Denise Robertson: Cuts may be essential - but need to be done with care

Agony Aunt Denise Robertson explains how you can help those in need of help this winter after the Warm Homes, Healthy People Fund was scrapped

Steve Parsons/PA Wire Last month the government quietly scrapped the Warm Homes, Healthy People Fund
Last month the government quietly scrapped the Warm Homes, Healthy People Fund

Last month the government quietly scrapped the Warm Homes, Healthy People Fund, which enabled local councils to offer emergency boiler repairs, hot meals to elderly people just out of hospital, snow clearing, advice about fuel bills and other essentials.

Cuts are essential if we’re ever to get out of debt but they should be administered with care.

Last year 31,000 people died of cold in this country, most over the age of 75. Axing practical help doesn’t make sense.

As that helpful scheme has gone why not click NHS Choices and join Winter Friends, a voluntary scheme to befriend older neighbours during cold spells.

And if you’re in receipt of a Winter Fuel Allowance you don’t need, bung a few quid to your local Community Foundation for their Surviving Winter scheme. They’ll put it to good use.

:: I don’t know which depressed me more, the statement by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary that police are never called by certain minority communities because they administer their own justice, even in cases as serious as murder and sexual assaults on children. Or the claim by Robert Gates, America’s former defence secretary, that Britain is no longer a ‘first-class’ military power.

I’ve already expressed my dismay at the dismantling of our armed forces so I’ll concentrate on policing.

In 2008 the then Archbishop of Canterbury argued that adopting some aspects of sharia law in Britain seemed “unavoidable”.

Giving Islamic law official status would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system, he argued.

His comments were swiftly rebutted but the fact that a supposedly intelligent man could contemplate different systems operating side by side was scary.

Last week the Chief Inspector praised the enrichment multiculturalism brings but said “when it comes to criminal justice we have one system and everyone, wherever they come from, is equal under the law and entitled to fair treatment.”

Some communities do not share the British view of sexual equality. Sometimes there are tensions between various factions within communities. What happens to justice then?

There can only be one law in Britain, to which we all are answerable.

:: Last week Panorama suggested some parents have unfairly lost their children in the family courts.

You keep or lose your child on the evidence of experts, it argued, and sometimes experts get it wrong.

Some doctors say tiny fractures on X-rays are evidence of abuse. Others now believe that lack of vitamin D or rickets are the cause.

One young mum had her daughter taken away on those grounds at 10 weeks old.

She is on the run with her second child but Social Services pursue her.

If they had put as much effort into investigating the cause of the first child’s ‘injuries’ it would have made more sense.

Another child was taken into care at three weeks when X-rays revealed multiple fractures in his legs and ribs.

He has now been put up for adoption.

His parents and grandparents came across as decent people living in a nightmare.

Tests on another baby showed he had severe vitamin D deficiency, but doctors believed it was abuse and took him and his elder sister into care.

A second opinion, obtained by the mother’s lawyer, discovered he had a genetic bone disorder and he and his sister came home.

The programme was sad and disturbing but by using only cases where mistakes were made it gave a one-sided picture.

Last year another programme, made with the co-operation of Social Services, showed only families where it was right to remove children.

So we get polarised views when what we need is the whole spectrum.

I will never object to the initial taking of a child. My complaint is that what happens after is woefully inadequate. In some instances legal representation is indifferent and the court a rubber stamp.

After I debated the matter on TV I was deluged with mail, mostly from people involved in the process.

Here are some extracts from qualified social workers’ emails. ‘I quit. I was ashamed to be part of something so awful.’ ‘I have witnessed families being set up to fail.’ ‘I have seen children removed where the correct procedures have not been followed.’

And from a foster-carer ‘I had to resign rather than be part of the appalling practice of taking babies away from their mothers straight after birth.’

Social workers and fosterers do a vital, and sometimes unpleasant, job.

They deserve our gratitude but, occasionally, bad things happen and they need redress.

:: The Railway Man tells the story of Eric Lomax, a British Army officer and the torments he suffered in a Japanese camp.

Decades later, Lomax discovered that the Japanese interpreter he held responsible for much of his ill-treatment was still alive and the book tells the story of their confrontation and how Lomax comes to terms with his haunted past.

It was a magnificent read but reviews of the film, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, have been mixed.

As a child I was as appalled by the horrors of Japanese prison camps as I was by Nazi genocide.

Friends of my parents came home from a Japanese camp, gaunt, yellowed, their eyes telling what they had endured.

I went on hugging my disapproval of our former enemies until, in the 70s, I picked up a Christmas card from a Japanese friend to one of my sons.

‘Philip, I wish you happy’ it said. I felt then that the time had come for reconciliation.

The Railway Man asks that sixty-four-thousand dollar question, can you ever forgive.

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