Letters: When fathers are needed at home


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The Independent Online

"Get new fathers to stay at home with the baby and we all gain," says the headline on Mary Ann Sieghart's article of 14 May. How true. May I add one more benefit?

In our society, where fewer and fewer of us experience living in a community and hardly any have extended families, mothers often suddenly find themselves so isolated while looking after babies on their own that they are very vulnerable to depression, putting their children's health – and in some cases their lives – at risk.

Whoever is going to be the primary carer would benefit from having the other parent's company and support in the early days while the stay-at-home parent gets used to the huge change in their way of life. Adults need other adults in their daily lives for their wellbeing and sanity, just as much as they ever did, once they become the one who is responsible for all the needs of small people 24 hours a day.

Parenting is a wonderful experience, and we will all gain if we allow all parents of both sexes to enjoy it, rather than continuing to promote the outdated ethos of making living to work a virtue instead of simply working to live.

Zayda Kebede

London NW1

Mary Ann Sieghart extols the questionable virtues of paternity leave without addressing the huge downsides. Very few ambitious men working in a competitive environment will ever queue up for paternity leave, because any time out of the workplace puts that individual at a disadvantage.

Equality will not occur while women are the childbearers.

Martyn Shepherd


Clip the wings of the hovering vulture funds

The decision of the Greek government to pay off vulture funds on Tuesday ("Vulture funds circle as Greece fears grow", 17 May) is a victory for the most unscrupulous of financiers. Vulture funds have preyed on debt-stricken countries time after time, benefiting from the misery of millions of people.

Of particular concern, many vulture funds own debt governed by British law. The British government could help – by forcing all British-law creditors to accept the write-down already agreed. Or they could go further and legislate to prevent exorbitant gains being made on sovereign debts purchased on the secondary market – such a law has already been floated in the US Congress.

David Cameron and George Osborne have told the eurozone to sort itself out. The least they can do is to prevent financiers using British law to squeeze the last drops of blood from the Greek economy.

Nick Dearden

Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign

London N1

Failings in Hallam murder inquiry

I am delighted that justice has at last been found for Sam Hallam, but I was disheartened to read yet again of the major failings in the way an investigation had been carried out, particularly in this case on the part of the lead investigator at the time, DCI Broster.

It would appear that subsequent to this DCI Broster has risen to chief superintendent. Sadly he appears to be still less than capable of carrying out thorough investigations, since he was recently criticised by the coroner in the "spy in the bag" investigation for not following every possible lead in his role as vetted liaison between the police and MI6.

The police in this country can only hope to maintain the respect and trust of the population when apparently incompetent coppers are demoted and not promoted.

R W Collingham


Two thoughts occur following the Hallam case. Just as well we don't have capital punishment (yet again). And why is the officer responsible for this appalling miscarriage still in a job?

Jim Bowman

South Harrow, Middlesex

How we learn to read

I agree with previous correspondents who stress the need for a variety of methods of teaching children to read. I successfully prepared adults with poor reading skills, some with dyslexia, for undertaking training which was necessary if they wanted to keep their jobs in social care. The key was always one-to-one tuition, close observation of the student's preferred way of learning and adapting tuition to this. The student set the pace, and had a role in choosing the subject-matter and the agenda for learning.

What often struck me was how little my experience of previous students prepared me for the next one. Each different brain worked in its own way to create meaning out of lines and squiggles on white. If I put in time (and great patience) to get an insight into which interventions worked and which interventions left my student bewildered and frustrated, it prevented hours of wasted input further down the line.

Maryanne Wolf's book Proust and the Squid begins: "We were never born to read." It explains how the brain has no localised reading centre but instead borrows and uses multiple mechanisms, brain structures and neurons during the reading process. If any one of these fails to work efficiently, reading will be difficult.

If policy-makers took more genuine interest in why people don't read, and providing tailored early intervention, rather than stigmatising those who don't, criticising school teachers, criticising reading methods and politicising the whole issue, more creative solutions might emerge. This would save poor readers from decades of misery and reduce the social and economic costs of poor literacy, which have been well documented elsewhere.

Anne Hay


Twelve years ago we New Zealand members of the English Spelling Society made a submission to a parliamentary select committee's inquiry into the teaching of reading. We drew attention to the need to invest in learning, not just teaching, and asked it to recommend to the Government that it initiate a worldwide review of English spelling. We claimed learning literacy would be easier, quicker, and more enjoyable if our spelling was sensible, logical, and predictable. We pointed out that countries with spelling systems having these qualities had much better literacy rates than we had.

The committee dismissed our recommendation, saying that, though it supported the idea, it "was outside its brief".

If the National Association of Head Teachers really wants resources invested in learning (report, 8 May), it should take the lead and include upgrading our spelling, at present a major cause of illiteracy, in its mandate. All other attempts at improving English literacy deal merely with symptoms.

Allan Campbell

Christchurch, New Zealand

Sickness 'gap'is an illusion

The Office for National Statistics reports (16 May) that British workers lose about 2.1 per cent of their working days to sickness. The figures for various sectors of the economy range from around 3 per cent to 1.2 per cent, and all of these figures have been reducing since 2003. So far so good, but then Guy Bailey of the Confederation of British Industry, evidently seeing a ratio of more than 2 to 1 between the best and worst sectors, argues that "more needs to be done to close the gap".

That ratio, however, is an illusion. Production results from presence at work, not absence from it, and the relevant statistics are that British workers are about 97.9 per cent reliable, with figures for various sectors of the economy ranging from 97 per cent to 98.8 per cent. The performance of the best sector is therefore only 1.86 per cent better than that of the worst and, in extremis, if we could prevent all illness, we might be able to increase our GDP by just over 2 per cent.

The scope for improvement is therefore hardly worth discussing. It is of much greater concern that the CBI, which aims to speak for our industrial and commercial companies, does not appear to understand much about the factors of production.

Bob J Walsh

Wickersley, South Yorkshire

Who profits from Pitcairn stamps?

I admit to being a philatelist – we all have our secret vices. Among my collection are stamps from the Pitcairn Islands. I was therefore interested by the report (17 May) about the ailing economy of this outpost with a population of 60. It forces me to ask the question as to who is benefiting from these stamps. If it is not the islanders, they may as well use New Zealand stamps.

The stamps have a huge sale. They trade on the attractiveness of the island scenery and its colourful, Bounty-related history.

Even if what I have in my stamp album has not been nearer to Pitcairn than I have, their success depends on the island. How much from these sales is needed to transform the lifestyle of these few people? Who would suffer if they got even a fraction of their just share in the wealth they create?

I do not know if the responsibility lies with the Crown Agents or the New Zealand government. What I do know is that the island already creates enough wealth, and Warren Buffett's advice should not be needed for them to get their deserts.

Henry Spyvee


Police protest in wage dispute

Back in 1993, when police came under government attack via the Sheehy Report, I remember that there was serious consideration by rank-and-file officers in respect of handing back their police driving and firearms authorisations. Fortunately Michael Howard replaced Kenneth Clarke as Home Secretary, but it is worth noting that police officers are not obliged to drive police vehicles or carry firearms.

If the current attack on the police service continues, those who want to see more police walking the beat might just get what they wish for.

Chris Hobbs

London W7

I did not believe it possible to admire the Home Secretary. But, watching her on TV bravely standing up to intimidating barracking from a mob of burly, overpaid, greedy thugs changed my mind for me. I am no Conservative and I will certainly not vote for her, but no one can doubt her courage or fail to applaud her for it.

Chris Payne


How dare they prosecute me?

In spite of the gloomy forecasts, I think I see signs of hope. Following the precedent of Rebekah Brooks and her husband, every time anyone is charged with an offence under the law, a press conference will be hastily convened to announce the a surprised world that the defendant is very angry about it and innocent of all charges, and to criticise the CPS for wasting public money. I am not sure how many newspapers this will sell. Perhaps The Sun or The Times will corner the market in these exciting revelations. I can definitely wait.

David Partridge

Bridport, Dorset

Cowslips fight back

It is great this year to see how many more clumps of cowslips are growing on roadside verges – many more than in previous years. I've noticed it particularly in Oxfordshire. Some of the flowers will have been seeded but others must be making the most of the move away from the heavy pesticide use that decimated populations over the previous 40 years. Congratulations to all authorities who have contributed to this cowslip comeback – and a special tribute for the Cowslip Count campaign run by Plantlife over a decade ago.

Penelope Finian

London SW8