Letters: Claimants really do want to work

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The Independent Online

Philip Hensher (Notebook, 19 January) wants doctors to be harder on their patients. He probably has little experience supporting his opinion that more of the sick and injured should be sent back to work.

Having been severely injured in an accident while working for the NHS, I was very fortunate to be able to return part-time. My job was not physically demanding and I knew how to use the NHS to get good support and rehabilitation.

Afterward, I saw many genuine and deserving benefit applicants (since that was my job) who were less disabled than myself, but they had not had the advantages available to me. In 35 years of practice the number I have seen who are deliberately cheating when claiming benefits is still in single figures.

Most of the ill or injured would dearly like to return to work; their employment is a defining part of who they are, and the money is better. The obstacles are manifold, beginning with a lack of rehabilitation services through to the rarity of part-time working with financial support from benefits, and insufficient occupational health advice to employers and their staff.

Amateur assessments of fitness for work are very misleading. The ability to cycle does not represent capacity for employment. Even when suffering a debilitating illness, it is possible to undertake occasional strenuous tasks, but there is a world of difference between working briefly at home, then needing a rest to recover, and working for a whole day at a pace comparable to able-bodied colleagues.

State help for the sick and disabled dates back at least to the Poor Laws of the 17th century. Now we live in a country that is more affluent than ever before, yet some seek to impoverish the disadvantaged for financial and political gain.

Gerald Freshwater

Consultant Occupational Physician, Lerwick, Shetland

Philip Hensher is right that there are indeed people who could and should be working rather than living on benefits. And he accepts that Atos has made mistakes in sorting out the strivers from the shirkers.

A little while ago, I asked a member of the government, did he have confidence in the work of Atos? His answer was that, no he didn't.

If the right people are going to be eased away from coasting on benefits, and if needy people are going to go on being supported, we need a much better advisory and diagnostic service than Atos, together with abundant personal counselling and more jobs doable by not particularly well-educated or experienced people.

Obesity and depression do not impress Hensher as obstacles to work. But if you are very, very overweight, or if you are chronically depressed, then the significant change of lifestyle involved in regular working can be very hard indeed. Just slagging off such people and reducing their income is unlikely to help.

The churches and others are rising to the occasion by starting food banks and soup kitchens. But numerous other support and therapeutic services are needed.

Paul King

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Getting frail old people out of hospitals

Sir David Nicholson is clearly right that frail elderly people who are receiving care rather than active treatment are more appropriately managed somewhere other than an acute hospital ward ("NHS chief: Hospitals are bad for old people's health", 21 January). However, there is a danger that the implications of this simple message could be misinterpreted by politicians.

First, the UK has a relatively poor record of offering older people effective treatment from which they would benefit, illustrated by the marked decline in cancer survival among those over 65 here, something that other countries have shown is not inevitable.

Second, if the alternative settings are in the social care sector, they will no longer be free for the patient, exacerbating the problems faced by those who, even after the latest changes, will still be receiving some of the least generous state pensions in Europe.

Professor Martin McKee

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Juxtaposed on Monday were an article on the possible closure of some hospital departments and Sir David Nicholson's thoughts on moving care for the confused elderly out of the mainstream NHS. Any closures would leave vacant areas, already meeting public-use criteria, for conversion into specialist dementia-care facilities.

S Lawton

Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Some clues as to why they hate us

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right (21 January); our leaders do play into the hands of Islamists. Does our government ever wonder why so many in North Africa and the Middles East hate us.

Could it be because we invade their countries and kill their citizens by the tens of thousands? Might it be to do with the fact that we subject them to torture, kidnap (extraordinary rendition) and murder (targeted killing, drone attacks)? Could it be that the best way to fight terrorism is to stop committing these crimes?

Jim McCluskey

Twickenham, Middlesex

Watching the news at the weekend I wondered if I had been wrong or overly sensitive in detecting in Mr Cameron an irritation with the Algerian government for not consulting him over their intervention with the terrorists.

While it was reassuring to read on Monday that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had a similar impression, it reinforced a deep dismay and foreboding that we have political leaders still thinking in a pre-Suez manner.

Chris Wickham

London W4

The Tuareg are a marvellous nomadic people who for thousands of years have learnt to survive in the most inhospitable place on earth, the Sahara. To them the borders drawn up by Europeans have no value. They have been having problems with the government and their rights. Now that they are armed as a result of our war with Libya the situation is exacerbated.

It will be easy to label them terrorists and as they tramp with their camels, wives, and children to zap them like mosquitoes with remote-controlled drones. But what will this achieve but yet more misery and yet more enemies of the West ?

Nicholas Wood

London NW3

When our Prime Minister announces he will crack down hard on terrorism in the Sahara, we have cause to worry.

On one side we have battle-hardened warriors willing to die for their cause. On the other we have an expert in public relations who doesn't have the courage to face up to his own Eurosceptics, his own police force or the trigger-happy Algerian government.

That sort of language is not going to impress anyone and can be fatal.

Paul Eustice

Worthing, West Sussex

Stop-and-search saves lives

In relation to Stuart Lawrence's complaint against police (report, 9 January), how many innocent black kids murdered by London gang members would still be alive today had those responsible for their tragic deaths been stopped and searched before they encountered their victims? Seventeen-year-old Kwame Ofoso-Asare, 14-year-old Shaquille Smith and 16-year-old Agnes Sina-Inakoju are but three tragic examples.

The respected charity Gangsline, which steers young people away from gangs, states that in London, 80 per cent of gangs are African Caribbean, black British or of mixed race. BBC London news quoted a figure of 70 per cent. This reflects the demographics of the poor areas where the gangs flourish.

What happened to Stephen Lawrence was tragic but equally tragic are the crimes I mentioned above. Stuart's complaint, based on 25 police stops stretching back "many years", means officers will be even more reluctant to stop and search, which can only increase the possibility of more tragic deaths.

The police are not responsible for the poor schools, the lack of parental role models, sub-standard housing or lack of job opportunities. That is down to successive governments. All the much-maligned police can do is try and keep the young people in those areas safe.

Chris Hobbs

(Retired, ex-Met)

London W7

The wheels for winter

Recent correspondence (letters, 18 and 21 January) on the benefits of winter tyres has mentioned possible legal routes to encourage their take-up in the UK, but at Kwik Fit we believe the key factor is driver education.

Our research has shown that more than two thirds of drivers do not know the difference between winter and summer tyres, something which could be improved by including questions on this subject in the driving test.

Sceptics may say that we have a vested interest in selling additional tyres, but the reality is that although there is an upfront cost, the extra total expense can be minimal – while drivers are using their winter tyres, their summer tyres won't be wearing down. And it is a lot cheaper than covering the cost of a crash caused by loss of grip.

Roger Griggs

Communications Director

Kwik Fit

Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

Does anyone care about the arts?

Rosie Millard wonders why politicians in Britain are so unsympathetic to the arts (21 January). But isn't it wider than this?

As far as good papers like The Independent are concerned, Beethoven is no longer "music", but "classical", and one only has to compare the amount of space given to "pop" to see that there's a general malaise regarding what I describe as music.

Ian K Watson


Obama abroad

Your editorial on the priorities for Obama in his second term (21 January) says nothing about foreign policy. This is despite current events in north Africa and the elections this week in Israel. Other foreign policy challenges he faced in his first term (such as Iran) have not been resolved, either. Let's hope Obama can "make history" on more than domestic policy.

Dr Alex May


Third boom

Surely one of the main reasons for the current baby boom ("Baby boom brings midwife crisis", 21 January) is that the original 1946-48 baby boomers like me are now having lots of grandchildren. And they're gorgeous. And it was probably predictable.

Peter Jones

Chainhurst, Kent