Letters: Welfare Reform Bill

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The Independent Online

Foretaste of a country in which the sick will be forced to work

Sir: I have already experienced how the Welfare Reform Bill will attempt to force incapacity benefit claimants back to work (Letters, 27 November). As a kidney dialysis patient for around five years, I was called for a Department for Work and Pensions medical examination in May this year to check I was still eligible for benefit. Because I am not disabled nor present as unwell (kidney failure is like living in slow motion), it was concluded that my claim be switched to Jobseekers Allowance; my previous £82 a week would be immediately cut to £57.

It was not even as if I could be "available for work". At the local Job Centre I pointed out that since I have to have haemodialysis three afternoons a week, it is unlikely anyone would want to employ me. There was a palpable sense of embarrassment from the clerical officer that someone with my medical condition should be expected to work.

I have of course appealed, as presumably a lot of people will do when the Welfare Reform Bill comes into force. Six months later, I have heard nothing, and exist on £45 a week, 60 per cent of my previous award, while I await a decision. This is all stress I do not need as a severely ill person.

Fortunately, my housing benefit and council tax bills are paid. Which leaves me not quite enough for food and domestic sundries, and fuel and phone bills. Any small savings I did have have been eaten away. From my experience, all I can deduce is that the Government has decided that sick and disabled should work, but if they cannot then it is enough that they barely exist.



Absurd to apologise for an ancient wrong

Sir: I find it absurd that Tony Blair should apologise for the part played by Britain in the slave trade 200 years ago.

Slavery was abhorrent and we cannot be proud that at one time we practised it. However, it was an accepted part of the economics of the time. The prevailing belief was that native peoples were little better than animals and not deserving of the same treatment as white Europeans.

What we should be doing is celebrating the fact that some individuals had the compassion and the vision to fight for change.

It is acceptable for living participants in atrocious acts to make some apology on behalf of themselves and their peers, such as surviving members of the SS expressing regret for the Holocaust, but it seems ridiculous for our Prime Minister to apologise for acts and policies so far back in time that our present government and society has no link to them.



Sir: Our Prime Minister has expressed "deep regret" for the slave trade, but does that also apply to the population of the country or just to the government, and what of the Crown?

Are we all responsible? What of the immigrants to the country since those events, say Nigerians or Pakistanis, possibly Yasmin Alibhai-Brown herself. Does she fell "deep regret"?

Are recent arrivals excused? What is the status of the half- million east Europeans; do they help to dilute the guilt? My family came from Liverpool so they must have transmitted some of the guilt. But just a minute, their forebears came from Scotland and Wales. Do I escape?

When immigrants arrive are they made aware of the of "regret" which they must feel and the burden of guilt which will lie on their shoulders if they become UK citizens?



Sir: Must I wait until 2203 for the Government to express "deep sorrow" for Tony Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq?



The hunting law cannot be enforced

Sir: Some of your correspondents seem to have missed the point about your leader comment on the Hunting Act ("Ill-conceived and unenforceable", 20 November).

The Act was not the product of public need or demand. It had its roots in party political retribution. Despite 10 times the parliamentary time being devoted to it as to Iraq, the final product barely resembled the Bill the Government tried to get through, and was put through its final stages in one day, with no provision for improvement.

Wherever you stand on the hunting debate, comprehending the Act is almost impossible. Laws should have the consent of those they affect. In this instance, they do not, because it was not about cruelty to animals, but a thinly disguised assault on a section of society.

The Hunting Act is not working; we always said it wouldn't. Hunts are entitled to test the law while trying to interpret it as well as they can. This is no easy task.

The police have to make the best of it. Sending out a police helicopter in an attempt to decide if someone's dog is chasing a rabbit (which is legal) as opposed to a hare (which is not) is not something that should be put ahead of the fight against serious crime.



Sir: Whatever your position regarding hunting, your recent correspondence shows that the Hunting Act is simply not working.

The main argument put forward for a ban was to improve animal welfare. Clearly, with no lives of the quarry species being saved and the increase in other methods of control that are capable of wounding, that proposition has been proved wrong.

Now we hear that the problem is that Act is just not being enforced, an unsurprising situation when the police are expected to define "hunting" and "flushing" when the politicians who drafted the Act could not.

Surely the one single incident that sums up the illogical argument behind the Hunting Act is that under this law, which was passed to supposedly to save animals' lives, the first prosecution of a hunt official was due to the fact that he failed to kill the fox.



Sir: It's regrettable that for some hunters the thrill of chasing wild animals to their deaths seems to have been replaced by the thrill of trying to get around the law. As convictions for illegal hunting mount, it will be interesting to see how long that thrill will last.



Ministers need not be experts

Sir: I was perturbed by the comments of Clive Stafford Smith paraphrased in your report (27 November) in which he seems to suggest that politicians should be "experts" in their field before being posted to the Cabinet.

I'm sure that John Reid, who attracted particular criticism, would argue that a PhD in economic history from Stirling University would give him the necessary grounding to occupy a position in the Cabinet. Even if you don't agree with many of Dr Reid's policies public accountability should be the yardstick, rather than an opaque form of expertise.

The comments of Mr Stafford Smith smacked of the Anglophobic assumption that Britain hasn't moved on in 100 years since the reign of Victoria, and that our politicians are jobsworths with no definable skill sets, and worse, that the British electorate need him to point that out to us.



Doctors trained to recognise a crisis

Sir: On the subject of human error in medicine and its role in the preventable death of Elaine Bromiley ("System failure", 14 November), we fully support the initiatives implemented for postgraduate teams by the Royal College of Surgeons and others (Letters, 16 November). We believe human factor awareness needs to be introduced at an earlier stage, to create a healthcare environment where this approach is fundamental.

The University of Liverpool offers resource management training to all final-year medical students. This is a day spent in Chester and Merseyside's high-fidelity simulation centre where student teams deal with emergency situations. The scenarios recreate common medical emergencies in which a patient's health may be put at risk, not through failure of medical knowledge or inadequate treatment, but the type of system failure described in Jane Feinmann's article.

The team is immersed in a clinical scenario, which they address using the knowledge and skills they have acquired in five years of training. The scenario is recorded on video, and played back to them so they can identify the critical points and discuss strategies that would improve the outcome.

The focus is on maintaining situational awareness, through leadership with participation, where everyone feels their contribution is valid and can be heard, and on declaring the emergency, so that all present have a shared mental model.

Students value the realism, and the safe environment where mistakes can be recognised and rectified before the care of the patient becomes their responsibility. They rate this training as one of the best experiences in equipping them to react safely to the situations they will face in the forthcoming months as junior hospital doctors.



Blair's doleful legacy in Iraq

Sir: Once again Patrick Cockburn is to be commended for his courage in reporting the reality of what is happening in Iraq (28 November). The disaster that Blair has consistently reported as progress has had appalling consequences both in Iraq and throughout the region. His decision to place Britain side-by-side with the United States in such a poorly judged and mismanaged adventure has arguably increased the threat from terrorism, damaged community relations in Britain, and had a doleful impact on Britain's reputation abroad.

This is Blair's major legacy, but he is not solely to blame. Parliament backed the Prime Minister in 2003, presumably accepting the "logic" presented in support of the US invasion. We can expect no apology from Blair but at least we may hope that history delivers a damning verdict on his leadership.

This is not being wise after the event. The million people who marched in London on 15 February 2003 could foresee that a Labour government in solidarity with Bush's "war on terror" was making a massive mistake. The removal of Saddam and the presence of US troops could never bring Western-style democracy to Iraq, nor would it magically produce a wave of liberal democratic pro-American governments across the Middle East. Many said so at the time but Blair did not listen.



Paltry handouts from the mega-rich

Sir: Your piece about Phones4U Boss John Caudwell (28 November) is a sorry indictment of your self-image as a newspaper which believes in a more equal society. A £3.5m giveaway from a man worth possibly £2bn is the equivalent of me donating £100 to charity; not worthy of a one-line mention let alone a two-page spread.

The degree to which his massive fortune depends on the employees he is actually insulting is obviously lost on him and on you. A £15,000 bonus to a member of staff as a reward for 15 years' service is a paltry sum you should be decrying not trumpeting. How much better would be the fair distribution of the profits of the company over the past decade.

The story which is worth two pages but which got one line in this piece was that today a mother in Britain is expected to find the money for a wheelchair for her disabled child. The "liberal" media increasingly champions arch-capitalists whilst we return to a Dickensian society where workers are expected to applaud charity from the mega-rich at Christmas time. Shame on you.



Drink it in

Sir: The fact that the marketing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain describes her firm's concoctions of water, sugar, flavourings and sweeteners as "sports and energy drinks" (Letters, 27 November) negates the claim she makes that these products are not advertised to under-12s, many of whom will be influenced towards those products by that description.



The age of mustard

Sir: Robert Vincent's letter (24 November) has brought up an important issue about information provided by sauce companies. Fifteen years ago, I had an argument with my brother about which was the older company, Heinz or Colman's so we wrote to them. I got a letter and he got a Heinz fun pack, but I won the argument. Since then, both companies proudly display their ages on the mustard/ketchup packets.



Foreign countries

Sir: Things are not so simple as Ariadne van den Hof would have us believe (Letters, 27 November). It is true that in Dutch "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are not the same, but Dutch speakers cannot regulate foreign language usage. Both English and German speakers normally call the country "Holland" . Likewise German speakers use "England" for the whole United Kingdom and are surprised to be informed that Edinburgh is not in England. This phenomenon has been around for centuries.



Cycle safety

Sir: Your correspondent (24 November) is probably right in asserting that helmets do not make cycling safer. This should not be taken to imply that that cycling cannot be made safer. Compulsory use of sleeved high visibility jackets would remove the major cause of cycling accidents at a stroke, as they have done for highway workers. The priority - for motorcyclists as well as cyclists - is not to protect after being knocked off, but to avoid being knocked off.



Science and religion

Sir: N T Sheherd, commenting on BA cabin staff wearing crosses (letter, 27 November), is in good company. Was it not an Archbishop - the great William Temple - who said: "If I had appendicitis I would much rather be operated on by an atheist surgeon than a Christian butcher"?