LAST WEEK it was revealed that nearly £5 billion in means tested benefits are not claimed every year. As a benefits worker, I see it first hand. People who desperately need extra cash don't claim the benefits they are entitled to because the system is so complicated and the rules are constantly changed.
We hear a lot about clamping down on so-called benefit scroungers but not enough encouraging people to claim benefits that could make a huge difference to their lives. New Labour said means testing would help them target help at those most in need. The huge amount of unclaimed benefits shows this doesn't work. Incapacity benefits remain low. Those claiming them have to endure a 'mechanical medical', operated by the notorious company Sema.
Sema's medicals help the company throw some off benefits even though they are too sick to work. If you choose to leave a job or get sacked for 'industrial misconduct' you get nothing for six months.
Failing to 'actively seek work' can land you with no benefits for weeks. Failing to cooperate with the child support agency means £10 off a single parent's personal allowance for three years. If you are suspected of working you have to sign on daily. Private companies are given benefit contracts. In Employment Zones non-union cowboys like Reed pocket the benefit not paid when the unemployed are pushed into work.
The quicker they palm you off, the more they make. And they don't care how short term the job is or how low paid. New Labour mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, said last week that he failed to see that welfare suffers because of war. He should remember what Martin Luther King said when his government promised a welfare programme, 'the promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the fields of Vietnam'.
Paul Murphy, East London
THE GOVERNMENT is planning to computerise NHS doctors' appointments, patients' records and prescriptions. One of the companies in the running for this multi-billion pound contract is Sema Group.
Last summer Sema took over Labour Party membership records. Admin costs rocketed to £1.5 million. Sema also runs the benefits agency medical service. In 2000 a study by MPs found that Sema treated claimants 'unacceptably'. Up to 30,000 people annually are called for unnecessary examinations and 17,000 turned away after their appointments are 'deliberately overbooked' to avoid wasting time.
Dennis Marten, Blackpool
Where should we march from here?
SOME IN the anti-war movement ask why we continue to argue for mass protests and marches when our government ignores them. There are many reasons. For me the most powerful is the impact of mass protests here on people in the Middle East.
The protesters we see on the news in Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, etc, also see us on the news. They can increasingly define themselves as part of a global mass movement against the New War Order. I believe this is the real way to end both war and terrorism. Terrorism is a strategy of despair built on the idea that all from the oppressing nation are uncaring and hostile.
Undercut that myth and the logic of terrorism is knocked away. Clear evidence of a global movement and international solidarity between ordinary people builds confidence in our strategy of mass action. That's the true value of marching.
Ben Drake, York
THIS IS not about demo fatigue, but what can demos achieve in the end? Yes, we march because numbers are important and we want to show our opposition to war. But on the 22 March demo we wondered what does it actually do to change anything if we just march peacefully alongside the police?
We don't want to listen to big speeches at Hyde Park anymore. Direct action is what we need. Mass sit-downs and occupations of public spaces such as Downing Street are a much better idea than peaceful demos and speeches. If you really want a regime change in Britain, you have to act, to confront the police and authorities.
Demos in Britain are like carnivals - and this is no time for carnivals. Show your government that you are capable of bringing it down by mass action, not just symbolic acts of civil disobedience.
Hsiao-Hung, East London
Labour on strike
IF WHAT is occurring in Wirral South Constituency Labour Party is mirrored elsewhere, Tony Blair is not winning the hearts and minds of his members concerning this war. Two of the ward chairpersons have resigned and one of them is leaving the party. A third ward chair is not calling meetings and has refused to stand in the local elections on 1 May.
This ex-ward chair is now, along with others, urging people to spoil their ballot papers by writing 'No to war' on them. To cap it all, MP Ben Chapman got a particularly rough ride over his support for Blair's stance on the war at a constituency meeting last week.
We are hoping that many of these angry people will get involved in campaigning for the anti-war candidate standing in the local elections in the Birkenhead ward just next door.
Norah Rushton, Merseyside
Still fighting for democracy
JAMIE RANKIN (Letters, 5 April) argues that Allied victory in World War Two brought democracy. That is not the whole story. The Atlantic Treaty between the US and Britain in 1942 excluded self-determination for India.
In 1945 former colonial regimes were restored in Indonesia, Malaya and Vietnam. The US occupation of Japan was directed against the left, not the ruling class that had prosecuted the war.
Britain got a free hand to crush a popular Greek resistance movement and impose a government of Nazi collaborators. In Western Europe fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal carried on undisturbed. In France and Italy the US used threats and bribery to exclude mass Communist movements from power.
Their aims in World War Two were exactly as they are now - profit and power.
Tony Phillips, North London
I AM a student at Pimlico School, Westminster. Two weeks ago a mass anti-war coalition was formed at our school. On 20 March we gathered in Parliament Square. We ran into the road and sat, linking arms and chanting. It was a truly wonderful moment because of the ecstatic cheers from thousands hemmed in by police.
Then police battered us. One of our students, a 16 year old, was arrested, thrown into the back of a police van and forced to sit on the floor in handcuffs. We are not truants. We should not be rebuked for being political activists in stopping this war. We refuse to have our voices repressed.
Ruby Kvalheim, London
Censorship is round the clock
ON BBC News 24, the night after US soldiers shot a car load of Iraqi civilians, two presenters were looking at the next day's press. After showing the various pro-war front pages, they said the BBC would not be showing the Daily Mirror that night. Was this because the Daily Mirror told the truth about the shooting with the headline 'Slaughter'?
Nigel Davey, East London
Generals from outer space?
ANY MARTIAN watching British television news at the moment would conclude that we have had a military coup. An endless parade of pontificating generals, air marshals, colonels and military 'experts' fill our screens.
It's disgraceful that the huge anti-war movement is now being virtually ignored by the media.
Dave Taylor, Hampshire
Stop the Nazi menace
SINCE THE British National Party (BNP) announced it was standing a number of candidates in the council elections in West Yorkshire we have seen a dramatic increase in violence against the Asian community.
There have been attacks on taxi drivers and an attack on the mosque in Batley. To its shame the local papers last week printed three letters from BNP members.
John Appleyard, Leeds
A great loss to socialists
IT IS with great regret that I read about the death of Mike Kidron. I first got to know him when he visited Sri Lanka in the 1960s, although I believe he was known to my mother, Jeanne Hoban, long before. He was very popular with the socialists in this country. He was not at all dogmatic.
He was a wonderful human being. He also cooked a wonderful gefuelter fisch.
Vinod Moonesinghe, Sri Lanka
Ruthless elites lead Kurds
THERE IS another terrible example of the way rival Kurdish groups in northern Iraq have fought each other (Socialist Worker, 5 April). In 1996 fighting erupted between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The PUK cooperated with Iranian forces. Sickeningly KDP leader Masoud Barzani invited in Saddam Hussein's troops to help crush the PUK. Some KDP fighters even boasted that Iraqi forces could use poison gas against PUK villages.
Both the PUK and KDP are led by elites that want to grab what they can from the region.
Mohsen Khasravi, London
Support the resistance
GEORGE GALLOWAY is right to oppose the US and British war in Iraq. Given the monstrous injustice of this campaign, it is ludicrous to demand continued support for military action. As the Iraqi people are victims of injustice, we must support their right to resist occupation and drive coalition forces out. And if the Iraqi people can resist the might of the US/UK invasion, they can surely topple Saddam and liberate themselves.
Jonathan Davies, Coventry