Sir, Further to your leader (“The Slow Lane”, Nov 23), the big omission in the budget was any reference to the crisis in social care.
The government may feel it did enough in the March budget and the recent offer of a green paper next summer. In reality, the £2 billion for social care spread over two years in the spring budget was never going to be enough to sort out this much-neglected service. Although we welcome the prospect of reform, the lack of urgency is deeply regrettable. A vast number of older people are being denied the help they need now, and the knock-on effect on the NHS is severe and growing. For such people the future is not so much about being in the slow lane as in no lane, without support in their own home or stuck in a hospital bed.
The budget was a missed opportunity to tackle the immediate challenges of health and social care. The time has come for a national debate about what as a society we are prepared to pay for. The alternative is to lurch from one crisis to the next.
CEO, NHS Confederation
Sir, Paul Johnson (News, Nov 23) observes that there are some big cuts to public services still to come, but with social care already under unprecedented strain this is a terrifying prospect. Well over a million older people in England have some level of unmet need for care and a recent survey found that three in four councils are unable to meet local demand. The budget was an important opportunity to shore up this creaking system, but inexplicably the chancellor chose not to take it.
The government is committed to publishing proposals for reforming social care next summer, but without extra investment now the necessity of crisis intervention could easily eclipse the opportunities offered by a longer-term review. Most important of all, the health and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable citizens is increasingly at risk.
Charity director, Age UK
Sir, Paul Johnson powerfully highlights the government’s “sticking plaster” approach to the public spending pressures created by an ageing society. It is simply not good enough to muddle along from year to year finding emergency short-term cash for the NHS (as in the November budget) or social care budgets (as in the March budget) but with no overarching strategy for tackling the structural changes taking place in our society. Short-term crisis management is not the answer. Many of the best solutions to supporting an ageing population involve long-term preventative measures, such as using simple technology to help to support people in their own homes so that they are less likely to need much more expensive emergency admission to hospital. Such options are more humane for the individual and better value for the taxpayer. If we do not spend now to save later we will be locked into an annual cycle of crisis budgets and poor use of public money.
Sir Steve Webb
Director of Policy, Royal London, and former pensions minister
Sir, As your leading article correctly points out, Britain has slipped from being the fastest-growing economy in the G7 to the slowest. Average growth in the rest of the European Union and the United States has accelerated.
Is our predicament a consequence of austerity, productivity or Brexit?
Sir, In the aftermath of Philip Hammond’s second budget this year, an extremely worrying statistic is in danger of going relatively unnoticed: the catastrophic fall in the number of apprenticeships started in the summer of 2017 compared with the equivalent period a year earlier. The fall from 117,000 to 48,000 is extraordinarily bad news both for the prospects of individuals and for the country as a whole.
As chairman of the Heathrow Employment and Skills Taskforce, charged with the preparation for 10,000 jobs and thousands of apprenticeships across the country, I am worried that we will not be able to meet the challenge of largescale infrastructure programmes. Given that, after Brexit, it will be more difficult to bring in people from other parts of Europe to fill the gap, it is vital for us to ensure that we have a skilled domestic workforce that can take on the challenge.
JUSTICE OF THE PIECE
Sir, In his letter (Nov 23) lamenting that the UK’s candidate was not re-elected to the International Court of Justice, Mark Stephens is impolite when he refers to “possibly sub-optimal judges from the developing world”. Moreover, the ICJ has not “shot itself in the foot” because it has no part to play in the appointment of its judges. For decades the permanent members of the UN security council assured privileges for themselves, such as a seat on the ICJ. The result of the recent election indicates that the rest of the world is no longer content with this. If the election of ICJ judges is to be based on merit alone (as Mr Stephens seeks), the UN must address this political imbalance and we must acknowledge that the world has changed since 1945.
Richard P Dunne (barrister)
Barnard Castle, Co Durham
Sir, I trust that those countries that rejected, or declined to support, the re-election of Sir Christopher Greenwood to the ICJ, and which have been the beneficiaries of British aid in the past, will feel it inappropriate to accept such largesse in the future. The British public would certainly resent the continuation of such donations.
BOWEL CAMERA TEST
Sir, Dr Mark Porter was not overly enthusiastic in his advice about the “bowel scope” test in his reply to a 55-year-old reader (Times2, Nov 21). I perform roughly 20 of these tests each week and feel passionately that we are helping to prevent one case of cancer per 150 tests. I do not know of any other screening procedure that produces such a high yield. For men, this and the aortic screening test at the age of 65 are the only screening tests that the NHS provides. Overall, the discomfort scores are very good, and most participants will recommend this test to others. The risk of perforation is now much lower than it was during the trials because of more modern techniques and better monitoring equipment.
I would encourage Dr Porter to respond positively when he receives his invitation.
Dr Jolyon Young
Torbay Hospital, Torquay, Devon
Sir, Despite the optimism expressed in your leader “Hope Reigns” (Nov 22), I fear that Zimbabweans’ exultation in the departure of President Mugabe will be short-lived. When I lived in Rhodesia in the early 1970s Ian Smith — who knew far more about Africa and its people than whole tribes of Wilsons, Carringtons and Soameses — said of African democracy that it meant “one man, one vote, once”. Events proved him right: there has yet to be a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. I suspect that “Crocodile” Mnangagwa will fail to break the mould of postcolonial despots.
Sir, Carol Midgley can’t see what’s wrong with spooning jam straight from the pot on to toast (Times2, Nov 22). She then compounds the problem by suggesting that using a spoon “is better than putting a disgusting butter-smeared knife into the jam”.
No one wants butter in the jam or vice versa. The simple solution is to put the butter on to one’s plate with a butter knife and the jam on to one’s plate with a spoon. Then you can lather your toast any way you wish.
SUCCESS OF LEFTIES
Sir, Surely any investigation into the advantages to sports players of being left-handed (report, Nov 22) should take into account that many people are not entirely left-handed or right-handed. This can be shown by the fact that four of the recent leading bowlers in the England cricket team bowl with the right arm but bat left-handed.
Sir, Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Nov 20) says families should not give elderly relatives bottles of spirit for Christmas, as alcohol is bad for them. Instead they should give them “the gift of their company”. I hope none of my relatives read that. A bottle of good whisky is generally just what I need to help me to recover from Christmas.
East Boldon, Tyne and Wear
GREAT LAST LINES
Sir, There must be other closing lines in contention for the best in American fiction other than that from The Great Gatsby(letter, Nov 21). Margaret Mitchell’s “After all, tomorrow is another day”, from Gone With the Wind, is one obvious candidate.
Sir, Your report about the two principal versions of Leonardo’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder (“Leonardo’s Madonna tipped to be first $1 billion painting”, Nov 18) describes a passage in a recent biography of the artist (which said that Leonardo “probably had more of a hand in the Lansdowne Madonna”) as being “a bit of a blow to the Duke of Buccleuch”. That is not how I see it! Given that only 20 or so paintings attributable to this supreme genius survive, how fortunate we are that both versions exist. That they were painted side by side over several years in his workshop was established through the scholarship of Martin Kemp, and the degree to which Leonardo’s hand is present in both will be debated by art historians for generations to come.
This can only bring fresh insight into what gives his work an almost unfathomable magic. Through that, we will all be enriched in the best sense rather than in the mercenary way suggested in the report.
The Duke of Buccleuch
NATURE OF DIVINING
Sir, Sally Le Page, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University, is right to criticise the use of divining rods by water companies (report, Nov 22, and letter, Nov 23). The rods do move, but it is generally agreed that this is caused by the ideomotor effect, ie, the instrument merely amplifies slight movements of the hands through sub-conscious instructions from the brain, and the results are no better than what one would expect through chance. Despite all the “evidence” adduced and quoted by dowsers, in cases where double blind trials have been held under test conditions they have all failed. However much this is pointed out to dowsers they honestly, but steadfastly, refuse to accept the results.
Member, Inner Magic Circle
Sir, Further to David Aaronovitch’s excellent article (Nov 23) on Rodney Bewes, I remember warmly the Likely Lads episode in which Bob, Thelma, Terry and his girlfriend are playing bridge in a caravan. Terry and his girlfriend are losing badly. At one point, Terry steps outside to relieve himself. This he does loudly against the side of the caravan. Thelma, who is embarrassed for the girlfriend, apologises for Terry’s behaviour.
“Please, don’t apologise,” she says. “It’s the first time all evening I’ve known what’s in his hand.”