Marion Shoard | Writer : Broadcaster : Speaker


I don't often comment through Twitter but instead by writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper; I also often offer a thought for the day on BBC Radio Kent. Here are a few of my letters to the editors of print publications which have been published recently, followed by thoughts for the day.

Letters to the editors of newspapers

Rights of access to the countryside

Fresh land laws are key to ending inequality The Guardian letters, 10 June 2019

Greater public access to Britain's countryside as advocated by George Monbiot and his team ('Want to tackle inequality? Then first change our land ownership laws', 4 June) would indeed be desirable. However, a general right of responsible access to land and water as introduced in Scotland in 2003 would be more effective than the extension of the half-baked CROW Act to their proposed new category of "uncultivated land and waterways". Whatever this means (does it include woodland?), the terrain and water would have to be identified and mapped on the ground, with provision for landowners to object to the designation, as under existing CROW Act procedures. This would be a recipe for endless disputes and public inquiries as landowners fought to prevent their land being included. Environmentally valuable roughland would doubtless be ploughed up to render it "cultivated". In addition, a universal right, as I argue in my book A Right to Roam, asserts emphatically that this right would be a citizen's entitlement, not something that could be delivered piecemeal.

Marion Shoard

Beach-shaming Britain, New Statesman letters, 10 June 2019

The prospect of many important public footpaths and bridleways being wiped out in 2026 ('Beach-shaming Britain: The real story behind coronavirus crowds', 30 June) is appalling. The routes recorded on today's OS maps were identified mainly by parish councils in the 50s and 60s when landowners were even more powerful than they are today, dominating rural communities. They ensured that key routes through their estates, fought for by past generations, would be left off official maps. The provision that these could be deleted six years from now was a sop provided to the landowning lobby by the Blair government in 2000. It should now be withdrawn.

Marion Shoard
author: This Land is Our Land and A Right to Roam

Everyone has a right to the countryside, The Observer letters, 16 August 2020

Nick Hayes is right that we should not be barred from so much of the countryside of England (‘Forgive us our trespasses’, The Observer, 9 August). But not everyone can trespass as energetically as he does, and unlawful activity might ease the path of government plans to criminalise trespass. We need legal certainty that everybody can visit land harmlessly without fearing an ugly confrontation with a landowner. 

In England and Wales a right to roam currently exists only over a few types of terrain extending to about 10 per cent of the land surface. Few people understand which bits of countryside they are allowed to visit or why they should be excluded from the remainder.

We need a right of access on foot to the whole of our countryside. Exceptions can be made to ensure that growing crops are not trampled, the surroundings of people’s homes are not disturbed and sensitive wildlife sites are not disrupted. Something along these lines already works well in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Scotland. It is time England, Wales and Northern Ireland caught up.

Marion Shoard

Outdoor access for people living in care homes

Care homes and sex, The Times letters, 12 March, 2019

Romance is only one of many ordinary needs that have been denied to care home residents ("Care home staff told to help residents have sex", March 8). A simpler and even less justifiable example is the freedom to go outdoors. Many residents who need help to move around or supervision because they have dementia rarely get out even into their care homes' own grounds. Care Quality Commission inspectors should take such obvious but ignored issues at least as seriously as sexual needs.

Marion Shoard
author: How to Handle Later Life

Nature beats stress, The Times letters, 5 April 2019

You report that contact with nature may reduce stress "A walk in the park" (4th April, page 1). Yet many of the 400,000 older people living in the UK's care homes are rarely, if ever, taken outside. Prisoners have to be let outdoors for up to an hour a day. Care home residents should get the same opportunity as of right.

Marion Shoard
author: How to Handle Later Life

Social contact for people living in care homes

Follow Scotland's lead on Covid-secure care home visits, The Guardian Letters, 7 November 2020

The guidance on care home visits in England ("Care home residents in England can receive visits", says Matt Hancock, November 5) still falls well short of requirements in Scotland. The English guidance says all residents should be allowed to receive visits from their family and friends in a Covid-secure way, but the Scottish government also sets out the frequency and duration expected of such visits. So long as the home has been Covid-free for 28 days, its visiting risk assessments have been approved by the local director of public health and its care workers are being tested weekly, every resident can receive an indoor visit of up to four hours by one visitor and an outdoor visit for up to one hour by up to six people from no more than two households, weekly.

Scotland also insists clearly that 'essential visits' must continue whatever the level of infection and in a far wider set of circumstances than allowed for in England (where only 'end of life' has been specified). In Scotland these visits should take place if the care resident's health is or may be deteriorating, and where visiting may help with communication difficulties or ease significant stress. Application of the Scottish rules to England could save families from unimaginable anguish.

Marion Shoard
author: How to Handle Later Life

The funding of social care

Holistic approach to dementia is needed, The Guardian Letters, 8 August 2019

Dementia fund of the kind for which Barbara Windsor has called ('Barbara Windsor calls on PM to tackle UK's dementia funding crisis', 6 August) would be unfair. There are 120,000 older people living in care homes and many more receiving care in their own homes who need social care but don't have dementia. Many of them are paying considerable sums for care needs caused by strokes, falls, frailty, heart failure, vision impairment, osteoarthritis, chronic lung disease or Parkinson's disease. Privileging sufferers from dementia over these others would merely shift the boundary between the system's winners and its cheated losers. It will take more to resolve the social care crisis than special treatment for sufferers from one celebrity-selected condition.

Marion Shoard
author: How to Handle Later Life

help for older people during the Covid-19 lockdown

Tackling coronavirus and helping isolated elderly people, The Guardian letters, 9 March 2020

It is good to hear of local help initiatives springing up to help the many elderly people who will self-isolate to reduce risk of the infection that would be so much more serious for them than for their younger neighbours (report Amelia Hill, 7 March). But what we need is systematic effort, particularly during the nine weeks the contagion is forecast to peak when the professionals will be so stretched. Volunteers could be organised to draw up registers of isolated older people at risk of not getting the deliveries they need and deliver supplies to them or arrange for supermarket deliveries to people without computers. People who have had the illness could provide care to the sick and those slowly recovering and ferry people to essential appointments in their cars. Relying on helpful neighbours and occasional groups is too hit and miss.

Marion Shoard
author: How to Handle Later Life

Thought for the day

Here are a few thoughts for the day I have offered as a panellist on BBC Radio Kent's Sunday Programme:

In October 2020 Marion started a monthly comment slot on BBC Radio Kent's Sunday Breakfast programme, hosted by Phil Harrison. She will contribute at 7:50 am on the last Sunday of each month and comment about current issues, particularly in the older people's field, for the first five minutes, followed by her 'Nature Notes'; − interesting aspects of the environment in Kent to look out for during that particular month. In October, Marion focused on the problems digitally excluded people face during the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of keeping in touch by phone; for Nature Notes, she drew attention to the county's fungi, especially those on the Lower Greensand west of Ightham, as well as the distinctive features of the spindle tree, common on the Kent Downs, in autumn.