Letters: Welfare reform

Welfare reform offers hope to blighted estates
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The Independent Online

Your editorial on the Rhys Jones murder, "A life claimed by nihilistic violence and malign neglect" (17 December), rightly identifies "the problems of estates blighted by a chronic welfare dependency, antisocial behaviour and crushing poverty of aspiration". In the same edition David Cameron is reported opposing even the very gentle approach being proposed by the Government to ease lone parents away from welfare dependency towards preparation for the day that they will support themselves and their children.

The idea that young children should not be separated from lone parents on benefit and, that if they are separated, those children will suffer, is naive in the extreme. Quite often good-quality childcare away from their homes would go some way towards balancing their often empty or negative home environments.

What David Cameron needs to realise is that it is the absence of good-quality childcare, whether provided by parents or otherwise, and also the absence of a work ethic that is leading to social breakdown. There must be an automatic assumption by all adults that whenever possible they should support themselves and their families by their own endeavour. Help by the state should ensure that effective, affordable, good quality childcare is available when needed.

David Cameron simply demonstrates his usual shallow opportunism in opposing the Government's welfare reform, which probably does not go far enough in its approach to coaxing lone parents out of welfare dependency, or improving effective childcare to break the current cycle of deprivation and social decline.

Stephen Shields

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Your thorough coverage of gang culture in a deprived area (17 December) echoes that observation by Eric Hoffer: "Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life."

Mike Bor

London W2

The late, great Noel Coward lamented the abolition of the death penalty (Days Like These, 16 December). After the Rhys Jones murder I am sure a lot of people will be thinking the same thing.

Richard Craig

Holywood, Co Down

This Titian is not worth saving

I would like to add my whole-hearted agreement to Tom Lubbock's comments on the Titian painting we are being asked to "save" (17 December). In fact, he barely begins to list the faults with the figure of Diana.

Her head is clearly too small for her body. If you look at the position of her buttocks in relation to the front of her body, and then imagine her standing up, it is obvious that she would be seriously deformed. This is the kind of distortion that Picasso could get away with, but surely cannot have been deliberate in Titian's era. It is difficult to believe that the same artist painted the beautiful Venus of Urbino.

The other works by Titian in the National Gallery collection are wonderful examples of his work. The addition of this painting would reduce the average standard of his work on view.

Peter Benson

London NW2

Thank you, Tom Lubbock, for dispelling so cogently the myth that Titian's Diana and Actaeon is a work of supreme genius. I had been wondering if I was the only person on the planet who thought it a muddled painting.

Voicing my doubts at dinner recently, I was met with the sort of comments – those "glowing testimonials" that Mr Lubbock quotes – which implied that I did not know what I was talking about. So I fear he is right; what we have bought is an opinion which rivals that of the Emperor's new clothes, perhaps a fitting purchase in these times of financial castles in the air.

But wouldn't it have been better to give the £50m to those producing works of art now, just as it may be time to start investing in manufacturing, the actual production of goods, rather in the financial deals which have recently been shown to have no real substance?

Melissa Hawker

Ledbury, Herefordshire

How refreshing to read a rational appraisal of the campaign to "save" the Duke of Sutherland's Titian for the nation.

This painting is clearly not Titian's greatest work, and all the praise heaped upon it is little more than worship of the artist's name with scant regard for the real merit of the painting. The £50m would be much better spent on the best work of less appreciated artists, as an investment for the gallery-goer of future centuries.

Jonathan Aird

Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

Evidence on sex 'slavery' is flawed

There is no such thing as "worldwide evidence" showing female sex workers are "destitute, coerced, drug-addicted, or enslaved" (letter, 13 December). There are contested studies carried out in poor parts of Africa and Asia where the conditions of women's labour and rights in other industries are poor. These studies are badly flawed methodologically and diagnostic criteria are opaque, so cannot be relied upon for knowledge of all sex workers in any country. These, like the majority on the US sex industry, were funded by a prohibitionist Bush administration which only supported "prostitution-as-exploitation" research.

Most of the state-supported UK research naively follows the US premise. The misperception is not helped by the Home Office and Equalities Office repeatedly trotting out inflated, misleading, or unsupported statistics on trafficking, linking them to the sex industry while quietly ignoring migration figures of voluntary workers in the sex and other industries.

The notion of "who is using whom" is a flawed basis for legal logic. All sexual activity between adults, paid or otherwise, has to be thought of as a consensual contract first, with penalties for those who transgress this. To do otherwise confounds any aim of social justice.

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Reader in Psychology and Social Policy, Birkbeck, University of London

Julie Harrison (letters, 13 December) quite rightly suggests that the majority of female prostitutes do not willingly have sex with the men who use their services. Neither, though, do the young men who service British and other European women who flock to other countries which have large numbers of unemployed boys who share many of the afflictions that their female counterparts suffer from.

In countries such as India, the Caribbean, Turkey, Greece and Thailand, young men work as escorts and sex workers for older European women, who have discovered that they are wealthy by comparison, and who now visit these countries in droves looking for sex.

We need to research why there is such a market and why both men and women find little satisfaction in their own age group. There are some other cultures, such as Bali, where there is no male or female demand for prostitution, apart from tourists.

Rayner Garner

London SW4

Opera for the modern child

It is disappointing that Her-mione Eyre (12 December) did not enjoy a "modern" performance of Hansel and Gretel. The lack of prettiness and glitz which she bemoans suggests her expectation was that the production would be based on the images recollected from her own childhood. Surely it is the indication of vitality in theatrical production that it should relate to the children experiencing it.

She should have seen and heard the recent Glyndebourne touring production which I attended: little children sitting near me were captivated by the woodland scenes while a large group of immaculately behaved teenagers nearby were greatly delighted by the scenes at the witch's cottage. Ms Eyre should be delighted that opera companies are striving to make their productions relevant to new generations – and succeeding.

John Fryer

Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

ME controversy hampers research

There are some 240,000 people suffering from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in this country (letters, 15 December). While a few can experience a reasonable quality of life, the majority are unable to function normally. Some 25 per cent are housebound or bedbound. Their suffering is made worse if they meet disbelief in their doctors.

Until recently there was little understanding about the illness, but in the past few years research funded by the CFS Research Foundation has found that 88 genes in the blood of sufferers are abnormal. This research may well lead us to the diagnostic test. We will then be seeking drugs to alleviate symptoms and then achieve a cure.

The foundation is seeking more scientists to help uncover the mysteries of this illness. In the last few years we have made progress but, sadly, because there has been such dissension about the illness among doctors, ambitious researchers have turned their backs on becoming involved. Yet this area of research is proving exciting and is rapidly extending our knowledge of this chronic disease. CFS/ME is recognised by the World Health Organisation and our own Medical Research Council is anxious to research the causes and a cure. But we desperately need talented scientists to further this research.

Anne Faulkner

Hon Director, CFS Research Foundation, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Looking after the Armed Forces

Your editorial "Treat our Armed Forces fairly" (16 December) failed to recognise the range of support provided by Government for the Armed Forces.

The Government takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure that service personnel, who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf, are properly looked after. In July we published the Service Personnel Command Paper, an unprecedented package of 40 measures agreed across all Government departments to improve the lives of the Armed Forces, their families and veterans.

Introduction of increased compensation payments was just one of the measures in the Command Paper, which also includes free further education for those leaving the forces with six years' experience, better access to NHS dentistry for service families and measures to make it easier for service people to get on the housing ladder. The Royal British Legion has backed the Command Paper and said the military covenant "is being brought back into balance".

Kevan Jones

Under Secretary of State

Ministry of Defence


Democratic missile

Most Europeans and Americans surely believe that the shoe-throwing incident was good old democracy in action, not petulance as R J Hoskin suggests (letter, 18 December). Rotten fruit and eggs were often thrown at politicians spouting nonsense, so good for the Iraqi journalist.

Bill Evans

Ruthin, Denbighshire

Outback jinx defied

For what it's worth, I have absolute proof that playing the didgeridoo doesn't make you infertile if you are female ("Didgeridon't do it, Nicole", 17 December). My wife bought one in Australia and still plays it. She conceived twice in quick succession after we returned, thus utterly disproving the claim. Maybe the bad magic doesn't work if you leave Australia. Or maybe it's just a load of ludicrous sexist claptrap?

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

Facts of war

It is reassuring that it was not a drone but a gunship with 13 crew that slaughtered the wedding party (letter, 17 December). So the drone rangers the other side of the world must lose the credit. Obviously we must have the correct facts. Perhaps Alistair Philip can tell us exactly how many wedding celebrants lost one or more limbs or their sight or their mental faculties and how many burnt to death. What is the updated death toll from the action of such brave gunners?

Dr Chris Burns-Cox

Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

Rabelais the realist

Michael McCarthy's otherwise excellent piece (15 December) perpetuates a myth about Rabelais' so-called optimism. The motto of his abbey was indeed "Do what you will", but entry into it was restricted to those few well-born souls who would naturally do only good. Others were kept out. Indeed, the opening words of his Fourth Book are: "Good people, God save you and keep you; where are you, I can't see you! Wait while I fetch my glasses." Realism then, not optimism.

Professor Max Gauna


Christmas post

Not only did my local Post Office have Christmas stamps (letter, 18 December) but, to make sure they were immediately used, they offered to stick them on the cards I had brought with me. Now that's the Christmas spirit!

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire