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Letters: ‘Bedroom tax’ warnings are just scaremongering

These letters are published in the print issue of The Independent, April 5th, 2013


Your report, “Brick up your doors, knock down the walls” (28 March), in which Labour MP Frank Field called on social housing landlords and tenants to take irresponsible direct action to avoid paying the spare-room subsidy, is possibly the worst political scaremongering I have ever seen.

This spare-room subsidy is not a “tax” as Mr Field claims when referencing the 17th-century window tax, but a reduction in the amount the state (taxpayers) will pay to support people to live in a home with the luxury of a spare room they could not otherwise afford.

The Government is not penalising people in social housing but correcting an existing unfairness that allows social tenants to under-occupy when those in receipt of state support in the private sector cannot.

Yes, we need to build more housing and yes we need more one-bedroom properties, but with a quarter of a million people living in overcrowded accommodation, paying for people through housing benefit to live in properties larger than they need is not a luxury we can afford. In Westminster alone about 560 households are under-occupying.

If Labour wish to spell out where they would make savings and how they would meet the housing needs of Westminster residents I would be pleased to hear it, but all we have had from them in opposition are calls for more borrowing.

Now they have scraped the bottom of the political barrel. Mr Field, you are wrong on this one.

Jonathan Glanz, Cabinet Member for Housing and Property, Westminster City Council


So Simon Gazeley (letter, 2 April) would have more respect for critics of cuts in welfare payments if any of them produced “just one constructive suggestion about the alternative cuts that they would make”. I can offer him three alternative ways of reducing the financial deficit.

First, scrap the costly and unnecessary Trident programme. Second, get a proper hold on the wholesale evasion of tax by companies and individuals. Third, institute a graduated scale of council tax which goes to further stages beyond the ludicrously low level of Band H (£320,000-plus at April 1991 values). More respect?

John Cooper, London SE23


I read Mark Steel’s article (29 March) with a mixture of pleasure at his intelligent sarcasm and horror at the truth of his message.

But he missed an important conclusion from one of his quoted statistics. If the statement that “6.6 per cent of immigrants claim benefits, compared with 16.6 per cent of non-immigrants” is true, then why doesn’t the Coalition Government deport all the indigenous people of the UK who claim benefits and replace them with more immigrants? That would really show the poor who’s the boss.

John Wright, Kendal, Cumbria


If churches respond with “predictable outrage” to the benefit reforms, then they are fulfilling their obligation to seek justice and equity, and to have a “bias to the poor”. Perhaps Mr Osborne could explain in what sense these are “vested interests”?

Linda Nye, Merseyside


No mystery at the Arts Council

I don’t recognise the Arts Council as the “mysterious” organisation David Lister describes (The Week In Arts, 30 March).

Our “overarching policy” is clearly set out in our published 10-year plans; achieving great art/great museums and libraries for everyone, which the arts and cultural sector helped shape. We publish the criteria and decision-making processes for every activity we fund.

There is a complaints process and recourse to an Independent Complaints Commissioner for any applicant who doesn’t believe the rules have been followed (gratifyingly, only utilised by a few). Minutes of National Council meetings are published. And, of course, the Arts Council is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Not having the press or public at decision-making meetings isn’t cause for conspiracy theory; it is sound business practice. Applicants for funding, particularly those who are unsuccessful, wouldn’t welcome commercially sensitive information being bandied about. We know, because we’ve asked them.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, London SW1


Deportation will be loss to the UK

A Canadian female friend married a British national and final-year PhD student researching fluid mechanics at Cambridge university nine months ago, and she is being deported.

The reason? His stipend from a government research council does not fit the UK Border Agency’s arbitrary criteria for demonstrating financial security. His high employability and the value of his skills to the economy are also not taken into account. Unwilling to spend a year apart from his wife, he plans to follow her to Canada. Our loss is their gain.

The stupidity of this decision is compounded because, although they had the right of appeal, the process can take up to two years with no promise of even a clear mistake such as this being overturned. With the present political drive to reduce the numbers of immigrants, I can only assume that this case is an example of how this government’s pandering to the right is harming our economy.

Oliver Perkins, Cambridge


Sad prison death is no surprise

Kevin Rawlinson’s moving account (2 April) on the death of James Best after the poor care accorded him on remand at HMP Wandsworth sadly comes as no surprise.

As the pressure group Inquest noted, this was the third inquest into a death at the prison this year. A report from the Howard League in 2011, called Deaths on Probation, which analysed data on those dying whilst under probation supervision, identified the need for “ethics of care” to better support vulnerable clients.

With plans by the Justice Secretary to dismantle the Probation Service, how many more lessons does the system that failed Mr Best need to learn?

Mike Guilfoyle, London SE4


Why we are freezing

While parts of Britain bear the brunt of yet another late-season snowstorm, a growing body of research shows that the record decline in Arctic sea-ice has played a “critical role” in the unseasonable weather

That decline allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. In a report this month in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Scientists, researchers confirm that sea-ice loss induced by global warming is causing changes in the winter northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation, including the jet stream, which also allows more frequent blocking patterns that lead to increased cold surges over large parts of northern continents.

Sir John Beddington’s warning should be heeded. We need worldwide action to reduce fossil fuel use. If we don’t, freak weather will continue.

William Wallace, Dundee


No risk-free races

I am extremely disappointed that just days before the Grand National (3 April) you give such prominence to representatives of the RSPCA and Animal Aid. Regrettably, there is an element of risk, something that animal welfare organisations will just have to accept.

Turning the Grand National into an ineffective hurdle race will not work. The only risk-free solution is to ban racing and have all the horses put down. If I were a horse I would prefer to take my chance and have a go at 40 fences.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey


Strike not the way

For years, we in the private sector have had to endure pay freezes, non-final-salary pensions, longer working hours etc. Now, when the country cannot afford many of our services, partly because of overinflated salaries and jobs that are not required in many of our institutions, whose unions plan a strike. If they think the people back them, they are much mistaken.

T Sayer, Bristol


Fix our cheats first

Has Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (report, 30 March) taken leave of its senses? On its own estimates, tax avoidance/evasion in the UK is £32bn a year. yet it is sending some staff on a freebie to Pakistan to advise them how to reduce tax avoidance. Shouldn’t it be using all its staff to improve the tax take in the UK?

Peter Moyes, Brightlingsea, Essex


Obscene bonuses for fat-cat execs

I enjoyed Simon English’s column immensely (“Nish is an affable and competent CEO, but is he really worth £5m a year?”, 3 April). He points his finger at the reasons for ridiculing the notion that executives, whether bankers or not, should be paid millions for performing a competent management role.

He moves on to expose the laughable attempts of the British Bankers’ Association to duck the responsibility of such executives for mismanagement so grossly negligent that government support to the UK banking sector (£1.2trn at the last count) now exceeds the national debt (£1.1trn).

But full marks to the BBA for winning the argument at least as far as the Chancellor is concerned. Having been a finance director and chief financial officer within public and private corporations over recent decades, I have yet to meet a senior banking executive who was the equal of his counterpart in industry, and the idea that any of these fat cats is irreplaceable should he (invariably a he) leave the country is laughable.

Let’s have some backbone when it comes to performance-related bankers’ pay, particularly if the banker concerned is now a public servant. This is a reform long overdue.

Allan Jones, London SE9


To answer Simon English’s rhetorical question: of course Nish is not worth £5m a year any more than Richard Ricci over at Barclays is worth £17m a year. What an Alice in Wonderland world in which we live where mere custodians of centuries-old financial institutions pay themselves such absurd sums.

To invent, innovate, develop and earn large sums through one’s own entrepreneurial efforts is laudable. To sit astride institutions in a sector where barriers to entry are high and where management requires no singular skills does not merit a level of remuneration remotely akin to the sums the remuneration committees of financial institutions persuade themselves, and try and persuade us, that their directors and managers are worth.

As someone remarked on learning of yet another award of an obscenely large bonus to a banker: “Has he just discovered a cure for cancer?” Now that would be worth £5m for a year’s work.

Nick Eastwell, London SE10