The nanny state and adverse lifestyle choices



Sir Clare Foges says that the government could have saved much money for the NHS if the so-called “nanny state” was intact. This would help prevent many deaths among young people who drink alcohol, smoke, and eat till they start suffering from obesity.

It’s clear that the lives of some people could have been saved, but the financial savings are questionable. Everyone who survives premature mistakes will die anyways, even though it will happen much later. I personally don’t think that their deaths from any other conditions will cost the NHS less money.

The action itself could change the situation of premature deaths for better. The problem is present in the country, and it has to be fixed somehow. But it’s not very pleasant to see how the NHS policies are based only on financial factors with no evidence. This lack of evidence-based policy making has been a feature of the NHS for as long as I can recall.
Professor C J Rudge, FRCS
Retired consultant surgeon, Fawkham, Kent

Sir, Clare Foges is right that we should tax booze and fags to account for how much they cost the NHS. We already do, of course. The tax on cigarettes accounts for about three quarters of the price of a pack; if you pay £5 for a bottle of wine, about half is going to the Exchequer.

If the costs to the NHS are only £2.8 billion for alcohol and £2 billion for smoking, then Foges may be shocked by a look through the 2016 budget: tobacco taxes raked in £9.3 billion in 2014-15 and alcohol duties made George Osborne £10.5 billion.
Ben Southwood
Head of research, Adam Smith Institute

Sir, Clare Foges is correct that the sustainability of the NHS means that Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol and Big Food should be made to pay for the huge external costs they generate and which are borne by the state and society. This can achieved through measures such as the soft drinks industry levy being placed on tobacco and alcohol companies. Such actions are clearly justified when public finances are stretched to breaking point.
Paul Lincoln
CEO, UK Health Forum

Sir, Clare Foges argues that because we are compelled to pay for others’ healthcare, we have the right to interfere with their freedom of choice if those choices cost us money. Her logic is compelling, but depending on your priorities it could equally well flow in a negative direction: if you believe that you have no right to bully people into eating broccoli, you might conclude that you have no obligation to pay for their bariatric surgery.
Gareth Howlett

Sir, If you have ever taken an all-inclusive holiday with all the food and drink you can eat at any time of day, it is quite noticeable that fellow Britons are carrying on the tradition of being the most glutinous people in Europe. We can all be excited by treat days but we are having too many of these as a nation. Significant tax increases on alcohol and so-called bad foods have to be part of the solution.
Dr Paul Macnamara
London SE16

Sir, Clare Foges has a point, but how do we define “lifestyle”? Look at all those people running marathons who end up requiring new hips and arthritis treatment for life as a result. And climbing and cycling — look at all those horrific accidents that are cluttering up our hospitals with broken bodies. Quick, slap an extra tax on running shoes, cycle tyres, crampons and climbing ropes! We should beware the unintended consequences of a heavy government hand.
Richard Woosnam
Great Edstone, N Yorks


Sir, Lord Laming rightly expresses concern over to many children in the care being “sucked into the criminal justice system” for trivial reasons (report and leader, May 23). Research conducted at Whatton Detention Centre in the 1980s found that pre-sentence court reports on children in care often contained a plethora of non-criminal behavioural incidents that had occurred while the child was in the care system and which would have undoubtedly played a part in the sentencing process leading to custody.

The high number of former care children now in custody might well suggest that past lessons have not been learnt in sifting out from court reports adolescent difficult behaviour that is commonplace for many non-care children but which is potentially very damaging for those in care who are facing a court appearance.
Howard Thomas
Chief probation officer north Wales 1985-96, Mold, Flintshire

Sir, I agree with Lord Laming that the police should not be contacted every time a child in the care system misbehaves, whether in foster care or residential care, but wonder what other sanctions are available to the carers. I was a residential social worker in the early 1980s; back then, staff were able to withhold pocket money, stop a young person’s time out for visiting family and friends, and impose extra light cleaning jobs. In short, sanctions that a parent might use for a young person living in a family home. In time, these sanctions were stopped in the residential home because they were regarded as being unfair and a form of abuse.

It would be interesting to know if Lord Laming has any practical suggestions for carers when a young person in care commits a minor transgression.
Norma Postin
Rugby, Warwickshire


Sir, The headline on Libby Purves’s article (May 23) about the Royal College of Midwives’ call for the 24-week restriction to be scrapped states: “This ruthless attitude to abortion is a shock.” It shouldn’t be. We have been moving in that direction since 1967, when the Abortion Act permitted abortion on such wide grounds that, despite occasional half-hearted denials from the medical establishment, we had abortion effectively on demand as soon as the act became law. It is of course grotesque that midwives, entrusted with bringing new life safely into society, should be involved with abortion. It is rather like lifeboatmen throwing those in peril back into the sea. But there are no shades or degrees in death: a foetus destroyed at ten weeks is just as dead as one aborted at eight months. Once we sanctioned wholesale killing of the unborn, it was inevitable that the practice would merge into something very close to infanticide.
M G Sherlock
Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Sir, Libby Purves is right to comment on Professor Cathy Warwick’s strong opinion on the provision of abortions by midwives without their prior consultation. Most abortions take place in the independent sector under NHS contract. Only a small number take place in a hospital, within a gynaecology setting and supported by nurses. The change for midwives would indeed be a radical departure from the traditional role they provide, and their opinion matters.
Guida Kurzer
Clinical nurse specialist in gynaecology oncology, Bart’s Health NHS Trust


Sir, Tony Robinson’s letter (May 23) is pure Remain fantasy. The Times reported on November 10, 2015, that the Court of Auditors had refused to approve the EU’s accounts for the 21st year running, noting that this would “undermine David Cameron’s case that the EU can be reformed”. The Auditors complained that “weaknesses that we found were very similar to those identified and reported in previous years”. The fraud ran into billions.
Professor Alan Sked

Sir, Matt Ridley (“Brexit optimism is an example for Remainers”, May 23) fails to understand that it is precisely the Leave campaigners’ optimism that renders their cause suspect.
Leofranc Holford-Strevens


Sir, Accepted standards of horticulture within many of the nation’s heritage gardens clearly support the Royal Horticultural Society’s contention that those within the 20-40 age group have little appreciation for, or knowledge of, the delights of gardens and the joy of gardening (report, May 23).

While the gardens of the RHS continue to display that society’s commitment to “the glory of the garden”, many of those owned by the National Trust, sadly, no longer do so.

Since the millennium, the NT has consistently targeted this particular generation in an attempt to broaden its appeal and boost its membership. This it has achieved quite spectacularly. However, the cost to its legacy of horticultural excellence has been the degeneration of many of its fine gardens into areas of general family recreation. While this approach may well meet the expectations of this “lost generation” who require little more from a garden than it be an “outdoor living room”, it has resulted in the dilution of the National Trust’s commitment to safeguard its charges and to ensure their continued wellbeing.

The NT must learn that it cannot sustain its “For Ever, For Everyone” approach indefinitely. It should be educating this “lost generation” to an appreciation of the raison d’être of its gardens instead of encouraging it in its continued ignorance.
David Stone
Former National Trust head gardener at Mottisfont Abbey, Hants


Sir, Far from being “a traditional source of instability” (leader, May 24), the army in Turkey has often been the guardian of the secular constitution against attempts to impose authoritarian and in particular Islamist control. After the First World War, Atatürk’s nationalist — and above all secularist nation-building — project depended on the army, which has been its guarantors. The limits imposed by Erdogan on the army in Turkey have given him free rein in his desire to close all opposition, encouraged by the most reactionary of Islamist movements.

Incidentally the Atatürk model was copied in Afghanistan, where pictures of the 1920s reformist king Amanullah are now increasingly displayed in military bases of the country’s rapidly improving armed forces.
David Loyn
Kabul, Afghanistan


Sir, Alex Massie (“SNP collects facts but panders to ignorance”, Scottish edition, May 24) is right to point out that in SNP government policy-making, popular prejudice trumps scientific evidence. But the problem is not just about scientifically illiterate politicians pushing populist policies. It is that nationalism is fundamentally incompatible with science, which is international.

As Anton Chekhov said: “There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.”
Hugh Pennington


Sir, In your front-page article (“SNP leadership in chaos as Hosie quits after affair”, Scottish edition, May 23), you report Stewart Hosie as saying: “I am writing to you firstly to apologise for any hurt and upset I have caused to friends, family and colleagues. That was never my intention.”

It brought to mind Homer Simpson’s plea in mitigation to the judge when appearing on a misdemeanour: “Believe me your Honour, I would never have done it if I’d thought I’d get caught.”
James Thom


Sir, Valentine Low’s article (May 24) draws our attention to the wealth of activities, emotions and experiences for which there is no word in English. Douglas Adams and John Lloyd clearly agreed, and 30 years ago published The Meaning of Liff, which assigned new meanings to the rich array of place names across the UK. My favourite was Shoeburyness: “The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.”
Jonathan Scott
Sandton, South Africa

Sir, Britain need not be ashamed of any implied lack of descriptive words (leader, May 24) when it has taghairm, meaning divination, especially inspiration sought by lying in a bullock’s hide behind a waterfall.
Bill Bewley
Stranraer, Dumfries & Galloway