Letters: Disabled deprived of a social life


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I have six special friends with learning difficulties who live in a small home together, looked after by very caring people. One has severe autism and serious epilepsy, another has acute learning difficulties and is bipolar; others have similar problems.

Their weekly routine is centered around their home and short trips to the shops, with three special days when three of them go to a centre where they work stuffing envelopes, putting balloons in plastic bags and packing screws into packets.

The centre is a charitable organisation which gets work from local businesses and is financed through grants, payments for the work, fundraising events and a payment by my friends from the allowance they get for care.

During the time my friends spend at the centre, they are assisted by volunteers who supervise groups for art, excercise etc. It is a social experience for them; they meet friends, they dine together, they play games together. It is a welcome break for them and provides stimulus which cannot be given when they are at home with only each other for company and limited space.

The Conservative-controlled local and county councils who have funded this have now decided that it is a good idea to save money by cutting the segment of their care which goes to pay for these activities, and my friends are having to give up their three-days-a-week productive and social life.

Figures published recently show many of the local councillors get an extremely good "expenses allowance", but I have not heard of any plans to reduce this in their cost-cutting plans.

The disabled are an easy target for central and local government while the bankers and their like continue to prosper and avoid paying tax with no sanctions and no honour. I despair for the future, and I fear for my friends.

Michael Wood

Thornton, Lancashire

As a wheelchair-user and director of a small business, I am all for disabled people working alongside non-disabled employees.

What I cannot understand is how the Government, now closing down Remploy workplaces, will be able to ensure "mainstream workplaces" are suitable for the needs of all employees.

For many people, a mainstream workplace will be suitable, and Access to Work do an important job providing support. But for some disabled people the only place they will be able to work effectively and safely is in an environment that caters uniquely for their needs.

Instead of closing Remploy factories, we need to see a greater commitment to providing meaningful work for disabled people and a focus on Remploy marketing the uniqueness of its products. Perhaps a Remploy endorsement could be like a new Fairtrade mark?

Shaun Fisher


Thanks to a frank and open MP

Much credit to Tory MP (and former Barclays banker) Andrea Leadsom for her candid confession ("We're powerless to get truth about bankers, says key MP", 9 July) over the shortcomings of the Treasury Select Committee's questioning of Bob Diamond, an event billed as a grilling that proved less than the lightest of toastings.

One of the better "inquisitors" on the day, Andrea Leadsom's honesty eloquently helps make the case for Ed Miliband's continuing call for a Leveson-style full judicial inquiry into the whole banking scandal.

The suspicion lingers that there are quite a few Tory MPs who privately share her opinion while feeling publicly compelled to loyally bow to the Whips and the Cameron/Osborne line favouring a parliamentary inquiry only. The Lib-Dem MPs cravenly fluffed an opportunity to claw back some credibility in the court of public opinion by allowing themselves to be whipped into toeing the Tory leadership line.

With Ed Miliband producing a reasonably coherent plan for banking reform (and presumably still in shock from having a supportive Daily Mail praise his "courage"), there is no doubt that it is the Labour leader who is in tune with the overwhelming mood music of public opinion and a government that is disastrously out of tune.

Given the mind-boggling fiscal sums involved and the vastly greater number of people affected by the excesses of the financial sector, the British people can find neither proportionality nor consistency in the Prime Minister ordering a judicial inquiry into the press while rejecting one into the bankers.

The timing of Ms Leadsom's welcome candour couldn't have come at a worse PR moment for David Cameron and George Osborne as the Chancellor headed for Europe to argue against an EU plan to slap a legislative limit on bankers' bonuses.

I don't know whether Andrea Leadsom is a betting woman, as well as an unusually frank politician. But if she is, I'd suggest she stakes a banker bet on Cameron and Osborne being forced into yet another humiliating U-turn over the judicial inquiry issue. She'll thoroughly deserve to bank her winnings. But probably not at Barclays, I suspect.

Paul Connew

St Albans, Hertfordshire

John Kampfner massively overstates his case ("This is no way to hold the powerful to account", 9 July). He claims to never have seen "a single occasion when a parliamentary figure has made a single outsider squirm" at a Select Committee hearing.

Gerald Corbett, the chief executive of Railtrack, not only squirmed when questioned by Gwyneth Dunwoody, he was left traumatised for the rest of his business career. This is just one of many occasions I have observed while serving on the Transport and Science and Technology Select Committees over the past 15 years when an MP has nailed a witness.

Select Committees are a valuable part of the democratic parliamentary process which can be improved by constructive criticism, but will not be helped by inaccurate assertions.

Graham Stringer MP

(Blackley and Broughton, Lab), House of Commons

John Kampfner is right. Two changes would make all the difference: Westminster should employ a stable of the very best, brightest and utterly remorseless inquisitors to conduct the questioning.

The penalties for failure to make comprehensive and accurate disclosure should be sufficient to make even the most powerful quail: absolute pauperisation, life imprisonment or even the death penalty perhaps (which ought to appeal to the swivel-eyed right).

If waterboarding is felt appropriate for those who threaten the state with violence, why do we hesitate with those who do equal or greater harm with financial, journalistic or conduct-of-war misconduct?

I want to see involuntary bowel actions replace insouciance in the witness' chair.

Steve Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Tories pick on the old at their peril

So the Conservatives plan to axe pensioners' benefits? Ending free bus passes could prove a particularly expensive own goal. It will hit volunteering by older people (another nail in the coffin of the Big Society). It will hit the economy (unless pensioners decide to do all their shopping online).

And it will hit pensioners' health and increase pressure on the NHS and social care (free bus passes help volunteering, social interaction and attendance at and participation in cultural events, shown by research to have protective health benefits for older people).

In London, the free bus passes are called "freedom passes" and that's just what they give pensioners, the freedom to contribute to, and participate in, the economy and society. Time to think again before taking that freedom away?

Michael Baber

Agewatch, London SW19

I fear Nick Boles's idea of ending universal benefits to pensioners is good in theory but in practice it will not be limited to wealthy pensioners but also include pensioners on modest incomes who have worked and saved hard all their lives.

A fairer system would be to include benefits such as winter fuel allowances etc in the total income of each pensioner as part of their taxed income. Means-testing any benefit does not achieve the savings forecast because of the cost of such testing.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

As a pensioner as yet largely unaffected by the cuts inflicted on other sections of society, I would be more willing to forego my free travel and prescriptions and my winter fuel allowance if the sum saved could be ring-fenced for job creation for young people.

At a time when difficult choices have to be made, the needs of the young should always prevail. Any government prepared to take an electoral risk with the old in order to promote such a principle would surely win widespread support and would go some way to redeeming the battered reputation of politicians.

Christopher Martin

London W2

Yesterday's front-page headline, "Tories plan to axe pensioners' benefits", will surely be followed by one in 2015, "Pensioners plan to axe Tories". After all, they don't really need all those parliamentary seats, do they?

Laurence C Williams


The liars of PPI claims

At least one PPI claims company is run by liars, and incompetent liars at that. I paid off my mortgage 23 years ago, and this house has never been mortgaged. My building society never even suggested I should take out payment protection insurance. Yet one of these companies rang me the other day urging me to make a claim for compensation. Do they take us for fools or crooks, or both?

John Peter Hudson

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

Officers' mess

Amazingly, the size of the British Army's peacetime officer corps has remained unchanged at 12,000 to 14,000 since 1901. This despite the manpower declining from just under 300,000 to the new projected 80,000. It is well-known that the lower the ratio of officers to men the more ineffective armed forces perform, and anything over 10 per cent usually leads to increasing inefficiency, the US Army's 15 per cent in Vietnam being a telling point.

Peter Whelan


It's in the bag

Philip Rickard (letters, 9 July) doesn't have to travel to France to see where free plastic bags have disappeared from supermarkets. Here in Wales, free bags were banned more than a year ago; there is a 5p charge for every bag. Shoppers now bring their own re-usable bags, and it has been calculated that single-use plastic bag use has declined by more than 80 per cent since the ban was implemented.

David J Williams

Colwyn Bay

A foul play?

It would be a great mistake for Ed Miliband to be seen alongside Tony Blair at Arsenal's Emirates stadium today ("Demonstrators disrupt Blair's comeback plan", 10 July). Pick up Blair and lose the next election; leave him in the gutter and win. And boy, does the country need Ed to win.

Geoff Naylor

Winchester, Hampshire

It wood

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If John Terry makes a racist remark and Anton Ferdinand doesn't hear it, can this really constitute a racially aggravated offence?

Richard MacAndrew

Arkengarthdale, North Yorkshire