Sir: It is shaming that in 2006 there is still widespread abuse in the homes for mentally disabled people (report, 5 July). At least The Independent is giving this headline status. The public perception of our most vulnerable people is going to be key in efforts put into their care. Devalued people end up with devaluing services run by devalued staff.
Another devalued group, older people, have suggested in the recently published inquiry into mental health and well-being in later life (Age Concern/Mental health Foundation) that improving public attitudes is their top priority for action. We need positive images of vulnerable people and an emphasis on what they add to society, not just hand-wringing when things go wrong.
DR CHRIS ALLEN
CONSULTANT CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST STOKE MANDEVILLE HOSPITAL AYLESBURY, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: It was with dismay that I read the front page of my Independent on Wednesday. As a nurse for people with learning disabilities (RNLD), I felt demonised and under attack. Throughout the day I heard comments that broke my heart, accusations that those who work in learning disability (LD) services regularly abuse their clients, and don't care about their well-being.
Most people who work with people with LD genuinely have a desire to help, support and care for their clients. I have witnessed some excellent quality care being provided under demanding circumstances. I have also witnessed lazy, poor-quality care that should not have been taking place.
I believe that most of the poor care is due to an inexperienced and uneducated workforce. It is only in a few NHS units that qualified RNLDs are employed, and are able to keep an eye on the way care is delivered. RNLDs are the only professionals that are specifically trained in LD and the associated communication problems, behavioural, psychiatric and physical health problems. The vast majority of care to people with LD is provided by people who do not understand all the above issues and cannot support people adequately.
Rather than focusing on reactive strategies to these issues, the Government and social services should focus on training and educating their workforce to a level where it can work unsupervised. And if that means employing RNLDs in residential homes then that should be the case. The NHS withdrew RNLDs from residential units as their "expertise was required in more specialised areas". It is time for a positive and proactive response to these recurring scandals, otherwise I (and probably most RNLDs) will just be waiting for the next one to occur.
GATESHEAD, TYNE & WEAR
Bomb outrage: core question remains
Sir: If Tony Blair's performance in front of the Commons Liaison Committee was designed to deflect attention away from the Government's responsibility in fomenting radicalisation - he should be very proud of himself. By placing the blame on the Muslim community, he does little to address the core question we all want answered. What drives four men to commit the outrage we witnessed a year ago? Not only has Mr Blair refused to accept a public inquiry, he has vociferously denied a link between western foreign policy and radicalisation.
As a Muslim born and brought up in this country I have lived through western double standards in Bosnia, the Gulf War, the invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the lack of a real response to Israeli aggression and the propping up of tyrannical rulers throughout the Muslim world. I like many feel angered by Blair's claim of false grievance against western governments.
Despite the fact that the majority of Muslims condemned the 7 July bombings, the Prime Minister is happy to blame us. Over the last year, the Government and the media response has made the vilification of Muslims acceptable.
Despite this it is important now - more than it has ever been - for all of us to take part in a discussion that seeks to understand our viewpoints and to create cohesion and good relations rather than pander to the divisive stance of this government.
Sir: Dr Rashed Akhtar (letter, 6 July) says that "countless initiatives to defeat extremist ideas" were "blown to pieces by the authorities' own ineptitude in the Forest Gate disaster". He goes on to imply that Forest Gate is how "Blair and his stooges" are creating extremism in "the first place".
Is this the voice of "moderate" Muslims? Does he, or they, have no idea of the huge weight of numerous murderous atrocities carried out, in Europe and elsewhere, by Muslims: and how incredible it is to us moderate Britishers to see one police miscalculation in London, and one bullet in one shoulder, seen as somehow proving that Mr Blair (and his stooges), and presumably the rest of us, are out to get and harm Muslims. How astonishing. What hell lies ahead if this is the moderate Muslim.
DR JON GOWER DAVIES
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Sir: Murder is committed in the name of Islam - whatever Islam may appear to say on the matter. An important way of moving forward is to reach out to the wider community. Rather than signing up to marginalised, self-proclaimed groups claiming to "represent" British Islam in all its hues, British Muslims would be much better advised to seek out those whose job it is to represent them: their Member of Parliament. This would serve the additional purpose of interacting with people who are not Muslim, thereby improving both camps' knowledge of each other.
Why football breeds displays of emotion
Sir: I feel utterly defeated when writers of such clear erudition as Dominic Lawson (4 July) resort to that clichéd jibe, so beloved of bar-room football critics, that footballers are all whingeing over-paid pansies while rugby players and cricketers are paragons of manliness and fair-play. These sports are different and drawing comparisons between the behaviour of their exponents is an exercise in simplistic futility.
In rugby all but the most brutal of assaults are perfectly within the rules. Barging, kicking, elbowing are accepted as part and parcel of a good match. No wonder players leave the field, winners or losers, in a state of catharsis. Cricketers spend large parts of each game standing idle, able to contemplate the game. Rarely does emotion rise above an impassioned plea to an umpire.
To play football at the highest level, players are required to sustain an intense level of focused physical and mental energy through the entire match while at the same time being constantly penalised and censured for the smallest of physical contact. In short, they are fired up but de-barred from firing off.
Is it really any wonder that this frustration leads to the outpouring of raw emotion, not just when things go wrong but after a success as well?
MPs demand West Lothian answers
Sir: Proportional representation may be the answer to many problems but surely not the West Lothian question, as you conclude in your editorial "The English question left over from devolution" (4 July).
The injustice to the electorate of English cities, counties and towns is that when compared with the electorates in Scotland and Wales, they cannot through the ballot box decide to have different policies on transport, health, education etc from those imposed by a London-based central government. Changing the voting system does not empower these locally disenfranchised electorates.
When the added unfairness of the Barnett formula is added, it is no wonder that many English Labour MPs are exercised by this issue. Gordon Brown or any other Labour Party leadership contender had better have a better solution than proportional representation if they want to be successful.
I can see no reason why resources and services cannot be devolved back to English local government, which after all is considerably more effective and efficient than central government.
GRAHAM STRINGER MP
(MANCHESTER BLACKLEY, LAB) HOUSE OF COMMONS
Armed police on a London street
Sir: Much as I sympathise with James Carroll's frightening experience at Canary Wharf, I am surprised that an American is not used to having his car surrounded by armed police, or have Hollywood been feeding us untruths all these years?
The real situation he might ponder is how our equally-mythical Jack Warner bobby has been transformed into a paramilitary. Perhaps it may have a little to do with the foreign policies which we have so enthusiastically copied. I suggest he complains not to a British newspaper but to the source of the problem, the White House.
HORSHAM, WEST SUSSEX
We pay a high price for our luxuries
Sir: Deborah Orr attributes an increase in mental health problems to "a problem with the way our society is organised" (Opinion, 5 July). Too true!
Picture the scene in a typical British household. Alarm buzzes very early, adults rise (after too little sleep), have a hurried breakfast (or just coffee), wake the children (who have had too little sleep) and chivvy them to get dressed. Drop off children at childminder or nursery or school breakfast club; parents work all day (eating a pre-packed sandwich at desk for lunch); collect children; arrive home too exhausted to cook; heat up a convenience packet meal; watch TV to receive lifestyle advice on raising children, cooking exotic meals or the latest interior decor and fall in to bed. Weekends are consumed with household chores and attempts to spend quality time with the children.
The Government in its drive for everyone to work, silently approves this existence though even a non-medical person can sense it is detrimental to the mental health of every member of that family. But many choose this life not just to survive and pay the bills but because they have swallowed the myth that foreign holidays, new cars and the latest gadgets are not luxuries but "must-haves", a myth which is constantly perpetuated in all media, including The Independent.
Until there is a sea-change in the economic beliefs not only of the Government but of most of the working population, the number of people that eventually burn out or break down and claim incapacity benefit will continue to inexorably rise and the mental health of our children will continue in its current perilous state.
British 'chicks' resent being patronised
Sir: I am amazed that The Independent has seen fit to give a column to Cooper Brown. Apparently he is the head of the UK Film Board's Development Fund. He is from the USA. His comments are either purely ignorant, or supremely patronising, such as "I met Bob Geldof's daughter, called (get this!) Peaches. Seriously."
Yes Cooper, everyone in the UK has known of Peaches since her birth and, hey get this, she has three sisters with equally unusual names. Peaches in the UK are items of fruit, maybe the term means something else in the US? See, I can "do" patronising too.
Mainly I am disgusted by Cooper's continual references to women as "chicks". No doubt he would claim that his use of the term is ironic, but it is not acceptable in the UK and has not been so for decades. I hope The Independent re-considers giving this fatuous man a platform.
Next on the list
Sir: I suppose it was inevitable that the mega-minds in the Washington think tank that has produced the unparalleled successes of the Bush/Blair policies in Afghanistan and Iraq should be looking where next they might benignly intervene to bring the so obvious blessings of their vaunted freedom and democracy ("Bush urged to intervene after Castro's death", 3 July). After Cuba, what next? The world?
We need Afghan opium
Sir: As a GP, constantly warned about the shortages of diamorphine (heroin) for medicinal use, I see in despair the writings in your newspaper about one of the reasons for the attacks on our forces being that the Taliban tell all the poppy farmers that the British are there to destroy the poppy cultivation. Why cannot we, the EU or the UN buy up the poppy crop, keep what we need for medicinal use, consider using more for harm reduction and destroy the rest?
DR JON MATSON
LLANDRINDOD WELLS, POWYS
Not just lobsters
Sir: It's progress of a sort that the American Whole Foods supermarket chain has banned sales of live lobsters ("Save the Lobster", 5 July) as it believes lobsters feel pain when plunged into boiling water. The real issue though, is that no living creature should have its most precious possession, its life, taken from it by a species that does not need it, and has the intelligence to know that, but not very often the compassion to behave differently. A plant-based diet is good for humans, animals, and the environment - it's time to go veggie!
Sir: Although it is nice to see, for a change, credit given to academic researchers ("10 Britons who shaped our world", 5 July), I was disappointed to see no mention of the many British pioneers of the modern computer. Unsung heroes at Cambridge such as Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes, David Wheeler and indeed my father, and their counterparts at Manchester, created much of the technology on which modern computing is based. Without this almost all of the scientists mentioned in your list would have found their research much harder, if not impossible.
The perfect guest
Sir: It seems odd that people should think there might be some impropriety in John Prescott being entertained by Philip Anschutz . One only has to look at Mr Prescott to realise that the invitation could not have been extended due to any influence that Mr Prescott may have over decisions affecting Mr Anschutz's business interests; it was obviously Mr Prescott's good looks, courtly manners and witty conversation that made Mr Prescott a desirable house guest.
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