Meals on wheels, Environment as election issue and others

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Meals on wheels provides more than hot dinners for the elderly

Meals on wheels provides more than hot dinners for the elderly

Sir: In response to Roy Kendall's letter regarding meals on wheels (4 April), we should be concerned about the service, but for different reasons. Jamie Oliver does not need to save older people from "junk food" - in the experience of WRVS, older people want hot nutritious food, not a burger or turkey twizzlers - and while meals on wheels may be managed on a very tight budget, they do meet standards on nutrition.

The challenge is to provide a quality, hot meal daily to older people, who often live alone, may have mobility problems and value the companionship as much as the food. In the drive to reduce local authorities' costs, frozen food (usually delivered every two weeks) is often the imposed alternative to hot food delivered daily by WRVS volunteers, who also bring companionship. WRVS, as the largest voluntary sector deliverer of meals, would welcome any initiative that improves the funding to provide better hot food, linked to daily human contact.

WRVS knows that 75 per cent of the clients it delivers meals to will see no one else that day. It also knows, because its clients tell them, that their needs are simple: a daily hot meal, social contact and a good variety and choice of food. Surely we can support that for our older citizens in 2005?

JIM DONOVAN
Executive Director, WRVS
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Sir: Perhaps a comparison of the costs of school meals and meals on wheels is also timely. Thirty-seven pence is (sometimes) spent on the ingredients of school dinners. It costs my 93-year-old father £2.60 for rather smaller "meals on wheels".

It is an appalling situation, which led me to stock his freezer from the local supermarket because its ready meals represented better value. Surely this is the biggest argument against the privatisation of public services? Is it really not possible for local authorities to set up centres to provide good, nutritional and cheap meals for both schools and old people?

JANE EADES
London SW11

Once again, it is time to decide

Sir. The environment will not feature as a major issue in this election. The big parties, and much of the media, will see to that. And yet, as The Independent demonstrates with its excellent and unparallelled coverage of environmental matters, the health of the earth should be at the front of politicians' minds. Only days ago we were told that we are facing the collapse within this century of major ecosystems upon which life as we know it depends. The Government's own chief scientist says global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism. And Tony Blair himself says that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humankind.

So why is the environment not even on the political radar this election time? It is clearly because the major parties have failed to offer the leadership, or the radical policies needed, if environmental collapse is to be avoided. It is for this reason that I will be voting Green for the first time this 5 May.

GARY WILLIAMS
London N4

Sir: Once again it is time to decide where to place my vote and once again I feel robbed of any real choice by the first-past-the-post system. In my Romford constituency the Tory incumbent polled 53 per cent in 2001, with Labour on 36 per cent and the Lib Dems gaining only 8 per cent.

I have been considering placing my vote with the Lib Dems but feel that this would be a wasted vote. My only real option given that being represented by a Tory is my least favoured result, is to vote Labour, regardless of any reservations I may have over their record whilst in power.

When will we see a general election where I can make an informed choice rather than having to vote tactically?

DAVID MARTIN
Romford, Essex

Sir: Like it or not, a vote for Mr Blair in the forthcoming general election will be taken as a retrospective vote for the Iraq war, condoning his pivotal role in the build-up to the invasion. Are we, as accessories, to share his guilt? How could we forget David Kelly, Ken Bigley, Margaret Hassan and Lance Corporal Tom Keys (whose father is standing in the PM's Sedgefield constituency) and countless other innocent victims of an unjust war?

This is a call to examine the record of each of the parties on the issue, recalling how we felt as the terrible events unfolded, then voting according to conscience. Blair, Hutton and Butler have had their say - now let the people speak!

MICHAEL SHAW
Newport, Isle of Wight

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown speaks for many in arguing against being frightened into voting for Labour (4 April). She intends to vote Liberal Democrat to bring honour back into the Commons. I know many people who will vote Green for the same reason, and also because the Greens are grappling seriously with policies to limit climate change and promote sustainable development.

Could not the Lib Dems and Greens come to an electoral pact, based on a shared wish for electoral reform? Perhaps the Greens could stand down in some key parliamentary constituencies, in return for the Lib Dems not standing against them in a number of local ward elections.

Proportional representation will maximise the impact of both parties, leading to government that is both more honest and less bellicose. Such a pact would help to bring this about.

JAMES PITT
York

Sir: Jill Pope thinks that a huge amount needs to be done for Oliver Letwin to lose his seat ("What do the voters of Dorset West think?", 6 April). Given that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and that there were 1,414 votes between the Tories and the Lib Dems at the last election, Ms Pope could make her vote count by voting Lib Dem, rather than waste it on the Labour candidate who has no hope of polling more than half what the Lib Dems will.

DAVID PARTRIDGE
Bridport, Dorset

Sir: The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, is reported to have said that he wants to run a positive campaign in the coming election ("Kennedy: Can he live up to the high expectations?", 6 April). Yet the 10 reasons for voting Lib Dem, that their party headquarters have recently published, each start with the words, "We oppose". Interesting, no?

IAN HUNT
London N10

Sir: Your editorial on postal voting (5 April) is based on a simple but profound misunderstanding. The disgraceful abuse in two wards in Birmingham was in no way connected with the Government's pilots into all-postal voting. Indeed, contrary to what you claim, the West Midlands was not one of the regions in which the pilots were taking place.

The system of postal voting on demand applicable in Birmingham was not introduced with undue haste - it was the product of an all-party review set up after the 1997 election leading to legislation in 2000, and has been in place for four years.

While there are important lessons to be learned from the Birmingham incidents - and as I made clear to the House, the Government is taking action to enhance safeguards against fraud - it would be a mistake to conclude that we should abandon arrangements which have helped millions of people to exercise their democratic rights who might otherwise have been unable to so do.

NICK RAYNSFORD MP
Minister for Local Government
House of Commons, London SW1

Help for hyperactivity

Sir: Richard Lanigan is right to decry the use of medication to control disruptive children (letter, 5 April). However, he fails to address the fact that for those children who are disruptive and who fulfil the criteria for hyperkinetic disorder or ADHD there is not only an increase in mortality, partly due to an increase in accidents, but also an rise in drug and alcohol abuse, other psychiatric disorders, relationship breakdown and criminal behaviour.

Without treatment, such children complete on average three years less education than other children, have lower employment prospects and tend to be net users of services rather than contributors through taxable employment. In fact they perform poorly on nearly all indicators of social functioning.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, in its review of stimulant medication published in 2000, recommends that medication should be used as part of a multi-modal approach to treatment. Medication, when properly used, has a life improving contribution to make to many "disruptive" children's lives.

Dr A. B. SETON-BROWNE Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Sir: As one who has had direct experience of ADHD, the attitude of the teaching unions towards this debilitating condition comes as no great surprise.

Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment with medication can work exceedingly well and provide relief not only for those afflicted but also for friends, carers, parents and teachers alike. The removal of the symptoms of ADHD also allows these children to achieve their full potential in the education system and beyond in university and working life. The attitude of the teaching community will condemn these victims to a life of exclusion and misery - someone else's problem.

PETER COGHLAN
Broadstone, Dorset

Don't blame the Pope

Sir: As a practising Catholic I am appalled at the anti-Catholic approach to the reporting of events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II. In particular, I am dumbfounded by the commonly expressed opinion that the pontiff was largely responsible for the extent of the Aids epidemic in Africa.

The Catholic Church's teaching against contraception cannot be held responsible for the spread of Aids in these nations, for the following reason: the late Pope, and the Church as an institution, supported a strict stance on sexual ethics. This includes teaching in favour of sexual practice only in the context of holy matrimony. Therefore, any Catholic encouraged to follow the teachings of the Church on contraception would also be encouraged to follow the Church's teachings on sexual contact only within a committed and, crucially, monogamous marriage.

The Catholic Church would happily advise those in Aids-ridden countries against using condoms, but would also advise them only to have sex with one partner. If monogamy is not practised, the Pope, and the Church, are being defied, and thus must surely be absolved of responsibility for the consequences.

NICK BENNETT
Stockport, Greater Manchester

Fair taxation?

Sir: Stuart Bonar misses the point about the fairness of a local income tax and who it would effect (letter, 4 April). Among the better off in society are people involved in all sorts of tax evasion. They pay much less income tax than they would were they to be taxed PAYE, but at least they pay council tax on their typically expensive houses.

Also, no doubt, numerous retired people on low incomes living in large houses they can't afford to maintain, but anxious that as much as possible of what they own will be handed on to their grandchildren, would welcome the abolition of property tax. Replace property taxes with a local income tax and it is obvious who will be hit hardest: the PAYE salaryman or woman. Meanwhile the tax evader will pay even less, and the property rich but cash poor will sit smugly consuming local services in their large homes.

GEORGE GREEN
London N10

Wise investments

Sir: I was delighted to be described as "bouncy", and ranked in the legions of the semi-famous by your columnist Terence Blacker ("Being in debt is nothing to boast about", 5 April). But once he started trudging up on to the moral highground, his viewpoint became not only boring, but shortsighted. Investing in the property market, as I and thousands of others have done, has been one of the key areas in recent years where people on average incomes can better their lot; for once, making money has not been the province of vast multi-nationals. And is that such a bad thing?

As for "self-pampering"; the truth in my household is that the only Pampers to be found are the disposable ones.

ROSIE MILLARD
London N1

No complaints

Sir: Trains? (letter, 4 April). I travel Leeds to London for £19 return in a bit more than two hours with GNER. Beats driving hands down. What's the problem?

ANDREW PRING
Bradford,
West Yorkshire

Critical decisions

Sir: Although Louise Jury's reporting of the debate about theatre critics ("West End critics enter the theatre of war", 6 April) was perfectly fair, she omits one crucial part of my own argument. Critics are not autonomous individuals who decide their own fate. If we survive into our seniority, it is because editors still have faith in us; and, when they decide we have become unreadable or out of touch, we go. The editor's decision is final.

MICHAEL BILLINGTON
'The Guardian'
London EC1

Faith and reason

Sir: How ironic that Prince Charles should postpone his wedding out of respect for a man who was so totally opposed to divorce.

SARAH PEGG
Seaford, East Sussex

Walkers' paradise

Sir: Your article on the redevelopment of the "highest slum in Wales" (5 April) reminded me of a remark overheard on the top of Scafell Pike one cold and misty day: "I'll say this for the Welsh - at least you can get a hot cup of tea in the middle of your walk."

ALISON HODKIN
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

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