Letters: Disability and happiness

My disabled son has the same right to a happy life as his siblings
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The Independent Online

Sir: On Friday evening, I sat down to read The Independent and as I did so, one of my children was asleep in bed, one was working on the computer, one was watching television and one was rolling around on the floor. All of them equally happy, healthy and content.

I reached the Letters page and I read that Stephanie Bliss (24 November) thinks one of my children shouldn't be here; he doesn't deserve the happy, contented life he has, he should have been killed shortly after birth.

My son may not have the physical ability of my other children, he may not have the understanding, he may be much harder work, but he has the same right to a happy, healthy life as they do.

I am fed up with hearing how people, such as Ms Bliss, think my son should be dead. I wish they would throw their energy into ensuring the support we need is forthcoming and adequately funded, not wishing that my child was dead.

Perhaps Ms Bliss would like to hear from the large number of adults and children who tell us that knowing my son has enhanced their lives?

Incidentally, I'm a redhead. When we've got rid of all the disabled people in the world, will I be safe?



England's mythical subsidy to Scotland

Sir: About 30 years ago, the Tories, facing growing support for Scottish independence, devised a concept of "identified public expenditure" by which they carefully chose which areas of public expenditure in Scotland they would identify (Opinion, 21 November).

They, of course, chose to highlight the extra costs incurred in health service provision, education and other expensive essential services over a small country with very challenging geography. By this device, they produced the myth that English taxpayers subsidise Scotland, despite official figures showing annually over the past 40 years that Scotland continues to pay more to Westminster than it gets back in overall expenditure.

This myth is accepted without question by most English journalists and a growing number of the English population. In fact, the highest public expenditure on a per capita basis is in London and the South-east of England, despite this area already being awash with the rest of Britain's money.

The revenues from Scottish oil are annually credited to the UK balance sheet but removed from the Scottish balance sheet to maintain the myth of a subsidised Scotland.

Government documents recently released confirm that Scotland would have had an annual budget surplus of "embarrassing" extent, and that was in the 1970s with oil at $10 per barrel. Its now at $70-plus and props up the whole faltering UK economy.



Sir: Bruce Anderson appears to believe that the problems between England and Scotland are all self-generated within Scotland ("The sullen self-pity of Anglophobic Scots", Opinion, 27 November), then goes on to include an explicit reference that negates his argument. It has been centuries of the English believing England and Britain are synonymous, for example by flying the Union Flag to represent England, that are the cause of the resentment.

That the English are now beginning to appreciate their place within the Union is to be welcomed, but it is not sufficient on to remove that resentment.

The United Kingdom requires a proper constitution that clearly separates the governments of the Union and each of its constituent nations.



Organic food is rigorously policed

Sir: Kate Ravilious asks, "How can we sort the organic wheat from the GM chaff?" (Extra, 20 November). The surging organic market, growing 30 per cent in the UK last year, reflects increasing public awareness of the true costs of "cheap food": mad cow disease, pesticides in fruit and vegetables, and antibiotics in factory-farmed meat.

Inevitably, the premium prices consumers are willing to pay for food grown in ways that minimise pollution and maximise animal welfare attract unwelcome attention from criminals. Testing of produce is one method to guard against such "passing off" and the Soil Association conducts its own testing for pesticide and GM contamination where there is a perceived risk.

Other systems can protect the integrity of genuine organic produce. All organic produce has to be licensed by a government-approved certifying body. Soil Association Certification licences more than 80 per cent of the food and drink on sale in the UK.

Every one of our licensees has to undergo an annual inspection. These involve farm and factory visits where all aspects of the system are rigorously inspected. For example, our inspectors audit the weight of raw meat coming into a processor or butcher and correlate it to the weight of meat ending up for sale.

Walking a farmer's fields, noting the state of crops, and types of machinery present enables a very reliable assessment to be made of what is or isn't being done properly and organically on that farm.

Contrary to the statement that "the organic shelf remains the most difficult to police", your readers can be reassured that organic food produced to an official certifying body's standards, such as the Soil Association's, is robustly policed, but like us, consumers should remain vigilant.



Tough new school inspection regime

Sir: Contrary to your report, massive improvements have been made to our schools ("More than half of secondary schools are failing pupils", 23 November). Ofsted's annual report shows that almost 60 per cent of schools have been judged outstanding or good and more than 90 per cent are at least satisfactory. The number of schools in special measures has halved since 1998, while those where less than 25 per cent of students get five good GCSE passes has dropped by 90 per cent to just 62 schools across the country.

This year's report reflects the first year of the toughest inspection regime we have yet introduced. Schools that may have been judged as good in previous years might be judged as only satisfactory now.

No school should be inadequate and there should be no hiding places for underperformance or coasting. The Education and Inspections Act is introducing tough new powers to turn around schools, closing or replacing them if they do not make adequate progress within 12 months.



Sir: I worry about the standard of inspection of English teaching in our secondary schools. According to your report "38 per cent [of secondary schools] were labelled 'satisfactory', but the chief inspector of schools ... made it clear that inspectors did not consider satisfactory to be good enough". I wonder how Christine Gilbert and her inspectors would expect an English teacher to define the word "satisfactory"?



Borat may not be so wrong after all

Sir: Kazakhstan has recently gone to great lengths to improve its public image following the release of the spoof documentary by faux Kazakh reporter Borat, who portrays them as anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic ("Borat may be good for Kazakhs, says leader", 22 November).

But if we scratch beneath the surface of their bold attempts to be seen as liberal and democratic, the reality we are faced with is perhaps closer to Borat's portrayal than we might expect.

In Kazakhstan, Hindus are systematically persecuted, having their land, houses and cattle confiscated for no other reason than their religion. Last week, during their President's visit to the UK to meet our Prime Minister, 60 Hindu families had their homes destroyed by riot police. Without any form of benefit or social housing, these families will be forced to spend the cold winter in Kazakhstan homeless.

Our government must make it clear that we do not condone such persecution by one of our significant trading partners and a country in which the UK is the third-largest overseas investor. It is extremely important that our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary use their good offices and our good relations with Kazakhstan to assist the victims of this grave injustice.



Trident update is on the cards

Sir: We should give serious consideration to replacing Trident missiles with cardboard replicas. It's not as if we're ever going to fire them, and I've heard it's relatively easy these days to convince the intelligence services that you've got weapons of mass destruction. The MoD could probably procure cardboard missiles for a couple of billion, so they'd be a big saving.

On the other hand, I don't think the fact that these new missiles will be pointless and a total waste of money should deter us from going ahead. When did that ever stop the Government from doing anything?

Besides, there is a precedent in nature for this sort of thing. There's a toad that can inflate itself to six times its own body size to deter predators and impress the chicks (OK, toads). Let's just hope nobody's got a pin.



Blair's posturing on climate change

Sir: I find it bizarre The Independent has allowed itself to be used by Tony Blair for typical posturing on climate change (article, 18 November). The simple truth is Blair has failed; emissions are rising under his stewardship, and his talk is so much hot air on the world stage, intended to garner green credit for stating the obvious.

The truth is his government has stalled this country from unleashing its potentially leading technical role in the transition of the UK to a low-carbon economy.

Chancellor Gordon Brown can barely remember to mention the environment in many speeches he makes, and simply pitches the Stern Report into the world hoping everyone else will take the lead and make it possible for him to break his increasingly blinkered addiction to appeasing the 1980s economic "consensus".



Sir: Thank you for your interesting feature, "How green is your MP?" (15 November). On Tuesday morning on the BBC, I watched the Government minister Alastair Darling urging us all to conserve energy.

Unfortunately this doesn't seem to sit well with the current campaign to get us to switch to digital television and radio, often using equipment which consumes three times as much power as conventional sets.



Helmets help the chances of survival

Sir: Malcom Wardlaw's statistics (Letters, 24 November) serve no one. Most vehicles weigh at least 10 times as much as a cyclist, and go much faster.

When a motorist swerves into the path of an oncoming cyclist, first the bike crumples. But with no connection between bike and cyclist, with the cyclist's head above and in front of his or her centre of gravity, inertia carries him or her head-first towards the first solid obstruction.

If a car at 45kph hits a cyclist at 15kph head-on, the combined speed of 60 kph allows no time for defensive reaction and no protection from the skull. But a helmet distributes the blow, and increases the chance of survival.



Sir: Jake Shaw is peddling nonsense (Letters, 27 November). If he had read the relevant "accident" statistics for pedestrians, he would know he is subject to significantly higher risk of being killed by a motorist driving on the pavement than any similar risk from a pavement cyclist.

Cyclists do have a higher moral ground: unlike motorists, they simply do not kill people.



Just sing along

Sir: Tim Elliot (Letters, 25 November) is broadly correct, but it isn't quite true that all Christmas carols are "songs of a religious nature". What about "Deck the Hall" and the "Boar's Head carol"? Since the event to which Dr Brian Fisher was invited is described as a concert rather than a service, songs such as these may well be on the programme.



Sir: Tim Elliot has followed the habit of the Christian religion in claiming secular festivals and words for its own use. The old French, Italian, Latin, and Greek roots for the word "carol" define it as "a dance in a ring" and "a dance to the flute". So a carol service can be free of "songs of a religious nature", but if there is no dancing or flute-playing there may be grounds for a prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act.



Jab at Dawkins

Sir: Although not a member of a religion, the astronomer-mathematician Sir Fred Hoyle concluded that the universe must be the result of a creative intelligence. If Richard Dawkins has his way, future Hoyles will be "vaccinated" in their youth to prevent them from ever arriving at similar, well-argued views. Can someone start a charity to re-educate bigoted scientists?



Real honesty

Sir: "If a company earns its money honestly," Dominic Lawson writes (Opinion, 24 November), "it is entirely its own business how much it pays its staff." I fear Mr Lawson interprets "honestly" as "complying with company law". I prefer the meaning, honourable, ethical, equitable and free from duplicity. If a company pays its directors several hundred times the salary of its lowest-paid staff, we are entitled to wonder if such disparities are honourable and just.



Pope's welcome

Sir: When the last Pope visited Britain in 1982, large crowds gathered on the streets, a phenomenon familiar from papal visits to many European countries. How nice it is to see the Turks following in this tradition, and proving their excellent European credentials.