Your leader on the Shannon Matthews case (6 December) was intelligent and responsible. It appears that the phenomenon of people who effectively make a career of having children, to be entirely supported by the social security system, is one that many front-line social workers recognise, even if they are not able to quantify its extent.
Whether this happens through a calculating life-choice, fecklessness or inertia (and isn't it likely that it is all three?), it is still an important social and economic problem. What is clear is that no one really knows the size of the problem, let alone whether it is growing and, if it is, how fast.
Everyone suffers from it, most of all, as we have seen, the children brought up in such families, but there is also the extra strain put on the social service staff, the drain on their budgets, the knock-on effects on the economy and even, dare I say it, a negative effect on the overall population of the country.
It is clearly no longer good enough to say, "Every child should be a wanted child." We need those children to be wanted for the right reasons.
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire
Bruce Anderson touts the old Vichy France slogan of "Travail, Famille, Patrie" as a way of dealing with Britain's underclass (Opinion, 8 December) Dodgy company you're keeeping there Bruce.
Employ an army of "common sense" social workers. Cut off their benefits. Penalise idleness. Why not even sterilise a few too while we're at it? Just like Petain, Anderson is long on problems, but short of new ideas to deal with the Karen Matthews of this world. Sadly they exist in their own evil bubble and have nothing to do with income or social status.
The way that the working-class community of Dewsbury pulled together during the desperate search for the missing Shannon was striking. That solidarity during tough times is beyond value. Benefit culture might strip away some of your industry and your dignity, but they still seem to know right from wrong in Dewsbury. Which is more than can be said for Bruce Anderson.
Why young men use prostitutes
Your article "Why the Sex Trade Flourishes" (5 December), states that men in their twenties and thirties use prostitutes the most, and that they are confused about their gender roles. While both those statements may be true, they are not linked.
Young men who have earned enough money to have disposable income but have not yet formed a stable partnership have been the staple clientele of prostitution since at least the Roman era.
Already in 56 BC Cicero in Pro Caelia stated that, while it might be morally correct to stop young men frequenting prostitutes, it would be "out of step not only with this easy-going age but also our ancestors, who customarily made youth that concession. Was there ever a time when this was not habitual practice, when it was censured and not permitted, in short when what is allowable was not allowed?"
In Tudor and Stuart times it was the apprentice who was the prototypical customer, in the Victorian era the soldier and sailor. While these men were surely confused about many things, post-modern gender roles were not among them.
Ed Howker's description of a flourishing sex trade in central London is outdated (Opinion, 5 December). In the last decade, Westminster council has closed 51 unlicensed sex shops, carried out more than 900 raids on sex premises, seized more than 250,000 items worth more than £5.5m and prosecuted more than 900 people.
In 1999, the council took control of several brothels in Peter Street and Berwick Street through compulsory purchase orders and they are now being developed into high-quality housing – including much needed affordable homes – as well as new businesses.
Prostitution remains a priority for both the council and police in Soho and we are never complacent about it. When we, or the police, are given any intelligence about trafficked women we act immediately. We do not tolerate such a despicable industry.
On 4 December, for example, the last two hostess bars in Westminster were closed by the police under new powers that came into force this month. Clip-joints, as they are known, lure men in under the false promise of adult entertainment and then charge them exorbitant fees for soft drinks in the company of hostesses. Five years ago there were eight such establishments in Westminster, but now all eight are closed.
Ed Howker is right to say the proposed law to fine men who use trafficked or "pimped" prostitutes alone will not make a difference, but the tough enforcement he calls for is already well under way in Soho.
Cllr Daniel Astaire
Cabinet member for community protection, Westminster City Council, London SW1
Ed Howker says that men of his age are the main users of prostitutes because they are increasingly unsure and confused about acceptable sexual behaviour and "their role in an age of equality". Much easier to use women in an age of inequality, wasn't it?
Propaganda that feeds terrorism
When Howard Jacobson says "Propaganda kills" (Opinion, 6 December), I agree with him.
I have seen an old Palestinian watch while the Israeli Army bulldozed his olive trees, pushed his wife into the dirt, clubbed his sons, and drove him out of his house "for security reasons." Armed only with his anger and his helpless tears, he faced down their guns by shouting "Who will help us? Where is Osama Bin Laden? I will become Osama Bin Laden."
Since the Israeli Courts, EU or USA will not, and Arab states cannot, help him, I know that Arab youth will. Since even international solidarity movement activists, and MPs, are arrested by Israel, the only vehicle for their idealistic help is Bin Laden.
Just say this, and Howard Jacobson blames you for the terrorism and for anti-semitism. In his mind, exposing Israeli war crimes is an offence worse than the crimes themselves.
If the persecution of Palestinians ends, terrorists would have no support base. If propagandists like Jacobson stopped persecuting anyone who speaks out against Israel, the sooner these crimes would be exposed and ended, and the safer we all will be.
Propaganda kills, Howard, so stop it.
Chester and Palestine exchanges Ltd, Chester
Kathy Jones (letter, 4 December), argues that the distinction between Israeli "settlements" and Palestinian "villages" is a piece of anti-Israel propaganda.
The term "settlements" is used to refer to the Israeli housing built illegally on land occupied following the 1967 war. These settlements are easily recognisable as they are built in an inappropriate Western style and are surrounded by coils of barbed wire to keep their Palestinian neighbours away.
Arab "villages", on the other hand, are centuries or millennia old. They are built around a traditional core of the oldest buildings which are still lived in by the descendants of the original builders. They are stone- built with flat roofs. The only truly modern Arab developments are the refugee camps.
Travelling through Israel, on the road that runs north from Rafah, it is possible to spot barren raised areas among the California-style Israeli fields. These are where the villages of the Palestinian refugees once stood.
Batley, West Yorkshire
Guilty victims of Stansted protest
I am puzzled by the claims by Stansted passengers that they are innocent victims of the Plane Stupid protest at the airport. Irresponsible as BAA and Ryanair may be, they could not survive without demand for their planet-trashing services; and that demand comes from the very passengers who were inconvenienced. Which inconvenience is nothing compared with what they can expect as climate change bites.
Governments can approve all the runways and terminals they like, but they will only be built and used so long as people demand ever more air travel. If travellers want to be held innocent for the state of the Earth, they need to stop flying except in the gravest of circumstances. Before anyone asks: I haven't flown for years.
B J Fearnley
Nothing grisly about Christmas
It really hurts us to see Christmas called "this grisly feast" (Virginia Ironside, 8 December). Between the ancient winter festival of firelight and feasting in the dark and cold, and the current post-Christian Christmas, we have been keeping the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ.
To us as a family and to other Christians across the world, Christmas means Christmas dinner, yes; presents yes; guilt, no; anxiety, some but not overwhelming. As grandparents, we are nearly always invited to one or other of our children's homes. So we have a happy family day which includes church in the morning, Christmas tree, stockings, turkey. Added to all that, there is the joy of carols and Christmas concerts.
Enid Luff and Alan Luff
Words fail in an emergency
If the proposed merger between British Airways and Qantas comes to fruition, let us hope that the safety instructions given by BA prevail over those of Qantas in the matter of what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency landing on water.
Whereas passengers discovering that their life jackets could do with topping up are advised by BA to "blow into the mouthpiece", Qantas passengers are advised to use the mouthpiece to "inflate manually". This is even more difficult than changing gear with one's teeth. How many passengers will sink to the depths of the ocean wondering how this sleight of hand is to be accomplished?
Those responsible for the dismissal of Sharon Shoesmith have first promoted an ideology of targets and managerialism and then sacked a functionary who was misguided enough to embrace it.
Amerdeep Johal, a policeman, used "confidential" police databases in an alleged attempt to blackmail criminals and suspected criminals into giving up large sums of money for his own gain (report, 9 December). This misuse of the police database highlights the obvious problems with the massive National Identity Register database proposed by the Home Office. The list of those who would potentially have access to our most personal and sensitive data is growing and growing, with no limit to the amount of information that could be stored. The future of personal privacy is looking bleak.
Stephanie Irene Spoto
Where are we?
If subjects such as geography and history are to be considered educational "clutter"' we really have got lost on the map of the primary curriculum ("Schools told reading is top priority", 8 December). Current pupils will grow up in an increasingly globalised society and job market. If we do not provide opportunities, starting in primary schools, for them to become curious about their world and able to investigate it – all key elements of geography – we will have done them a great disservice.
Head of Education, The Royal Geographical Society, London SW7
That someone as eminent as Baroness Warnock thinks that "the difference between turning off a machine and giving someone an injection is an arbitrary one" and cannot see a moral distinction between the two is worrying ("The right to die?", 6 December). The difference is clear. One is the removal of support for life which permits a process to ensue which, without that support, would already have taken its course. The other induces a process which, without the intervention, would not (yet) occur. They cannot be considered to be morally equivalent.
'Like, oh my God!'
Brian Viner (Opinion, 28 November) omitted two of the superfluous terms used by young people today, especially, it seems, young women: "like" and "Oh my God!" The former is often used several times in one sentence: "I was, like, walking down the road, and I'm like, meeting my friend, and she's, like, waiting for me." Meanwhile, "Oh my God!" seems to have become a generic form of exclamation: "Oh my God, it's raining"; "Oh my God, it's three weeks to Christmas"; "Oh my God, I love those shoes."