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Wednesday 6 October 2010
Back to the Poor Law
Is it through ignorance or is it deliberate that the proposed reorganisation of benefits takes us right back to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, with its infamous provision of "less eligibility" – that the situation of able-bodied paupers (for that read those in receipt of benefits) was to be inferior to that of the poorest independent worker?
I don't suppose the Government wants to resurrect workhouses and send all claimants off to them, but the principle is the same now as it was nearly 200 years ago. I had hoped we'd moved on a little bit.
George Osborne appears to be a master at controlling the British press. All of the reports I have seen concentrate on his assertion that changes in child benefit will only affect top-rate taxpayers. They seem to ignore that he is the first Chancellor to levy a tax on the number of children.
Consider two families, both above his arbitrary threshold, one with children. He has increased tax only for the family with children. The more children that family has, the greater the increase in tax.
His excuse is that he is protecting lower-rate taxpayers. A small rise in the top rate of tax would make the same saving, while making no change to those on lower tax rates. Such a rise would spread the cost equally between parents and the childless. It would also be progressive: his proposal includes a step function whereby a small rise in income could result in a loss of thousands of pounds in benefit.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
I am one of those who have long believed a more equitable society could be achieved by means-testing the benefits paid to pensioners across the board, such as winter fuel payments and free television licences. Always I have had to be content with the ready answer that it is just too bureaucratic to discriminate.
Now Mr Osborne wants me to go one step further in trusting that it is much simpler to grant child benefit to some and not to others. I believe he is doing the right thing in restricting the relief to those on lower incomes, but the pledge reveals a certain hypocrisy. After all, it is the pensioners who can be relied upon for the bulk vote, so theirs is a cage which is rattled at the politicians' peril.
The Rev Peter Sharp
When child benefit was first brought in, the idea was to ensure that mothers would receive money directly for their own use, not via their husbands or partners. This is why it was a universal benefit, not means-tested, because a high-earning husband did not necessarily share his wealth adequately with his wife.
Children are not some sort of "lifestyle choice", like smoking or drinking, but a national asset, nay, a necessity. While the days of large families are long over on this crowded island, children are still of benefit to society as a whole: in the future, who else will be looking after the nation, and most especially the elderly, both financially and practically?
Society recognises the contribution made by those who have children, not to mention the extra responsibilities parents take on, with Child Benefit payments. This form of tax break, which is not huge and in no way covers the cost of raising children, is therefore fair.
What is not fair is asking families who elect to look after their own children themselves, by having one parent at home and one at work earning £44,000 a year, to pay for the child benefit received by families with two incomes, and earning up to £86,000 a year. This is perverse.
The ending of universal child benefit is yet another broken promise from Cameron and Clegg. Have they learned nothing from the past few years about why the public distrust politicians so much?
These two rich, out-of-touch ideologues increasingly seem joined at the hip – equally arrogant, opportunistic and, above all, untrustworthy. They're beginning to make Tony Blair really look like "a pretty straight kinda guy" – and that's no mean achievement.
East Horsley, Surrey
The case for bank bonuses
The debate over bonuses has rarely been anything other than emotional ("Banks' £7bn bonus pool condemned by unions", 5 October), but at a time when the public finances are facing unprecedented strain it is perhaps worth taking a step back to assess the economic impact of these controversial pay structures.
Recent reports have focused on research that indicated City bonuses will total £7bn this year, slightly down on the corresponding figure for 2009. Less attention has been paid, however, to the fact that approximately £4.1bn will flow back into the public coffers through a combination of direct and indirect taxation.
Leaving aside the question of whether individual bonuses are justified or at an appropriate level, the tax receipts they generate ultimately benefit the Treasury far more than if such funds were to be retained by corporations and taxed at a rate of only 28 per cent.
Bonuses provoke considerable public anger because they have become synonymous with a lack of restraint during the current financial crisis. But when used properly, they are perfectly legitimate tools for a cyclical industry like financial services that can reflect current market conditions while simultaneously making a significant contribution to the UK economy.
Lord Mayor of the City of London, The Mansion House,
The useful Lottery
Steve Hickman asks "Can we still afford the Lottery? (Letter, 30 September.) I would ask in reply, how could we possibly afford not to have it?
The UK National Lottery raises over £25m each week for good causes and has awarded more than 340,000 grants to date. National Lottery funding provides a vital lifeline to many grass-roots organisations, charities and local authorities, as well as the larger capital projects.
Average weekly spend is under £3, and with 70 per cent of UK adults playing, it has mass appeal across all socio-economic groups. The demographics of lottery play, in fact, match the demographics of the nation. People view it as a harmless flutter, which might just change their lives.
At more than 40 per cent of total revenue, the UK National Lottery also returns more to society than any other lottery in the world. Over £9bn has gone to the Exchequer in lottery duty so far. Adding that to the good cause contributions, I am certain that no gambling company could claim they give back more.
Chief Executive, Camelot Group
Just one of the Tory crowd
It is fascinating that David Cameron has taken to sitting in the body of the hall to listen to speakers at the Conservative Conference. He was filmed earnestly listening to George Osborne outlining changes to the child benefit system. As Osborne's speech ended, Cameron leapt up to lead a standing ovation.
It's all timing, you see. He has to be the first up – and to be seen as the first up.
It reminds me in reverse of those Soviet mass meetings where the audience could not stop clapping policy announcements for fear that they would be identified as being lukewarm in their reception of the next Five Year Plan. Nowadays the Prime Minister leads the applause.
Definitions of fascism
Scott Varland (letter, 28 September) claims that the Tea Party movement are actually anti-fascists.
Definitions of fascism have become quite difficult to pin down. Ideas from both left and right have been elements of fascist regimes, but common factors seem to be extreme nationalism and a mass mobilisation of people willing to use coercion and physical and verbal intimidation in order to impose their will.
To me it seems to be more about the method of getting things done rather than what they want done. They don't necessarily have to be a majority nor organised by the state, just enough to intimidate the rest into compliance or surrender.
That seems to be characteristic of the current Party-goers: very angry, nationalistic people asserting their inalienable right to be armed (the constant implicit threat of lethal force), united en masse against something they all agree they really hate. Some of them appear to claim respect for a type of democratic electoral process, but maybe winning is the only thing that matters.
'Genocide' in the Congo
While the UN may have "toned down" a report on inter-ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (report, 2 October), the suggestion that Rwanda may have "committed genocide there in the 1990s" persists.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide (1951) defines genocide as "acts committed to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".
It is assumed that the perpetrators in this instance are the Tutsi military of Rwanda's defence forces and the victims are the Hutu civilian population among whom the former genocidaires sheltered and regrouped in the Congo post-1994.
It is breathtaking in its presumption that, after close to a million Tutsis were slaughtered in the genocide of 1994, in which varying degrees of culpability and complicity are attributed to the UN Security Council members; the subsequent militia atrocities in the DRC, which involved multiple African states, commercial bodies and organisations, are given the title of genocide and left at the door of Rwanda (and Uganda).
It smacks of historical revisionism and sanitising the shameful role of UN Security Council member states and UN organisations in the original genocide; it demonstrates a myopic view of events in eastern Congo post-1994 and an inaccurate understanding of genocide, given the Hutu re-settlement and reconciliation within Rwanda itself , where they constitute over 80 per cent of the population.
Dr Joseph Mullen
Former UN Country Officer Rwanda, Burundi
East Dean, East Sussex
Like, language of the future
Emma Thompson's remarks on teen-speak, and the ensuing debate, remind me of a conversation I overheard on a train recently:
Girl 1: And I'm like OhMyGod!
Girl 2: Yeah?
Girl 1: And he's like Duh!
Girl 2: OhMyGod!
Girl 1: Yeah!
And so on. The remarkable thing about this exchange was that it appeared to function as a genuine conversation: meaningful information was offered; it was interpreted correctly, and appropriate responses were made. It convinced me that in the future English will become a universal language, with a vocabulary of around 20 words.
St Austell, Cornwall
I would suggest that "like" is used by my fellow insecure teenagers to express a lack of confidence in what they are saying. They want to ensure that what they say can be flexible and fit in with their friends' opinions, or they use it as a stopgap when struggling to explain something.
I doubt that making a teenager self-conscious about this habit with scornful criticism will make them express themselves with more eloquence; rather they will focus on the packaging instead of the content. Moreover, I am deaf to my parents' complaints about using the word "like", when they use "y'know" in exactly the same way, and just as frequently.
A year or so ago I turned on the TV to watch the evening news and came in part-way through an interview with Agyness Deyn, someone who I'd never heard of before and, fortunately, little of since.
I was only half listening, but noted that every fourth or fifth word seemed to be "like". The she surpassed herself with the phrase "She was so like ladylike like." She got my attention then – we were in the presence a record-breaker.
Traces of pain
I'm afraid the report on the use of thermal imaging to detect which areas of an animal are causing pain (30 September) is inaccurate. This is not the first time this technique has been used in this way. In my own studies on animal welfare, we have used a thermal- imaging camera since 2006 to detect injuries such as ulcers, lacerations and cracks in the feet of zoo elephants. I am not claiming to be the first to use this technique. Since 1999 there have been numerous papers published on using thermal imaging in studies on animal welfare.
Dr Chris Sherwin
Senior Research Fellow in Animal Behaviour and Welfare
University of Bristol
Perspectives on climate change
Why Copenhagen failed
Dominic Lawson has a point in his critique of that bizarre film by 10:10. Most Greens feel that the tactics used in the film were inappropriate and counter-productive. But the rest of Mr Lawson's argument wouldn't make a very convincing film either. He completely misunderstands what happened at Copenhagen.
In international climate negotiations, we don't actually see Greens negotiating. We see European governments that don't fully understand the problem trying to impose on the governments of developing countries something that the latter are rightly suspicious of.
If these negotiations were led by Green politicians, first we ourselves would be demonstrating the social and economic benefits of transformation to a low-carbon society – including energy security, strong local communities and lasting, skilled jobs. And second, Greens would be pushing for a "contraction and convergence" model which would recognise that poorer countries are still developing and need to be helped on to the path of sustainable development, with richer countries taking on their fair share of the necessary global carbon reductions.
Green Party deputy leader, London N19
Where to save the forests
Your editorial of 5 October rightly highlights the urgent need for the next Brazilian government to prioritise protection of the environment and the conservation of forests and their communities. The electoral success of the Green Party indicates that this is a view shared by millions of Brazilians. But one of the main drivers behind the destruction of Brazilian forests is the huge demand for animal feed to satisfy western consumers' demand for meat .
Next month Robert Flello MP is introducing a new law to Parliament – with Friends of the Earth's support . If passed, the Sustainable Livestock Bill will require the Government to help UK farmers to adopt greener and more humane farming methods, instead of pumping public money into damaging factory farms. As a result more of the meat and dairy sold in this country would be born and bred in the UK and fed animal feed grown in Britain.
Senior food Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, London N1
In the context of "cuts" it is interesting to assess the benefits or otherwise of the £1bn a year being spent subsidising "wind farming".
Windfarm generation of electricity will not result in the closure of any conventional electricity generators . The standard response is that wind power "helps to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions". The only way this can be achieved is if windfarm electricity can be can be used to replace some of the output of fossil-fuel power stations. But the capricious nature of wind limits this reduction to no more than 30 per cent. If, as the Government intends, fossil-fuel power stations are to be rendered "clean" by carbon-capture techniques then the whole purpose of wind farming becomes void as there are negligible carbon emissions for it to replace.
It would therefore appear logical for the Government to declare a moratorium on the building of further windfarms. Furthermore, since most of the building costs of windfarms goes to foreign firms and foreign workers, the £1bn a year can be diverted to circulate within the UK economy, thus assisting the Government in its efforts to lift us out of the recession.
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In defence of liberal democracy
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