Ian Birrell's hard-hitting article on the abuse of people with disabilities (6 November) is right to argue that although social progress has been made in tackling prejudice, the progress has been uneven. People with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, are still regularly demeaned, mocked or harassed in public. Given this, it would be easy to lapse into pessimism, but there are things that can be done to tackle bigotry by treating young people as part of the solution, not the problem.
When we looked into the problem among people with learning disabilities whom we support, we found that many experienced regular bullying on public transport, often by schoolchildren. Many of the victims said they were afraid to travel even short distances, thus leaving them prone to isolation. That's why our UR on Board project was set up, supporting people with learning disabilities to go into schools and tell pupils face to face what having a disability means and how it feels to face daily harassment.
The project confirmed what we suspected, that this type of bullying is often fuelled by ignorance. Few of the school- children had previously known people with learning disabilities, or understood the impact of their slurs and insults. As a result of the sessions, a third said they would stand up for people with learning disabilities in the future.
Of course, no single project will end the discrimination faced by people with learning disabilities, nor will government hate- crime legislation. The only way to tackle it is for everybody in society to recognise it for the unacceptable ugliness that it is, and to oppose it in their everyday lives.
Chief executive, United Response, London SW15
Poor callers kept on hold
In his annual report last month, the Social Fund Commissioner revealed that that his test calls to Jobcentre Plus crisis-loan telephone lines showed a failure rate of 55 per cent in 2008/9, a rise from the already unacceptable failure rate of 36 per cent in 2007/8. In some areas the failure rate was 93 per cent.
Not counted as failures are those calls which have been held in a queue and answered within seven minutes. This means the many welfare claimants with only a mobile phone, desperate for a loan to feed the children, buy school clothes or pay for Christmas, or with the bailiff at the door, have paid 40p a minute before the telephone claim begins; or they never get through before funds and batteries are exhausted. BT has cut off one million land lines and there are no free-phone calls on a mobile.
The implications for the delivery of the rest of the welfare system are obvious. In one of our cases both Jobcentre Plus and HM Revenue and Customs failed repeatedly to answer the phone for four months to a disabled woman with a history of depression; so she was without unemployment benefits or working tax credit, with rent and council tax arrears mounting ever higher. She reached the end of her tether and was unable to work. Eventually £1,600 tax credits were paid. We applied for compensation for the distress she suffered. HMRC tell us they will not respond for a few months; Jobcentre Plus offered £25.
the Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust,
David Cameron cannot seriously believe that a party that got into power in 1979, and stayed there for 17 years, by appealing to people's greed for tax deductions, can persuade those who complain about single mothers and others on state benefits to voluntarily contribute to charities to support them?
In 1979 the basic rate of income tax was 33 per cent. If this had continued, revenue from income tax would increase by 65 per cent. We were assured that the loss of revenue would be offset by efficiency savings. It has taken a while for the full effect of these efficiencies to show; such as the contracting out of hospital cleaning services which may well have been a major factor in the spread of hospital infections.
It also led to the demise of the park-keeper. Much anti-social behaviour, such as under-age drinking, drug-taking and graffiti takes place in parks. Park-keepers were well respected and the cry "Watch out, the parkie is coming" nipped many a misdemeanour in the bud.
During the "terrible" 1960s and 1970s of Tory folklore there were no homeless people sleeping rough on the streets.
R E Hooper
Stratford on Avon
The state may be able to target the symptoms of poverty, but it is grassroots organisations that are best placed to tackle its root causes ("'Big society' is the solution to poverty, declares Cameron", 11 November). At Rugby School, we work closely with the educational charity IntoUniversity and have witnessed how it transforms the lives of thousands of disadvantaged young people by offering academic advice and a quiet place to study and by fostering ambition in children as young as seven in deprived inner-city areas.
Schemes such as this are simple and cost-effective, and have a proven record of success. They should be central to any strategy designed to lift people out of poverty and improve social mobility.
Head Master, Rugby School
In memory of animals in war
It's a pity that Tom Sutcliffe (11 November) was irritated by Morrissey's wearing of a purple poppy to commemorate the animals lost in war.
Quaker Concern for Animals was represented at the Anglican service held at the Animals' War Memorial on Park Lane on 8 November, which some 85 people attended.
We were also official participants at the Eastbourne Remembrance, in company with several other animal-welfare groups, where we laid a wreath of purple poppies.
In Warrington, QCA joined with Catholic Concern for Animals to lay wreaths endorsed by Christian clerics and, in recognition of our interfaith friendship, by two Jain communities from London and Manchester.
Animals have served and died in conflict since ancient times, on the front line, as beasts of burden, messengers, search-and-rescuers and to detect the presence of bombs; they are today used in Ministry of Defence weapons testing.
To recognise their suffering is not to detract from the respect we pay the human victims of war – which we did at the services described above.
None of them had any choice. War devastates all life.
Still waiting for my parcel
Further to my letter published on 6 November, this week I was away from home two days. When I returned, there were two cards from City Link couriers, the first one saying they couldn't deliver as no one home, the second the next day saying I had to collect the parcel from their depot.
Their depot is in Okehampton, Devon; I live in St Ives, Cornwall, so I was expected to make a round trip of 180 miles to pick up an unknown parcel. I tried phoning them, but their automated system informed me that a new delivery was not possible, and the item would be returned to the sender.
There was another card from the Post Office, saying there was a parcel. I walked to the local sorting office, and collected the item the same day. Another example of how wonderful private enterprise is inferior to the bloated public sector.
St Ives, Cornwall
Electric cars are the greenest cars
If there are doubts about the green credentials of electric cars (report, 12 November), then there should not be.
Even with the current mix of fuels for electricity generation, CO2 emissions produced by electric cars compare favourably with the best of the petrol-driven variety (and are about 20 per cent of the average). With increased generation by windpower etc, this advantage will become even more pronounced.
Replacing 11 million cars with electric equivalents would require about 10 per cent extra electricity generation; so not trivial, but not impossible, especially if economies could be made elsewhere. The emissions gains would be considerable.
However, if EU regulations would still allow car manufacturers to sell 3.5 SUVs for every electric vehicle, then the regulations must be changed. If the regulatory framework is optimised, then car manufacturers would be manoeuvred into a position where their advertisements had greater emphasis on green issues rather than on performance or portrayal as some form of lifestyle accessory.
Solutions to the 'war on drugs'
All Chris Forse's fears and queries (letter, 13 November) are answered in the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation's excellent new pamphlet, After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation. The whole document and an executive summary can be downloaded free. Anyone who still does not believe that the war on drugs is lost, or who does believe that it has, but is unsure what to do next, should read this paper.
Peter Groome, solicitor (letters, 9 November) says that he does not see many defendants who have caused difficulties having taken Ecstasy or cannabis. This is probably because taking those two substances is mainly illegal.
I cannot thank you enough for publishing Johann Hari's article "Accept the facts and end this futile war on drugs" (11 November). Being a father of a seven-year-old boy, it is my greatest wish that drugs are re-legalised and effectively regulated before he reaches an age when he will be a target of black-market dealers.
Santa Cruz, California, USA
Hail Wootton Bassett
The letter from Len Jones (12 November) regarding Wootton Bassett and its support for the returning troops has my wholehearted support. The newly inaugurated Elizabeth Cross could, I think, be the most appropriate award. We gave Malta a collective "George Cross" in the Second World War, so a collective medal in this case could be the right thing to do now.
Insurance for cyclists
Motorists are legally obliged to carry insurance because cars can cause accidents and injuries. Cyclists travelling on the road are unlikely to injure other road users but when riding on the pavement – frequently at speed and with no bell – they can and do cause injuries to pedestrians (letters, 12 November). Perhaps cycling on the pavement ought to be conditional on cycles carrying registration plates and cyclists being insured.
The row over Gordon Brown's letter of condolence reminds me that my grandmother received a letter from the Front in 1916, from her husband's commanding officer, informing her of his death and returning personal effects. It was written in pencil on a roughly torn-out piece of notepaper; the handwriting was far from good. But it demonstrated that the officer knew my grandfather and was aware of the effect this loss would have on his widow. That letter, in such contrast to the official notification, was treasured by my grandmother and by her family today.
Fergie and the refs
Isn't it an extraordinary coincidence that football managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson only complain about referees' decisions when those decisions appear to favour the opposition? It's almost as if these managers are more concerned about winning than they are about fair play. I wonder if, rather than criticising the match officials, Sir Alex's time might be better spent explaining to his spoilt, overpaid, whingeing players that deliberate fouling, diving, feigning injury and shouting abuse at referees makes the referee's job quite difficult.
How refreshing to read Mary Dejevsky's piece (10 November) in praise of practical, realistic politicians. I never thought to see a British journalist write thus; let us have more of it. A short excursion through the history of the last 100 years should be enough to turn anyone against idealist politics.
Maresfield, East Sussex
Kirsty Moore becomes a Red Arrows woman pilot and there's no mention of male pilots deserting to Rome. If only the Church of England sky-pilots had the common sense of their RAF counterparts.