Time with the family, Taxpayers fund Blair's re-election and others

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The Independent Online

Politicians aren't the only ones who need time with the family

Sir: Celebrities, politicians and high-fliers are lucky in having the option to take a career break and spend time with their families (" 'I want to spend more time with my family' ", 8 September). Many working families simply don't have a real choice in how they manage paying the mortgage with caring for others.

Parents and carers who choose to work part time or flexibly find that their pay and prospects are permanently scarred. While women who work part time may often choose to do so, they don't choose to be paid 40 per cent less per hour than men working full time.

Our investigation into the unfair treatment of people who can't work the traditional "9 to 5" will call on politicians and employers to recognise the major social changes that have happened in recent decades; at some stage almost all of us will become either a parent or a carer - yet large numbers are leaving or turning down jobs because of their caring responsibilities. Employers simply can't afford to lose good people who want to combine working with caring.

It's not just a famous few that want to spend more time with their families.

Chair, Equal Opportunities Commission
London SW1

Sir: The Equal Opportunities Commission seems surprised at its discovery of workplace hostility to pregnant women and working mums (report, 6 September). It shouldn't be. Resentment is stoked up whenever a group of people are unfairly advantaged or sanctioned in selfish behaviour.

We'll probably be told it's all some misogynistic conspiracy but the fact is that most of the resentment today comes from other women who don't like having their career opportunities restricted. And their opportunities will be restricted if employers are routinely misdirected by pregnant women about their plans after childbirth.

If the Government really wants to help women it should restrict perks for working mums, get pregnant women to sign contracts if they plan to return, and stop dragging its heels on interchangeable maternity/paternity privileges.


Taxpayers to fund Blair's re-election

Sir: One aspect of Alan Milburn's new job has received little comment but seems to me one of the most disturbing.

Mr Milburn was brought back to the Cabinet to help the Labour Party prepare for the general election. That is apparently his only brief. That is a party job, not a government one. He should have been appointed to a position within the Labour Party, paid for by that party.

Barely a quarter of the electorate voted for Labour at the last general election. The rest of us should not have to pay for that party's policymaking. The Government is supposed to look after everyone's interests, and to use it in this partisan way is a corruption of the political process.


Sir: Why should we be so bothered by the rivalry between Mr Blair and Mr Brown? It certainly makes a pleasant change from the nauseating, wet toadies Margaret Thatcher surrounded herself with. And maybe Messrs Blair and Brown learnt something from her: that a little competition isn't a bad thing. Could this be why Labour is so much more successful than the Tories?

London SW9

Sites for travellers

Sir: The shortage of residential sites for Gypsies and travellers is causing serious problems both for travellers and people who are settled.

When the duty for local authorities to provide sites was repealed in 1994, the Government called on local authorities to help travellers provide their own sites. The response fell a long way short of the demand, and some Gypsy/traveller families bought land in unsuitable places, moved on to it and sought planning permission. This has led to a rapid increase in unauthorised encampments, causing inconvenience to those living in housing and provoking bad relations between the travellers and local residents.

The shortage of sites has had a negative impact on many travellers. Being continuously on the move from one unauthorised site to another adversely effects access to education, health and other public services, transmitting deprivation down the generations.

These problems can be solved. If local councils had a duty to provide and facilitate sites, coupled with the changes in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act designed to ensure that land is available for development of sites, whether by travellers themselves or by social landlords or local authorities, then the Government would ensure that the few thousand places needed by 2007 would be achieved.

The Housing Bill gives Parliament the opportunity for creating the solution in the coming weeks. An amendment introducing the duty is to be debated, and it has the support of the Commission for Racial Equality, the National Farmers' Union, Association of Chief Police Officers, Shelter, the Children's Society and the Local Government Association.

We further propose that under the new planning system, local authorities facilitate land swaps, so that travellers owning and living on land that is not suitable for development can exchange it for a similar area on which planning permission would be granted, thus avoiding the expense and trauma of eviction.

All Party Parliamentary Group for Traveller Law Reform
House of Lords

Chair, Cottenham Residents Association
Cottenham, Cambridgeshire

The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition
Beeley, Derbsyhire

Chechen terrorism

Sir: You quote President Putin saying, "No one can accuse us of not being flexible in our dealings with the Chechen people" ("Evening of surprises with a hospitable president", 8 September).

On 23 February 1944 Stalin ordered the mass evacuation of Chechens from their homeland to the barren wastes of Siberia and Kazakhstan for collaborating with the wartime German enemy - a trumped-up charge which was entirely without foundation. The exiles were herded like cattle into freight trains and transported in what they wore without food or water to the bitter cold of the Asiatic steppes where they were given no protection from the elements. A quarter of the 400,000 exiles died within the next four years.

Is it any wonder the Chechen people hate the Russians so?

Aberystwyth, Ceredigion

Sir: Simon Smith (letters, 8 September) says that to find the roots of terrorism in oppression insults the majority of repressed people who do not resort to terrorism. The Conservatives used a similar argument in the 1980s - about poor people who do not resort to crime - in order to avoid having to increase welfare spending. In both cases the logic is false. To state that negative circumstances tend to increase the number of people resorting to negative actions is a) common sense and b) gives all the more credit to those who do not follow the trend.

London SW9

Disabled characters

Sir: In writing about the portrayal of disabled characters by actors who are not disabled, Thomas Sutcliffe ("Ready, willing and ... able", 3 September) fails to mention how awful the portrayals usually are. They often serve to regurgitate popular images of how disabled people live their lives, and thus reinforce myths and misconceptions.

Take the blind character depicted in the M Night Shyamalan's film The Village. Pretty girl; nice try. But sprinting down a bumpy field! Rushing through a forest! Tosh! Yes we know it's not true, but it has to have some internal coherence.

It's time that reviewers and the likes of Thomas Sutcliffe took the side of disabled people, if only in the cause of decent acting.

London SW2

Sir: I think Tom Sutcliffe is being disingenuous when he discusses the casting of able-bodied actors taking disabled characters' parts.

He states, "Surely the goal should be the right to audition for any role - parts in which the disability would be a mere detail of character rather than a defining characteristic." Well, yes, of course. But you can't wriggle out of the argument with that. If the story you are showing is about experiences that come directly because a character is disabled (as in Inside I'm Dancing), then to have able-bodied actors, however good, seems to me as misplaced as having a white actor play the part of Stephen Lawrence in a play about racial tension.

The only reason that producers today can "get away" with this is that we, the audience, are not yet familiar enough with the politics of disability and inclusion to make such casting seem absurd.

London N3

Research on drugs

Sir: Thank you for your editorial regarding the amount of unpublished research data ("The safety of patients comes before profits", 8 September). Many in the scientific community entirely agree with the view that it is unethical to ask patients to participate in research, but then not to publish the data if it is unfavourable to the drug the researching company would like to promote.

We urgently need a mechanism by which all research investigating new drugs is centrally registered and results are made public, for example on the internet, given that one cannot compel scientific journals to publish results they do not want to publish. In this way, clinicians and researchers would gain useful information about new drugs and pharmaceutical companies would be unable to "bury" unwanted results. It would also encourage editors of journals to publish negative results more commonly than is currently the case.

Consultant Psychiatrist and Honorary Lecturer,
Wrexham Academic Unit
University of Wales College of Medicine

Legal ethics

Sir: It is strange for an opposition spokesman to allow the blame for the Government's failure to adequately support legal aid to be linked to the profitability of City law firms ("Lawyers face curbs over profit before ethics", 31 August).

The large London law firms constitute a very successful export industry and as such contribute significantly to the Treasury. In addition I can testify that the contribution to the community of the largest firms through provision of pro bono services and the support of legal charities is considerable and is growing rapidly.

In contrast, successive governments have undervalued civil legal aid and its role in combating social exclusion and poverty. They have chosen to provide an inadequate share of public funding to this service.

South West London Law Centres
London SW17

Value of junk mail

Sir: David Bainbridge should not wish junk mail out of existence unless he is willing to pay more to post his letters (letter, 9 September).

Royal Mail actually loses money on most of the letters that we, as individuals, send: a 5p loss on first class, and 9p on second class. Without cross subsidies from profitable parts of its business, including junk mail, Royal Mail could not provide the indispensable "universal service" at the present postage rates - which are, in fact, amongst the very lowest in Europe.

Loss of the more attractive areas of business to competitors is potentially a serious problem for Royal Mail. The flow of junk mail would not diminish, but profits would be diverted to private companies with no obligation to provide a "universal service".

Reading, Berkshire

Weighty matters

Sir: Alan Tucker doesn't need to go to the moon to reduce the weight of his sugar bag (letter, 9 September). He simply needs to pop up his nearest mountain where the old-fashioned kitchen scales will confirm its unchanged mass and the spring balance will confirm its (slightly) reduced weight.

Bushey, Hertfordshire

Design flaws

Sir: It upset me no end that in order to complete the crossword on Wednesday (Concise Crossword 5583, 8 September) I had to put "Nash" as the answer to clue number 13 across - Bath architect - when I knew perfectly well that Bath's designer was John Wood (also four letters) whose tercentenary we celebrate here this year.


Don't lecture them

Sir: I confess. I have slept in lectures, eaten my breakfast, caught up on essays, read up for my next tutorial, written to my mother, and sometimes cut lectures altogether if there was something more interesting to do ("One in four students 'sleeps in lectures' ", 9 September). However, I was never drunk, merely hung over, and mobile phones did not exist in the early Sixties. One student got a standing ovation for appearing at 9am. Plus ça change. . .

Wirksworth, Derbyshire

Hunt for excuses

Sir: There is little need for the fox hunting community to have two years to prepare for a ban (report, 9 September). After all, they've had seven already.

Cranleigh, Surrey