Letters: Champions of the aged

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The champions of the aged are thwarted by a divisive system

Sir: I applaud your call to arms in attacking the menace of ageism in our society ("The NHS must take a lead in respect for the elderly", 27 March). As a consultant geriatrician I have committed my career to both the care of older people and to training and leading others in doing the same. I have been heartened by an increasing number of training doctors passing through my unit who signal their intention to join the 1,000 or so UK geriatricians and to fight the good fight. Once considered the career move of the desperate, geriatric medicine and its proponents have become of increasing importance to the modern health service. We are joined in this by many other like-minded professionals spanning nursing, the therapies and beyond.

It is therefore saddening to reflect on why such enthusiasm is dissipated on a daily basis to leave us with a health service which appears not to value older people. Surely in a service which commits most of its time and much of its budget to caring for older people, the job of the older person's health champion should be comparatively easy? Not so. It is not the people but the system itself which is intrinsically ageist. The health and social care system, by its design, pits health professional against social care professional leaving the older patient marginalised by a fractured infrastructure.

Decisions, taken at the inception of the NHS itself, not to amalgamate health and social care commissioning have led to what we see today. Older patients "block beds" because the resources or planning needed to provide their ongoing care is not in place. Older patients turn up in Accident and Emergency because the systems to monitor and treat their long-term condition either do not exist or cannot offer a timely response to their deterioration.

The population is ageing and this situation will worsen over the next few decades. My colleagues and I will continue to fight ageism and uphold the rights of older people to fair and appropriate health care. However, we will ultimately fail if our Government does not address the divisive way in which health and social care is funded and delivered in the UK.



Israel cannot keep illegal settlements

Sir: I find the promises of Ehud Olmert, who has been acting Israeli Prime Minister for the past few weeks, that Israel will soon finally define its borders, very strange (report, 30 March). In international law, Israel's borders remain the same as they were before the 1967 war. As the International Court of Justice reaffirmed in 2004, its status in the West Bank is that of an occupying power. Its settlements and the walls it continues to build remain illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. Its continued control of Gaza means it remains in occupation of that territory. Its attempt to annex East Jerusalem remains unrecognised by anyone but itself.

If Olmert's plan to impose a settlement on the Palestinians, in which he retains his illegal settlements, is accepted by the international community, it would be a reward for aggression and theft of land. Furthermore, the resulting Palestinian entity would be fragmented, unviable and permanently dependent upon the outside world for the survival of its people.

A just settlement of the Palestinian/Israeli dispute means that all powers, including Israel, must recognise that both sides have legitimate rights to self-determination, a viable and fully independent state of their own as well as both economic and physical security. Israelis have their viable state; all Palestinians ask is that they be allowed theirs. They cannot set this up unless Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank as UN Resolutions specify. The world should oppose any attempt by Israel to keep its illegal settlements and insist upon a complete withdrawal from occupied land.



Sir: Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob says (letter, 30 March) "Kadima does not propose a lasting peaceful resolution of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis."

The Palestinians voted for a party that does not recognise Israel and thinks violence is a legitimate tool to reclaim all of Palestine (up to the Mediterranean).

The Israelis voted for a party that wants to reach an agreement on borders with the Palestinians, and will give them territory even if negotiations are not possible. It seems to me the Israelis want peace more than the Palestinians do.



Council workers are a soft target

Sir: Your leading article on 29 March, attacking local government workers' pressure for fairness in pensions, betrays either a complete lack of understanding of the issue or a shameful prejudice against council workers, many of whom are low-paid. The issue here is not public-sector versus private-sector pensions. It is to do with parity and fairness amongst different groups in the public sector.

All other existing employees in the public sector have been guaranteed their right to retire at 60 with an unreduced pension. Local government employees have been singled out as an exception, because they are a soft target including many women, low-paid and part-time employees. Never mind that these workers have paid their contributions and been given promises about their pension benefits - these benefits are now to be taken away by Government diktat. This is tantamount to breach of contract and must be resisted.



Sir: I was disappointed by the tone of your editorial "Public sector privileges that are now out of date". The point at issue is not whether local authority workers are privileged or not, or whether retirement at 60 is anachronistic, but whether the concept of contractual liability still applies in the UK.

Although it may be justified for new local authority employees to work until 65, the concept of contractual liability should mean that existing legal rights - not privileges - must be upheld unless agreement is reached to vary them. I am sure The Independent would expect all contractors, suppliers, advertisers and employees under contract to honour their contracts and not repudiate them unilaterally. The same principle applies in respect of pensions provided for existing local authority employees.

Regarding costs, this argument clearly does not apply in the case of police, fire authorities or NHS front-line staff, and certainly not in the case of civil servants who have fully protected themselves while initiating a policy of discrimination against local authority employees.



Sir: Government workers aggrieved at being required to work longer for their contributory pensions and contemplating a career change may care to reflect that the qualifying period for a non-contributory Prime Ministerial pension is no more than one day and that those elevated to the House of Lords can claim a non-contributory, taxpayer- funded attendance allowance for the remainder of their lives.



Anniversary of the attack on Fallujah

Sir: On 2 April 2004 US forces sealed off the Iraqi city of Fallujah. At least 572 civilians - including over 300 women and children - were killed in the subsequent siege (www.IraqBodyCount.org).

Since then, numerous other Iraqi towns and cities have been attacked by US-led forces for whom mass detentions and indiscriminate torture appear to be the main tools. Fallujah itself has become a virtual police state.

To mark this anniversary, scores of people will be gathering in Parliament Square at 12 noon on Sunday 2 April 2006 for an "unauthorized" reading of the names of 1,000 Iraqis who have died as a result of the invasion and occupation.

Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (April 2005) participation in this event is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, making this the first mass act of civil disobedience against the occupation to take place in the UK since the 2003 invasion.

The demands of the demonstrators are simple and just: an immediate end to the US/UK military occupation of Iraq; massive reparations and debt cancellation so that Iraqis can rebuild their country free from foreign interference; and prosecution of those responsible for war crimes. We urge your readers to join them.



Poor treatment of refugee children

Sir: Nigel Morris's report entitled "More than 2,000 children of asylum-seekers detained" (28 March) is timely and precise. It outlines a moral failure by the Government in relation to the detention of children with their families and illuminates a growing pattern of treating asylum-seeking children badly in comparison to "citizen" children.

Research confirms that refugee children suffer a sense of chronic uncertainty when they are dislocated from contexts in which they have begun to form networks of care and protection. In being moved, they can look neither backwards nor forwards with any degree of hope. If they are considered temporary and once again subject to forced migration, they can feel trapped and defeated. Clearly, in creating conditions that allow children to experience their lives in this way, the Government has ignored Michael Ignatieff's observation that "It is [the expression of] solidarity among strangers... that gives us whatever fragile basis we have for saying we live in a moral community".

Policies that ignore research findings and operate without a moral compass render invisible the ordinary needs of refugee children. We can see in these policies the tendency to forget that refugees are ordinary people in desperate circumstances, and that refugee children, like children everywhere, should not be subjected to further fear, poverty or uncertainty. For policy to remain humane, the coalitions that have voiced their concerns need to be heard, and their recommendations acted upon.



Halt this creeping menace to cricket

Sir: While I agree with Dominic Lawson (28 March) that by and large cricket is a far more noble game than the type of football currently played by such teams as Chelsea, unfortunately unpleasant practices are beginning to creep in, for example intimidation of the umpire (Australia vs South Africa), sledging (the practice of insulting opponents, an art perfected by the Australian teams), arguing with the umpire (Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich in the Ashes and more recently Kevin Pietersen), cheating by scuffing the wicket when no one was apparently watching (Pakistan).

The ICC needs to be extremely vigilant and should give out severe punishment so as to discourage such behaviour in the future, or cricket will go down the same lamentable road as football.



Junk food and parents

Sir: Health campaigners seem to think that a ban on junk food advertisements will solve childhood obesity and the accompanying health problems ("Ofcom dithers over curbs on junk food adverts", 29 March). Surely it is not television advertisements that are responsible for the problems we are facing, but the parents who purchase the junk food. A ban on celebrities and cartoon characters endorsing the junk food on these advertisements will not stop children craving crisps and sweets. It is parents' responsibility to control the cravings in the first place.



Was Haw obstructive?

Sir: How can somebody be arrested for "suspicion of obstructing" the police (report, 27 March)? Don't the plods who arrested Brian Haw outside Parliament know whether they have been obstructed or not? Whatever happened to free speech in England when you can cop a prosecution for waving a pink banner criticizing Blair? Sounds more like China to me. The police ought to stop attempting to criminalizing the innocent, and catch a few proper villains.



Common sense vs rights

Sir: Indeed we all have the right to "stagger around the streets of this country in revealing clothes after a night's drinking" (Johann Hari, 30 March). We also have the right to leave our front door open when we go on holiday, our car keys in the ignition overnight and our wallets on the pub bar when we nip to the loo. Common sense informs us that, in an imperfect world, some rights are best exercised with caution.



Educational quiz

Sir: How about an education IQ quiz as a follow up to your financial IQ quiz (29 March)? That might help your quiz compiler, David Prosser, avoid confusing further education with higher education.



National anthems

Sir: How nice it was to hear the stirring "Land of Hope and Glory" played at the Commonwealth Games to honour an English victory. However, I wonder how many more years it will take before the Football Association realises that "God Save the Queen" is the anthem for the whole of the UK and not just the property of England.



Keep crime at home

Sir: It doesn't make sense! The Government said that we needed identity cards to cut crime, terrorism and social-security fraud in the UK. By linking the identity card to passport renewal, however, it ensures that only those who want to be able to leave the UK will have to have a card. Presumably, then, those happy to limit their wrongdoing to the UK will be free to do so.