
Although We Are Church is a Catholic movement, it is not an exclusive club; it is open to anyone who wants to see a modern church that would reflect the Second Vatican Council imperative that the Church "examine the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel".
Mark Cross, East Sussex
Don't blame 'alcopops'
I am a producer of RTDs (ready to drink) or alcopops as the media like to call them. Janet Street-Porter (17 December) implies that higher taxes on such drinks might help to discourage excessive teenage drinking.
We employ over 200 hard-working people in Derbyshire. We do not "reach the parts of Alistair Darling others do not reach", indeed the tax on RTDs was increased by 64 per cent in 2002 and sales have been declining ever since; they account for only 1 per cent of the sales of alcohol. Most are produced by small companies like my own and are low in alcohol – 4 per cent ABV – and much more expensive compared with beer and cider.
The examples of Germany and Australia, where tax on RTDs was increased, have proved flawed. While sales have fallen, sales of hard spirits have increased as people quickly discover that it is cheaper to mix their own drinks. The initiative has had the opposite effect to that intended.
Millions of adults actually enjoy this type of drink and do so responsibly, and it would be wrong for them to be penalised for the mistaken belief that these products are the cause of young alcohol abuse. Social education is essential; I agree it should be naff to get drunk. Celebrities should set an example. The BBC have recently criticised presenters for the glamorisation of excess drinking and we need to address these issues.
Steven J Garcia Perez
Chairman, Global Brands Ltd
Clay Cross, Derbyshire
UN vote asserts Israel's rights
Robert Fisk ("How the absence of one tiny word sowed the seeds of catastrophe", 20 December) quotes UN resolution 242, building his whole article on the omission of the word "all" from the clause calling for Israeli withdrawal.
He does not mention the twin clause calling for "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force".
Robert Fisk refers to the original 1947 UN partition plan dividing the land. What he completely ignores is that if the Arab nations had accepted the partition plan there would be no "occupied territories" since these were only acquired as result of the wars waged against Israel .
BBC sacks the wrong man
There is an unsavoury but perhaps not unexpected juxtaposition concerning the way the BBC has treated two of its radio personnel in recent weeks ("Ed Stourton and the new brutalism", 16 December).
On the one hand is someone on £18m a year of arguably limited abilities who has taken part in a foul-mouthed and abusive tirade which is broadcast to the nation and who will shortly be reinstated. On the other is a long-serving presenter, well respected by the vast majority of intelligent listeners, whose polite, measured but effective interviewing technique has given the Today programme team a much needed balance but who has been sacked without his editor having the decency to inform him personally.
Where in all this, are the protesting voices of the excessively paid higher executives of the Corporation? A sad reflection of the sunken values of a once treasured institution.
Barrow upon Humber, North Lincolnshire
The Second World War in Ireland
Ronald Williams attributes the success of various Second World War German bombing raids to the perfidious Paddies and their failure to impose a blackout (letter, 22 December). Those Irish lights were so radiant they even helped the Luftwaffe locate cities that were over 200 miles away and on completely different parallels from the nearest Irish town.
The brilliance of the Irish lights just wasn't enough to help the Germans locate Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, etc. To bomb those towns the Luftwaffe had to resort to using the beam technology they'd invented for the purpose of night bombing raids. Obviously this technology would have been nowhere near as reliable as using light sources from distant Irish towns, but I suppose they just had to make do.
During the Second World War, Sir Shane Leslie, a native of Co Monaghan in what was then the Free State, wrote a book entitled The Irish Tangle for English Readers. In it, he tells of visiting a farm cottage on the border between Monaghan and Northern Ireland not long after the outbreak of the conflict.
The old farmer whose cottage it was had been watching the young men of Co Monaghan slipping across the border to join the British forces. The following exchange took place:
Farmer: "This war is a terror, sir"
Leslie: "It is indeed – total terror."
Farmer (in a secretive whisper): "Can ye tell me, has England declared war yet?"
Leslie: "She has, indeed."
Farmer: "Thank God – for our boys will not be alone".
Obstacle course for our postmen
I have never seen a postman "dawdling" (editorial 12 December.). They are typically moving with frantic haste, unless they are waiting patiently at a door for someone to appear and accept a packet that will not go through the absurdly small and awkward letter-slots in British doors.
Don't despise postmen for "averaging two miles per hour" unless you've tried doing a tiny simulation of their job, such as hand-delivering circulars. You'll find it takes many minutes, even running, to get from house to house past the gates, steps, improbable routes and obstacles that lead to many of those doors. In America, adequate mailboxes stand out by the roadside. Mailmen there wouldn't tolerate what ours have to put up with.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Further to the correspondence (22 December) on the rejection of Manchester's proposed congestion charge, I await the arrival of "Don't blame me, I voted yes" stickers in rear windows. Perfect for cheering up other drivers on dismal Monday mornings, especially during a nose-to-tail standstill on the ring-road.
A free Cuba
There is no reason to suppose that a democratic Cuba (letters, 20 December) would not retain its extensive welfare state, if that was the will of a freely-elected government. Nor is having one any excuse for suppressing dissent. Those who value the right to work before the right to think deserve poverty. The most important of all freedoms is freedom of speech. The US First Amendment should apply throughout the world and all anti-free speech laws, be the excuses for them obscenity, blasphemy, or racism, should be repealed.
Cheer amid gloom
The current climate of having to tighten our purse-strings could be aided by my recent discovery. For three months now I have been walking the increasing numbers of dogs abandoned at my local shelter. Apart from witnessing doggie glee at escaping from their kennels for a while, I now find I have lost a significant amount of weight. Perhaps that gym subscription is not a necessity after all.
Reasons to be fat
I was surprised by your article "Obesity can begin in the brain, study shows" (15 December), implying that obesity may be genetic in origin. Genes may form a small part of the problem, but, as everyone knows, obesity has been increasing rapidly over the past 20 or 30 years. If the cause is mainly genetic, why have the genes that can cause obesity suddenly become more numerous? Surely it is more likely that social and family background factors are the main problem.
I suppose the only consolation that many of us can take from the news that 13 million of our fellow Brits tuned in to the final of Strictly Come Dancing is that this means about 47 million of us didn't.