Letters: Cruel April Fool joke on the poor

These letters appear in the Tuesday 2nd April edition of The Independent

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For many of the most deprived, April Fool’s Day played the cruel joke of a 14 per cent loss in housing benefit for those in social housing, should they have a spare bedroom.

Two spare bedrooms and they will lose 25 per cent under the “bedroom tax”. Some 660,000 households will be affected, each losing an average of £14 a week and saving less than £500m.

Next Saturday, in contrast, anyone earning £1m will be at least £42,295 better off, with the reduction in the 50p tax band. While George Osborne said this was worth next to nothing, in reality it is actually worth £1.31bn, slightly less than three times the value of the housing benefit cut.

Something has gone profoundly wrong when the most vulnerable are punished to deliver tax cuts for the wealthiest.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh


The Government’s welfare reforms begin to bite deep this month. Social housing tenants have been a target of these so-called reforms, especially the bedroom tax, which seeks to reduce under-occupation.

Yet little has been reported on the loss of purchasing power in social housing communities through welfare cuts already enacted and erosion of incomes by above-inflation increases in the price of necessities – food, fuel, transport – that take up a larger segment of tenants’ incomes compared with the general population. 

Our research reveals that £3bn in tenants’ real-terms incomes has been “lost” since 2008. Coupled to welfare reforms that have just come into force and the 1 per cent uprating of in-work benefits for the next three years, this translates into a drop in total purchasing power of £8.5bn in social housing communities between 2008 and 2015. This does not seem like “we’re all in it together”, nor that the broadest shoulders are bearing the greatest burden.

Kevin Gulliver, Director, Human City Institute, Birmingham


The savage attacks made on the poor and defenceless by this Tory-led Coalition have ensured that they stay out of power for generations. The British people in 1945 endured war and austerity yet defended the weakest and gave us the NHS. This Coalition has sullied the memory of that great deed and will not be forgiven.

Steven Calrow, Liverpool


I would have more respect for the critics of cuts in welfare payments if any of them produced just one constructive suggestion about the alternative cuts that they would make.

Simon Gazeley , Bath


The Coalition Government obviously thinks that the lives of the most disadvantaged are insufficiently miserable, and is determined to address the problem.

Meredydd Morris, Bodorgan, Ynys Mon


Green shoots of hope for the environment

“You cannot focus closely on what is happening and not be a pessimist,” are Michael McCarthy’s parting words as your Environment Editor, and those universally reflected by the letters page (1 April). I disagree.

Humankind has achieved successes that many would have scoffed at; unprecedented leaps in healthcare, ever increasing global consensus on human rights and, more specifically regarding the environment, banning of CFCs and even the recent protection of several shark species via inclusion in international trade regulations.

Modern conservationists are not yet at their Alamo; tearful soldiers heroically awaiting inevitable defeat. They are in academia, in multinational business and in government. Maybe not in the numbers that I would wish, but they are there and with increasing influence and permanence.

There is more than just hope. There is enthusiasm, vigour and ability, and I hope that The Independent’s successor to Michael McCarthy can be equally as influential, but perhaps hold a touch more belief in those at the forefront of conservation and in our collective future on this planet.

Chris R J Pollard, Sunningdale, Berkshire


From state school to university

Your article “Top universities are biased in favour of private school pupils” (26 March) is misleading.

There is no support provided for the claim that state school pupils need higher qualifications than those applying from private schools. The Durham University research does not tell us anything about the grades that students need to achieve, it only tells us what they do achieve.

Dr Vikki Boliver, who carried out the research, adds the caveat that: “In this study, we were only able to look at the actual grades applicants achieved in their A-levels. Of course, admissions selectors often base their decisions on applicants’ predicted rather than actual A-level grades together with a range of other indicators of merit and potential.” The study also notes that the discrepancies between state and private schools have reduced over time.

As a teacher in a state comprehensive school, I am all too aware of the self-doubts that prevent talented young people applying to the best universities. However, I have also had first-hand experience of the wide variety of projects run by the excellent outreach department at Oxford University. These are targeted at students whose families have no history of university education, young people from ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The outreach workers are passionate about their work and are doing their best to change the image of the university as an exclusive institution that is only for the privileged.  

This article is likely to reinforce the belief of many state school pupils that they are not wanted at top universities.

Catherine Hardie, Wolvercote, Oxfordshire


Confusion at the border

So the Borders Agency is “not fit for purpose”, again.

After I reminded the BA of international law, and  enlisted the help of the Japanese embassy and the Queen (as head of state, who signs off our reciprocal international agreements with other nations), a visa for my wife, which the BA threatened would suffer a three-year delay, was delivered in 24 hours.

There is a problem about people overstaying. Why? Because we are almost the only country in the world that has no exit check at airports and ports. And so the BA has no clue who overstays. Why? Because our government runs its border system as a business, not as an aspect of national security, and checks cost money.

And, why does my hi-tech, high-cost passport work everywhere except Britain? The official BA explanation is because I have a common name, and our IT system cannot cope.

The only way this will change is if BA staff do what all other decent British workers do when thing are ethically wrong: strike.

Dr Chris Williams, London N4


No sex in the cinema

Terence Blacker (26 March) says that the lack of sex scenes in films today is the work of the great god of marketing, and due to an assumption that female cinema-goers no longer want to see explicit scenes. 

It may be a marketing decision, but I doubt that it’s due to a newly-found respect for women’s feelings. My theory is that hardcore pornography is so readily available online nowadays that the inclusion of a sex scene in a film no longer works as a marketing ploy.

A couple of decades ago people were flocking to pay for a second’s peek up Sharon’s Stone’s skirt on the big screen – these days you can get a much better view of any body part you want from the comfort of your own home just by googling it.

Joanne Henson, Richmond, Surrey


Terence Blacker writes “These same women decide what films a couple should see, and these same women are uneasy with scenes which stray into the explicit.” But he then goes on to insist films should include such scenes anyway.

In other words, regardless of what women actually want, we should give them something he thinks is better for them. What sexist, self-serving arrogance. I thought the centuries of deciding what is better for the “feeble-minded little woman” were over.  Obviously not.

Christine Mobbs, Milford on Sea, Hampshire


Testing time for boys and girls

A teachers’ union complains that proposals to switch back to a more exam-oriented system potentially discriminate against female pupils. They point out that girls do better under continuous assessment, and outperform boys. But continuous assessment places boys at an equal disadvantage.

The problem lies with the very different stages of development experienced by both sexes in adolescence. It is a generalisation, but a broadly accurate one, that girls socialise at an earlier stage, and have a less adrenaline-fuelled approach to physical interaction, and a more fluent emotional language better suited to continuous and graded demands. Boys on the other hand employ a mental and literal physicality that lends itself to alternating phases of relaxation and compressed nervous challenge.

The orthodoxy of equality in education at every stage will always be at odds with the impossible complexity of adolescence.

Christopher Dawes, London W11


Mild persecution

It has been reported that, according to a poll, more than two-thirds of Christians feel they are now part of a “persecuted minority”. They would do well to look at what being a persecuted minority really meant  in Nazi Germany or under Stalin; and then consider again whether the Government’s intention to legalise gay marriage can fairly be described in this way.

John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire


Revert to type

Good handwriting is still of value (letter, 30 March) but why is so little attention given to keyboard skills? Few schools teach touch-typing to the young, yet surely many children will use keyboards in the future. They would be much better equipped to do so if they were taught the skills at an early age and thus avoided the clumsy way many of us type.

Alison Farrow, London SE21


Sporting legends

Your regrettably brief coverage of the university goat race (“Oxford honours enough to get Light Blues’ goat” 1 April) might usefully have drawn a parallel with another ancient sporting event that, as it were, crossed over the other way, from land to water. Now competed for each year by intrepid boatmen on the Tideway but of evidently rural origins, it is of course the Dogged Goat and Badger.

C sladen, Woodstock, Oxfordshire