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- Arts + Ents
Monday 9 April 2012
Letters: School meals
We must nourish poorer children
That school meals are shrinking (report, 3 April) is yet another indicator that children in our poorer communities are bearing the brunt of the government's austerity measures: hungry children are more likely to be disruptive in class, to have low levels of concentration and to be less resistant to childhood illnesses.
Significant numbers of children from poorer households leave home without breakfast and they are dependent on school meals as their main source of nutrition. As escalating unemployment and rising energy costs impact upon poorer families, surely an investment in improving the quality and quantity of school meals would prove cost-effective in the long term?
There is clear evidence that childhood obesity and rickets, which is re-emerging in Britain, are linked to poor levels of nutrition, and Britain still has one of the worst child poverty records in Europe.
Well-nourished children are far more likely to achieve their potential in education and employment.
This country's recovery will partly dependent on the next generation's workforce being able to successfully compete in the global workforce. It is in our collective interest to ensure that every child living below the poverty line has at least one nutritious meal each day during the school term.
I can't see any political party that has addressed the issue of those starving in our country. Instead the government has pulled the rug from under charities that are supposed to make a difference. What is truly outrageous is that in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world where many people are overweight, anyone is short of food.
Just to straighten out a couple of facts: in the article "Look back in hunger" (6 April), Kids Company actually supports 17,000 children in London, not 13,000, and it was Netmums, not Mumsnet (different organisations) who supplied the figures on the mothers missing meals.
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Secret courts and new laws are a threat to justice
The CIA is turning up the pressure on the UK government for secret court hearings. As we have seen with the one-sided extradition treaty between the US and UK, new laws and new powers that start off aimed at terrorism will soon be used for other purposes and, in the case of the extradition treaty, for white-collar and cyber crime. It is not a matter of "if" new laws are re-directed, it is "when".
The terrible loss of life on 9/11 was not the result of a failure of UK security. Equally, British security services have shared details of terrorism plots in the UK with the US authorities only to find those details being aired on TV within hours, possibly compromising trials in this country.
Once this one-sided compromise of open justice in the UK is put in place who will ever revoke it? It will all be done behind closed doors, without open review or debate. So when it starts being applied to other types of proceedings, the only people to realise that will be the ones who suddenly find themselves shackled in a Texas prison.
Thatcham, West Berkshire
Whit Monday is long gone
Your leading article claims that the Later Spring Bank Holiday (formerly Whit Monday) is also linked to the phases of the moon. This is more than 40 years out of date. In 1971, Whit Monday was formally replaced by a fixed spring bank holiday on the last Monday in May. It is no longer designated Whit Monday, it's the Spring Bank Holiday.
In 2005 and 2008, Easter fell exceptionally early, towards the end of March ("To everything there is a season", Leading article, 7 April). The Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays passed as usual, enabling churchgoers to attend Good Friday devotions unimpeded, but there was a six-day gap until the school holidays started in early April.
The school term was not unnecessarily curtailed, though my late father, who was a schoolmaster, used to say that a longer summer term brought about by an early Easter had beneficial effects on public examination results.
Whit Monday was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday which usually falls on the last Monday in May, regardless of the date of Whitsun. This year, Whit Monday is 28 May which would have coincided with the Late Spring Bank Holiday but this year the Late Spring Bank Holiday has been replaced by celebrations for the Royal Jubilee, with a double public holiday on 4 and 5 June. The two public holidays in May now have nothing to do with the Christian calendar. So by all means try to change ther dates but we Christians have already arranged our devotions as we wish.
TfL cannot afford to reduce fares
As a member of the TfL Board for the past five years, I have seen the real benefit that London is starting to get from the long-overdue, significant investment in the Tube, under both Mayors. We cannot afford to put future investment at risk by cutting London's fares, which are set by the Mayor rather than TfL, when there is still so much to be done for the Tube and the recently commenced Crossrail.
The money from fares, in spite of all the recent cost-cutting by the Tube, is essential to help fund the investment London needs. Unfortunately, there are no reserves in TfL's finances that can both cut fares and maintain the Tube investment programme.
I have just spent a frustrating couple of days trying to arrange a group travel ticket for Zones 1 and 2 in London for one day in May. It has been impossible; the TfL website is useless. In the year of the London Olympics, when London can expect groups and parties from Japan or Timbuktu for that matter, it should be reasonably easy to arrange a group ticket for travel in advance.
According to the website, you have to purchase group tickets at a London station on arrival. On telephoning TfL, I was told that I can purchase advance group tickets at a Tube station. I live in Huddersfield, (our party of 25 adults is from Halifax); am I supposed to make a special trip to London purely to get our advance tickets? Or do we have to queue and manage a party of 25 on their first visit to London, some with little English, at King's Cross ticket-office on arrival? How ridiculous.
I tried to complain about this on the TfL website by laboriously filling out their complaint form; on pressing Submit my computer was directed to a server error 500 page. So you can't even complain.
On the phone, they don't handle complaints about the website. They have also not replied to the enquiry I emailed them about advance purchase more than four days ago.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Life is no gift: it's a consequence
Tom Baxter (letters, 4 April) states the "fact" that "Life is essentially a gift". If he is correct, can he please explain why the giver is so casual about the quality?
Approximately one-third of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion within the first trimester, and a significant proportion of live births are incapable of independent life or suffer from more or less crippling physical defects or chronic conditions. The tiny proportion of conceptions which end in deliberate abortion is nothing in comparison.
Similarly, the wise giver might be more careful to bestow the gift where it is wanted by the infertile, not upon the ill-informed 13-year-old or the woman who already has unplanned children through contraceptive failure, let alone the victim of assault or coercion.
But if life "just happens" then it isn't a gift. It's simply the consequence of previous physical events. To be pro-choice is not to be anti-life. Nobody is obliged to resort to abortion (or euthanasia) if they don't choose to, but it would be nice if the "pro-life" lobby would respect our differences. Such tolerance, I suggest, is high among "the necessary values that underpin our common good".
I agree with Viv Groskop's call for the Government to stay out of the abortion debate (3 April). But as an American who was involved years ago in a pro-choice organisation, I wish she hadn't bought into the other side's use of "pro-life".
People who think women should have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion are not "anti-life". In fact, many who believe women are too stupid to control their own bodies often worry more about the period from conception to birth than about what happens to the child afterwards.
That's not pro-life in my book. All these terms are politically and emotionally loaded, so can we just stick with pro- and anti-choice?
Stark reality of education today
Vivienne Rendall's letter (3 April) paints a stark picture of the reality of education in schools as a direct result of the disastrous "measurement by results" policies followed by recent governments. Words and terms such as "futile", "appalling behaviour" and "fudging of results" aptly describe a disenfranchised, bored classroom population. The boredom and lack of motivation is caused by a one-size-fits-all-teaching- to-the-test pedagogy in which individual complexities and learning needs are ignored. Sadly, lessons are not being learnt by our present policymakers who continue to drag teachers' reputations and professionalism through the mud and coerce them to persevere in treating pupils as factory products.
Professor Bill Boyle
School of Education, University of Manchester
The art of what?
David Lister (Arts, 7 April) is right to say that it is presumptuous for individuals to pontificate on what is and isn't art. But ground rules would help. It would be nice if an artistic work required some measurable input from its creator. A pickled sheep, a dishevelled bed, a series of colour altered photographs, or an arrangement of bricks hardly caused their producers long intellectual struggles, and would have no validity if I were to produce them, as I most certainly could.
Your report about the county cricket championship (5 April) claims that Northern sides have dominated in recent years. In fact, the last 10 titles have been won three times by Northern teams, three times by Midlands teams and four times by Southern teams. Perhaps you could arrange a few domestic geography lessons for London journalists?
Gone in a puff ...
Smokers are addicts. They express addictive behaviour ("Smoking is no longer acceptable, says minister", report, 7 April). If these addicts give up smoking they might turn to alcohol. Is it not time to hide the drinks displays?
Nicholas E Gough
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