Letters: Shifting burden of care for the old

These letter appear in the Tuesday 22nd October edition of the Independent

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The Independent Online

Your front page article on “society’s shameful failure to take responsibility for older relatives” (18 October) made me feel very angry.

My elderly mother lives 150 miles away and refuses to move nearer to me so I can see her more often. I drive round the motorways from Dorset to Essex nearly every time she is in hospital: three times this year. I speak to her on the phone every other day. I organise her care over the phone; she has help with shopping and personal care. I helped her fill in the forms for attendance allowance so she has enough money to go to church in a taxi, to her church club on Tuesdays, and to the hairdressers. 

We try and see her as often as we can, at least every two to three months, but we also have six grandchildren who live all over the country. I have three voluntary jobs too. Oh, and I have osteoarthritis myself.   

Sounds like just another government plot to shift the burden of care further on to “hardworking families” by making them feel guilty. Good job I don’t do guilt.

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset

Jeremy Hunt bemoans our attitude to the elderly and the problems of loneliness. A worthy statement, but altruism from the Nasty Party? I don’t buy it. Far more likely is that this is the start for a further withering of welfare and care provision, leading to the expectation that the family will care for their elderly relatives when they are bed-ridden and incontinent.

The elderly do not want to be a burden on their families, who have their own lives to lead. I would not want to be a burden either – visits from the family, yes, but not the provision of daily bodily needs.

My pension will pay for care or a care home if that is my future, and I don’t begrudge part of the tax paid on that pension helping provide the safety net for those not so well provided for.

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

Horrors of the slave trade  are no secret

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right to remind us of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade (21 October). It is indeed a shameful part of our history, but to describe it as “hidden” is a nonsense.

Fifty years ago I was taught at school about the lucrative but disgusting “triangular trade” which took cheap manufactured goods to West Africa, bartered them for slaves, and transported the slaves to the New World, where they were sold and the ships re-loaded with sugar, molasses, tobacco, cotton and so on. We were taught that Liverpool was heavily involved in this diabolical trade, but I admit that the part played by Bristol only became clear, to me at any rate, some years later.

I also remember reading Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, written in 1855; in it the disgraceful trade indulged in by Sir John Hawkins was much criticised. There is ample evidence that Sir Francis Drake took a dim view of his cousin’s disgusting behaviour, and took no part in it.

Robert Curtis


Nobody chooses food banks

Dennis Wang (letters, 19 October) writes to question why food bank users are returning food which has to be heated. He seems to have a vision of people walking into a supermarket-like space and just helping themselves. He clearly has little knowledge of how food banks operate.  

People have to be referred by being given a voucher by an official (such as a health visitor, doctor or children’s centre worker) who has found that they are in need. 

Boxes pre-packed with an approved list of groceries (such as baked beans, tinned fish, soup, pasta) by volunteers are handed to users, so there is no choice of food. But once volunteers are informed that someone cannot heat food, they will be able to exchange foods for equivalents which don’t need heating.  Unopened food returned to the food bank will be given to someone else in need. 

Without food banks, thousands of people for whom the safety net has failed would not be able to feed themselves. Volunteers at distribution points report that users are embarrassed to have to seek this help, and that they are extremely grateful for the help they receive. 

Welfare cuts mean that many parents are going without meals in order to feed their children, so it is not surprising that they are turning to food banks. However, it is only a crisis service, and most food banks can only assist people a total of three to five times in the course of a year.

Elizabeth York, Northampton


The quality of teacher education

It was concerns about the impact of government policy on the quality of teaching and teacher education, similar to those expressed by Mary Bousted and others (letter, 21 October), that led to the establishment earlier this year of our inquiry into Research and Teacher Education. This initiative is being run jointly by the British Educational Research Association and the Royal Society for the Arts.

We have been commissioning reviews of existing evidence and gathering submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. Our interim report will be published shortly and we will then be seeking views again from our broadly based reference group and from our advisers (who include Lord Puttnam and the former Senior Chief Inspector of Education in Scotland, Graham Donaldson) before publishing our final report early next year. (More details of the inquiry can be found at bera.ac.uk)

Early indications from the inquiry are that the quality of education provided in our schools is closely related to the research activity that underpins and informs good-quality teacher education. This includes research that is undertaken by teachers themselves.

Ian Menter, President, British Educational Research Association; Professor of Teacher Education, University of Oxford

We recognise the legitimate concerns of people from across the education sector about the Government’s teacher education reforms.

The university sector has worked constructively to maintain and improve the quality of teacher education and to ensure the success of policies such as School Direct. Nevertheless the pace of reform and the rapid roll-out of an unproven system is imposing significant stress on existing school-university partnerships and potentially threatening teacher supply. Ministers need to take a more measured and balanced approach.

James Noble-Rogers, Executive Director, Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, London WC1

I wholeheartedly agree with the signatories to the letter (21 October) arguing that universities must remain key in the education of trainee teachers. But I would go further: as a teacher, it is vital that my professional development is informed by educational research and that I acquire the skills to be an educational researcher.

These things are important because I daily deal with students whose learning needs are not well understood. Universities are ideal places to develop teachers because they have educational researchers working with cognitive scientists to find solutions.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands


Mitchell deserves his punishment

There has been a great deal said about “Andew Mitchell’s ordeal”. I have no sympathy for anyone, in the police or not, who distorts the truth, and they must accept the consequences of their actions. However, Mr Mitchell’s “ordeal” was brought about by his own arrogant and stupid behaviour in demanding that he be allowed to ride his bicycle through the main gate at Downing Street when there was a perfectly adequate side gate.

Mr Mitchell’s response to being refused access was to swear at the officer. He has apologised for his behaviour, but his attitude on this occasion was well below that we should expect from a politician. Anyone else would have been arrested or cautioned at a police station for the same behaviour.

There should certainly be the most rigorous examination of police behaviour, and any misdemeanour dealt with appropriately. So should Mr Mitchell now accept that he has overall responsibility for the incident, and having lost his position should accept it with good grace. Arrogance and bad manners should not be rewarded with reinstatement to government.

Gillian Munrow, Amersham, Buckinghamshire


The wrong kind of electricity

It will be interesting, in the fullness of time, to compare the true cost to the taxpayer of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from the new Hinkley nuclear power station to the cost per kilowatt-hour of the solar power subsidy that is paid to owners of some domestic installations.

That subsidy (which lasts 25 years, not the full nuclear 40) was, you may recall, regarded as so grossly and unnecessarily and unfairly inflated that the Government, ever mindful of the public purse, decided to implement a still continuing series of cuts to it. To ministers, this far-sighted measure seemed so obvious and crucial to the economy that, I seem to remember, it took recourse to the courts to stop them from stampeding to implement it even before their own consultation period had expired.

Perhaps the electricity produced by environmentally low-cost home installations isn’t as good as that from Franco-Chinese nuclear reactors. I doubt it will prove more expensive, even with the full subsidy. Additionally, of course, after the payback period (typically around 10 years) and a little maintenance, any domestic-solar electricity is effectively free. And we don’t want to encourage that sort of thing, do we?

Barry Coveney, Axminster, Devon


Maths, science and climate

That two plus two equals four is not a scientific statement at all, as Dr Robin Russell-Jones appears to believe, in his letter about the BBC and climate change (17 October). It is a formal truth telling us something about how numerical language is used; it has no empirical content and thus says nothing about the world.

Scientific statements by the IPCC or anyone else have no comparable logical status and shouldn’t claim any. When views at odds with climate change orthodoxy are interestingly more prevalent, the BBC, as a newsgathering organisation, is right to air them.

John Wiseman, Salisbury


Great read

I have been awaiting Morrissey’s autobiography with bated breath. He was the charismatic leader of the funniest comedy-pop band of the 1980s and with time their songs have become even more hilarious.  I can’t listen to the Smiths now without laughing out loud. I really am looking forward to a rib-cracking read!

Neil Shoesmith, Eaglescliffe, Stockton