This week's Autumn Statement could leave thousands of children and families even further away from being able to meet their essential costs of living. As organisations and individuals concerned with their wellbeing, we are increasingly worried that the statement may worsen already alarming projections that child poverty will rise by 800,000 by 2020.
With basic living costs increasing, we know many families are having to make difficult choices; a freeze on benefits and tax credits will make these choices even harder. Far too many families on low incomes live well below the poverty line. We know that nearly a quarter of the poorest families can't even afford to warm their homes.
It would be a tragedy for millions, and a travesty for the economy, to push the poorest into deeper poverty by this week failing to uprate benefits in line with inflation, or by making other cuts to social security for families and disabled people.
The Chancellor has plenty of tough decisions to make, but first and foremost he must protect the livelihoods of children in low-income families. The effects of rising child poverty are far-reaching and long-lasting for our economy. By limiting children's potential, poverty reduces the skills available to employers and harms economic growth. Child poverty is estimated to cost Britain at least £25bn a year in lost tax revenues and increased public service costs.
The Government must focus on the long-term successes that investment in our children will bring, by protecting the incomes of the poorest and maintaining their spending power in the economy.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Enver Solomon, Chair, End Child Poverty Coalition
Phil Bloomer, Campaigns and Policy Director, Oxfam
Fiona Weir, Chief Executive, Gingerbread
Anne Marie Carrie, Chief Executive, Barnardo's
Helen Berresford, Head of Campaigns, Save the Children
Brendan Barber, General Secretary, TUC
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive, The Children's Society
Niall Cooper, National Coordinator, Church Action on Poverty
Steve Winyard, Head of Policy & Campaigns, Royal National Institute of Blind People
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive Working Families
Anne Longfield, Chief Executive, 4Children
Srabani Sen, Chief Executive, Contact a Family
Sean O'Neill, Policy Director, Children in Wales
Laura Courtney, Campaign Manager, Every Disabled Child Matters
Helen Dent CBE, Chief Executive, Family Action
Les Allamby, Director, Law Centre Northern Ireland
Cameron Watt, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations
Belinda Phipps Chief Executive, National Childbirth Trust
Dann Kenningham, National Coordination, ATD Fourth World UK
Rev Paul Nicolson, Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Susanne Rauprich, Chief Executive, The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services
Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action
Alison Taylor, Director, Turn2us
Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centres Network
Fiona Blacke, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency
Paola Uccellari, Director, Children's Rights Alliance for England
Richard Hamer, Director of External Affairs, Capability Scotland
Martin Sime, Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Peter Kelly, Chief Executive, The Poverty Alliance
Bill Scott, Manager, Inclusion Scotland
Satwat Rehman, Director, One Parent Families Scotland
Steve Murphy, General Secretary of UCATT
Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary
Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary
Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary
Paul Noon, Prospect General Secretary
John Hannett, USDAW General Secretary
Billy Hayes, CWU General Secretary
Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT, Len McCluskey General Secretary, Unite
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Professor John Veit-Wilson, Newcastle University
Dr Kitty Stewart, London School of Economics
Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood, University of East London
Adrian Sinfield, Emeritus professor of social policy, The University of Edinburgh.
Mary Taylor, Chief Executive, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
Stewart Wallis OBE, Executive Director of the New Economics Foundation
Will Horwitz, Policy & Media Coordinator, Community Links.
Alison Todd, Deputy Chief Executive, Children 1st
Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive Officer, Citizens Advice Scotland
Neil Coyle, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Disability Rights UK
Stories of cannabis and mental illness
I have welcomed Patrick Cockburn's special reports on mental health. However it makes for painful reading, as every word matches our experiences as parents. We battled for our son for 22 years, and it was probably only due to our support that he managed to survive that long. Many mental health sufferers are often abandoned by loved ones who find it difficult to cope.
My son lost his battle for life this summer at the age of 36. We are grieving not only for the loss of our wonderful son but for a person who endured a very poor quality of life for many years. The National Health Service failed our son. If he had had a physical illness his treatment would have been different. Things have got to change.
Patrick Cockburn's accounts last week of his son Henry's experience of cannabis will send a shiver down the spine of any parent facing similar circumstances.
Ten years ago, your front page carried the headline: "Cannabis ‘ may cause public health disaster' " (11 November 2002). We had seen our own son, then 18, go down a cannabis-fuelled spiral leading to psychosis. You published a letter from us, intended as a warning to parents that cannabis was far from a harmless recreational drug. In response, we had a number of replies from friends and strangers, all of which were kind and thoughtful.
Last week our son graduated. At the nadir, he had taken a job digging trenches for a builder, but was encouraged to study one day a week at college. He demonstrated the ability to do more than dig. At 28, he has his own flat, a girlfriend, a responsible job and a degree in construction management. If our letter 10 years ago was intended as a warning, now I want to offer a message of optimism. With support from the NHS and from employers (and parents), people can change direction. I very much hope fortune smiles on Henry Cockburn and his father as it has on us.
Name and address supplied
How children learn to read
Your one-sided piece on phonics (29 November) failed to recognise any of the benefits of what is internationally proven to be the best method of teaching children to read.
We are under no illusions about the need to raise literacy standards in England – every year tens of thousands of children leave primary school as weak readers. The Government has introduced the phonics check to help ensure that children who are struggling with reading are identified at an early age, before it is too late. Made-up words are included so that the check actually reveals how well children can read – not how well they can memorise familiar words.
We make no apologies for introducing a check that this year has meant that more than 235,000 six-year-olds are getting the extra help they need to read well.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Department for Education
I hope Michael Gove has read your courageous article that clearly points out the adverse effects of submitting our primary school pupils to this harmful new test that is supposed to discover how well children have memorised the "sound" each letter represents. Has Mr Gove absolutely no recollection of how he was taught to read?
The successful teacher continually modifies the lesson to fit the individual child and has devised a lesson plan that helps each child to learn to read with fluency and enjoyment while assimilating an accurate understanding of phonics and how they are used. As an infant teacher I devised a scheme that involved using a limited number of "whole words" while familiarising the class with letter "sounds".
In 19 years of teaching with classes of up to 42 reception infants I never had a child who failed to read at, or well above, the expected "reading age".
Beverley, East Humberside
Why we need Leveson
I am disappointed by your opposition to the need for legislative support for a new independent press complaints body. Some newspapers have behaved responsibly, but far too many have not and some sort of oversight body, with teeth, is required.
While some newspapers continue to behave in the way they do and hide behind the spurious claim that they are acting in the public interest, then there will remain a need for effective remedies for those whose lives are blighted by them and who do not have the financial resources to take legal action. One Milly Dowler or Christopher Jefferies is one too many. The print media have for too long seen themselves as above the law and it is time to call a halt.
Pontefract, West Yorkshire
There are many who agree with Lord Justice Leveson's view that an independent press regulator requires legally sanctioned backing to ensure its effectiveness. Dissenters – that is, the Tory party and the editor of almost every national newspaper – argue that this would amount to "political interference" in the press; a terrible threat to democracy!
But is this rhetoric really based on high principle? Strangely, these critics are not calling for Ofcom to be abolished so that broadcasters can police themselves. Why this lack of concern about rampant government manipulation of TV news and Eastenders scripts? The answer is obvious: under the present system, it simply doesn't happen – and no one seriously thinks it might.
Tragic that the many journalists with integrity have been linked in the public mind with those few others who internalised an ethics of amoral expertise, greed, and aggression towards the vulnerable.
Back in 1930 the press reaction to Leveson was uncannily presaged in 1066 and All That, where Magna Carta is rewritten as the Barons would have preferred: "That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand."
D G C Jones
Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys
Cards bring good cheer
I suspect that Alice Jones' dismissal of Christmas cards (1 December) is because she is young enough to still be living in the present. As we get older we accumulate friends, who move away, and we stop seeing relatives, and then a card is a good way of saying, once a year, "I am still here and surviving. How are you?".
When cards arrive, we know we are still in touch, however loosely, and they brighten up the house and crack the midwinter gloom. Keep them coming!
The US empire
Anne Applebaum (Voices, 1 December) claims that the US never had an empire. This depends on what you would consider to be an empire, but certainly the US was party to jingoistic imperialism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
What else but empire-building was the conquest of the Continental US through wars with the native Americans and the Mexicans, or the Spanish-American war through which the US gained territory in the Caribbean and Pacific, some of it still US territory today?
Check out a fiver
Alan Cleaver (letter, 1 December) complains that cash machines do not dispense £5 notes. If he uses a self-checkout machine for a purchase of less than £5 and pays with a £10 or £20 note, he will invariably receive a fiver in change. Or do shops in Cumbria not have self-checkouts?
Stockport, Greater Manchester
Reading Andy McSmith's Diary page (30 November), I was unsure with what authority he contrasted Leveson's wordcount with that of "The St James Bible". I was not aware that King James had achieved sainthood.
Perhaps being "up there with Leveson" has gone to his head?
Rev Peter Sharp
In response to David Hasell (letter, 29 November) and Eddie Dougall (letter, 1 December) it is worth pointing out that, while we may be all in it together, some of us are clearly further in it than others.