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Friday 6 August 2010
Letters: Banks given too much credit
Hamish McRae extols the virtue of the City (4 August), claiming it is our biggest export industry and offsets around 50 per cent of the deficit in traded goods. There are four good reasons to challenge its true value.
First, the Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese (BRIC) economies have huge, untapped markets and investment opportunities for local businesses, based on well-proven products and services from developed countries. Investing in BRIC countries is less risky than in innovative, entrepreneur-led businesses in the UK, which explains why a large proportion of UK bank profits are obtained from investments abroad. These investments actually increase competition for our exports, especially goods. Export success for UK banks is actually a measure of impending damage to other UK exports.
Second, statistics have historically separated services and goods, but the distinction is increasingly misleading. Engineering, for example, is also a part of the information economy and provides high-value services as well as "goods". It may be amusing for one sector to claim it alone offsets a deficit but all sectors could make that claim. There is no deficit to which any one sector separately contributes.
Third, the 2009 UK trade deficit was £32bn, the difference between exports of £387bn and imports of £418bn. Financial services may have contributed nearly £42bn to exports, but the rest of us contributed £345bn. We also provided much of the working capital for the banks through our savings, interest on business debts and mortgages and large government (taxpayer-funded) loans.
Fourth, financial services follow the real economy, not vice versa. Most of us work in the UK's real economy. If the banks increasingly follow the real economies outside the UK we will be in trouble. Public ownership of at least some banks to prioritise UK investment is sorely needed.
D J Rhodes, Nottingham
Interest rates are a disgrace
For over 30 years since I qualified as an accountant in 1976, the difference between the borrowing and lending rate has been about 4 per cent. So if you lent money to the banks and received 5 per cent interest per annum, borrowers could expect to pay about 9 per cent per annum. Blue-chip businesses would expect to borrow money at one-half of a per cent over base rate while small businesses might have to pay 4 percentage points over base rate.
Since the banking crisis caused by the banks themselves gambling in high-risk investments that they did not understand, both savers and businesses have been conned out of sight. My current bank statement shows interest paid on savings at 0.5 per cant per annum, and overdrafts charged at 19.9 per cent.
This state of affairs is an absolute disgrace. Surely the Government could break the banks' monopoly by setting up a state bank where investors received 4 per cent per annum and businesses paid 12 per cent per annum. The Government could guarantee that investors would receive a minimum return of 1 per cent per annum because with an 8 per cent gap, quite a few businesses could default before state aid were needed.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
Screening for cancer
Your excellent coverage of the new report on breast screening by Professor Klim McPherson (4 August), and on prostate screening, provides a long overdue correction of the misleading professional and media hyperbole on mass well-population mammography. The errors inherent in screening tests and the potential harm caused by their use in apparently well people has been almost totally concealed from the client population, recruited to take the tests with the unqualified promise of benefit. There has been no real basis for choice among the public.
In addition to the errors of the test, most clients of breast screening do not appreciate that even with a true positive test result a woman has about a 75 per cent chance of dying at the same age as she would without the test, but is elected as a cancer patient much sooner.
For the private sector in many mixed medical economies screening of this type is big business and a balanced disclosure of the many possible negative as well as positive outcomes, set against the costs, is not seen by the providers to be in their interests. The generation of huge numbers of false positive test results in the private sector is often offloaded on to the queues in the public sector for further investigation.
We need an approach which identifies and targets higher-risk groups, provides informed choice and allows reallocation of huge resources consumed by screening to improving treatment facilities.
In Hong Kong, where the Chinese population typically has a much lower risk of breast cancer than in the West, and the chance of a positive test being a false signal is even higher, mass screening is no longer part of public health policy.
Anthony J Hedley, Honorary Professor, School of Public Health Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong
Breakthrough Breast Cancer hopes that women will not be discouraged from attending their screening appointments as a result of this article. Based on the current published evidence, we firmly believe the benefits of breast screening outweigh the risks.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict which cancers will develop into a life-threatening disease and which will not. However, we know that breast screening detects cancer at the earliest possible stages, when no other symptoms might be showing – and the earlier cancer is diagnosed the better the chances of successful treatment.
It is extremely important that women are given clear, balanced and good-quality information about the benefits and risks of breast screening and their treatment options.
We believe breast screening saves lives. We want the Government to commit to continual investment in the screening programme to ensure that all eligible women can access this important service.
Dr Caitlin Palframan, Policy Manager, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, London WC1
I am one of those whose cancer was picked up by the screening process. My tumour was so placed that I would never have found it by self-examination, so I would have known nothing until I found a lump somewhere else. If you cancel the screening programme you condemn people like me to a premature and unpleasant death. I am very grateful that the state funds this programme.
Ruth Colvin, London SE24
Secure homes for workers
David Cameron put the coalition's plans to get people on their bikes bluntly: "Maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won't need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector," he told his audience, adding that social housing and lack of social mobility are inextricably linked. How totally out of touch he is.
Social housing – the little remaining council stock or housing association stock – is the only way millions of working people on the margins of the employment market and on low pay can afford to take up employment opportunities.
Once in better jobs and secure jobs, many working people have bought their homes. We recognise the benefit of this new generation of owner-occupiers in previous drab council estates.
The point the Government's millionaires' club does not recognise is that if working people fear that they will lose their homes if they take on extra hours at work or promotion, it will act as a horrendous barrier to the employment market. Many working people do not feel they have secure enough employment to be able to take on mortgages, particularly now with the worst public sector reductions in living memory.
What is most frightening is that the feeble Liberal Democrats cannot put a brake on what is clearly a government even more right-wing than Mrs Thatcher's. Liberals have always stood for freedom from poverty, believing in full employment and affordable housing as touchstones of a civilised country. Any liberals left in the Lib Dems should do the decent thing and resign.
Cllr Steve Radford, Leader Liberal Party Group, Liverpool
Mr Cameron's plan for removing older people from the houses that they've always lived in has a close resemblance to his Big Society scam.
First you create the conditions for a shortage (selling council houses) then you blame the people living in them for that very housing shortage. Similarly, you get volunteers to sweep roads, drive buses and run post offices (each is one of his examples); then you blame the people thrown out of work for being unemployed.
There is a trend here. Blame Pakistan for backing terrorism while encouraging your enemy by promising to withdraw your troops. What next, we must wonder . I personally think he'll be blaming the Lib Dems for supporting the coalition: get rid of them and he can get on with running the country.
Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent
Faith no excuse for barbarism
Christina Patterson's recent articles have done more to unite god-botherers than anything Tony Blair and his "faith foundation" could ever dream of.
Ms Patterson is now accused of being both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic (letters, 5 August), the implication being that her "broad sweeping attacks" are not really on the insularity, social xenophobia and barbarism cultivated by certain religious institutions, but on Jews and Muslims simply by virtue of their ethnicity.
These responses are depressingly predictable, but nonetheless far from the point. Eight-year-old orthodox Jewish boys may not have been instructed verbatim that women are "dirty" when "dripping with menstrual blood", but I presume they will be taught the Old Testament, in which Leviticus 15, 28 makes their "uncleanliness" very clear indeed.
Of course female circumcision is carried out by a small minority of Muslims, but it is a practice that is embedded in, and deemed acceptable by, religious authority and teaching.
This is the wider and important point that Ms Patterson makes: there are some odious beliefs, attitudes and practices – ranging from the impolite to the violent – that are cultural and not merely those of the few odd individuals we inevitably find in "all communities".
Sean Cordell, Manchester
Yes, we could talk about integration (Christina Patterson, 4 August), but immigrants to this country have always clustered together with their compatriots, much like Brits who have emigrated to Spain. It takes a few generations for people to feel confident and financially secure enough to mingle and disperse.
What we need to do is to downgrade the concept of "culture", which, after all, only means "how we do things". It evolves, mostly as a consequence of direct action by those it oppresses and those who support the oppressed, leading not only to changes in attitudes but also to new laws.
The Suffragettes got there in the end, despite the cultural norms of the day. This country has a radically different culture than it did a hundred years ago. That doesn't mean that we don't still have misogyny, racism and homophobia, but there's a lot less of it.
We don't do women and girls in immigrant communities any favours by excusing cruelty and violence on the grounds of culture. Nor will we be able to support their efforts to change their culture if we pretend that rape and domestic violence in the indigenous culture are not caused by the same misogyny that fuels genital mutilation and "honour" killings.
Janet Maitland, London N2
I couldn't agree more with Christina Patterson's article of 28 July. And while I am not suggesting that male circumcision is as grievous an assault on the human body as the dreadful and sick practice of female circumcision, it is still a form of abuse, and should only be engaged in by fully consenting adults , not forced on babies or children .
The male version is, astonishingly, still legal in this country, not just abroad. I thank God that my parents didn't have part of my body cut off in the name of religion, custom, aesthetics or medical fad when I was a helpless infant.
Jeremy Q Sleath, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
As a bored and frustrated reader of another newspaper, tempted by, and occasionally buying, The Independent, I was thrilled and felt vindicated by the views expressed by Christina Patterson on 4 August ("We need to talk about integration").
No longer bored or frustrated by newspapers, I am now fully integrated into the readership of The Independent. Oh, and incidentally the rest of the paper is a pretty good read too.
Billy Blundell, Bethesda, Gwynedd
The arts need philanthropy
Clemency Burton-Hill's article comparing US and UK arts funding (4 August) is tilting at windmills.
No one I have met, including present culture ministers, wants US-style arts funding in the UK. All they and others are advocating is US-style philanthropy. It is not a perfect model, but is a good one to aspire to. No one wants to throw away the strength of the UK state support, even if one shies away from the monolithic continental European structure where sponsorship and philanthropy is not there to help out when national budgets collapse, and culture sees massive cuts.
Using Broadway as an example is erroneous. Broadway, like London's commercial West End, is profit-making. A lot of our state-funded productions make welcome money through West End or Broadway transfers. In terms of ticket prices, top prices at the Met are not hugely different from top prices at Covent Garden, and the reduced National Theatre tickets mentioned in the article are sponsored by Travelex.
It is a widely held misconception that there is no public funding of the arts in the US. For the record, according to their annual returns, last year the Roundabout Theatre in New York received almost three times the state funding of the Donmar Theatre in London – for both it represented around 5 per cent to 6 per cent of their total revenue.
Turning the argument into a black-and-white, private-bad-public-good debate is helping no one. Arts & Business has been trying to get across the message that private-sector funding will not be able to bridge the gap, short to medium term, if the Department of Culture imposes cuts of 25 per cent. But we believe sponsorship and philanthropy are the only potential form of growth in funding, if the cuts come. They are not a panacea, but please let us not knock them.
Colin Tweedy, Chief Executive, Arts & Business, London SE1
Heavy toll on family carers
Again we have an appalling tragedy of a disabled person and her elderly mother ("Mother and disabled daughter found dead at home 'refused help from social services' ", 4 August).
While the police process what evidence they can find and while local authorities search their records, public speculation is rife. Somebody must be blamed. Mrs Wolf should have accepted help, she should have belonged to a church group, and so on
But information about the effects on family carers of such full-time, fully committed caring is in the public domain. Family carers become isolated, they become depressed, they suffer higher rates of ill-health than other groups; all this we know.
Public ignorance of learning disability and its effects on families is catastrophic. We have the information. We are all responsible.
Mary Harris, London W11
Why did High Street Ken find it curious that Clare Balding took exception to being called a "dyke on a bike" (Diary, 3 August)? The remark was nasty and cruel. We should be confident in opposing gratuitous nastiness and not condone it by expressing surprise when the victim hits back. It's sad that too often these days good is bad and bad is good; and, of course, bad equals cool. Clare Balding or A A Gill? No contest.
Joe Connolly, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire
Patricia Farrington's letter (3 August) does make me angry, with her sentimental meanderings about Gordon Brown as a "particular supporter of the poor and needy". He was supposed to run the country, for goodness' sake, a much wider brief, and make the sums add up. Instead the "poor" got poorer and his "hard-working" families got to pay for his economic mismanagement. At least the Coalition does try to help the "poor" back into work and cut widespread dependency.
Bea Betteridge, Kenley, Surrey
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