Letters: Benefits and work

How can cuts in benefits 'incentivise' claimants back to work?
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Sir: Deborah Orr's article on the neo-liberal approach to welfare (Comment, 21 November) will carry an extra resonance for anyone who has read the proposals contained in the Welfare Reform Bill, which will result in a benefit cut of more than 25 per cent for many sick and disabled people (at a time when energy costs, the price of basic foodstuffs, and increased council-tax bills are already putting extra pressure on those on low incomes).

Dressed up as an initiative to "help" disabled people into work, it bears all the hallmarks of the punitive and coercive neo-liberal approach to welfare imported from the US. The Government has spent months softening up public opinion to the idea that claimants have been living in a "comfort zone" on incapacity benefit (which constitutes just 15 per cent of average earnings), a classic example of the neo-liberal belief that those dependent on welfare are being rewarded for their personal failings.

This new Bill will move the majority of IB claimants on to an "Employment and Support Allowance" paid at Jobseekers' Allowance level (£57 per week), with similar obligations to find work on notice of further cuts in benefit. As in the US, private firms will be used to police the system, with financial incentives to move people off benefit, or cut the level of benefit paid.

Most people would endorse any genuine attempt to ensure everybody who wanted to work would be found work "whatever their condition", the rationale underlying this Bill makes sense only if you assume that welfare causes dependency (and disability?), and that the only thing preventing sick and disabled people from finding work is their own inadequacy (together with a predilection for daytime TV). How else could a cut in benefit "incentivise" claimants back to work?



Trident is simply a weapon of revenge

Sir: With reference to your excellent article "The Big Question" (24 November) outlining the arguments for and against Trident replacement, there are certain considerations that have not yet emerged in this debate.

The UK warhead is based on the American W76 warhead with a yield of 100 kilotons. It is likely that 12 of the missiles on Trident are armed, and these would carry four warheads each.

Since each of these warheads is about eight times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb which killed 140,000 people, simple arithmetic would suggest that one submarine could kill about 54 million people, although for various reasons the number of deaths would probably be rather less.

But D5 missiles are deployed on British submarines, and these can take the 475-kiloton W88 warhead which could take the number of deaths into the hundreds of millions.

The reason that long-range, nuclear-armed missiles are deployed on submarines is that their location is unknown since they are constantly on the move. When one missile is fired the location of the launch immediately becomes known and the submarine could quickly be destroyed. For this reason the Trident submarines are designed to fire all their missiles at once (within 10 minutes).

These are Armageddon machines. They would presumably discharge their load after a nuclear attack.

I, personally, would not be prepared to press a button that killed hundreds of millions of people, particularly as a futile gesture of revenge. And I am not prepared to ask someone else to do so on my behalf.



Sir: Trident seems a complete no-brainer. There is no good reason for spending billions of pounds on weapons systems that will never be used and that only contributes to endangering the UK.

Can anyone think of a single hypothetical situation in which the nuclear warhead-tipped missiles will be launched? Now consider that this decision cannot be made without American approval. Who would want any American administration, (especially the present one) making the decision for launching these (nominally) British WMDs?

And the cost, astounding. There are far more prevalent and immediate threats that could be assuaged with these resources. And consider the ethics. Which civilian population are you going to indiscriminately slaughter with these weapons? Or do you really think there won't be massive "collateral damage" with the use of nuclear weapons?

And how will continuing the development, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons reduce the risk of proliferation? I say use, because if you're not prepared to use them, why do you have them?

It has been a sad spectacle to see the Labour Party shed any pretence of morality or ethical behaviour, under Blair's tutelage. The willingness to embrace the wholly immoral, impracticable and outdated principles inherent in nuclear weaponry underlines and highlights the utter lack of ethics exhibited by the present Labour Party.

There are real, not fantastic, mortal challenges facing the UK and all other nations (all of us, really). It's time to shed the absurdity of nuclear weapons once and for all. The UK is in a singular position to do this, and thereby set an example for the rest of the world.



Horse-riders are above the law

Sir: I agree with Penny Little (Letters, 21 Nov) regarding hunts that break the law, but in addition, recreational riders in my village often flout bylaws by riding on public footpaths, seeing themselves as worthy folk and above such constraints.

When the ground is soft, hoof marks damage the surface of paths make walking less pleasurable, and when the damaged paths are frozen they are ankle-twisters.



Sir: Not having ever been on a hunt or met those involved, I would still like to see these hunting folk, many of them privileged, sorted once and for good (Letters, 24 November).

Habeas corpus should be suspended to enable perpetrators to be rounded up and rooted out of our society. They should be flung into dark, damp and cold cells, their businesses closed, made to live off a diet of Linda McCartney sausages and released only for re-education seminars run by Ralph Harris and Bill Oddie.

Every Boxing Day, they should be paraded through the streets of Islington to be booed, hissed at and have fair trade oranges lobbed at them.

How dare they seek to preserve their community, cultures and traditions?



Friedman's greatest legacy to America

Sir: Like many a great economist, Milton Friedman had the misfortune that politicians deemed his intellectual theories useful as propaganda. Right-wingers used him as a poster boy so left-wingers demonised him, thus it's good that Johann Hari can look beyond the cardboard figure and laud one of his positive achievements ("The one reason I will miss Milton Friedman", Comment, 23 November).

But there were many more. Through the Vietnam war, he had campaigned to abolish the draft, and his economic argument for a volunteer army appeared in the The Draft: A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives.

After the war, he sat on the Gates Commission that recommended abolition of the draft. Freidman called it his proudest achievement in policy-making, possibly because it was a rare example of his direct influence rather than politicians cherry-picking and misapplying his theories for their own purposes.



No marketing to the under-12s

Sir: Your article on marketing to children (24 November) is misleading. You refer to a report published by Which? claiming leading food brands use underhand tactics to market to children.

Coca-Cola has a 50-year-old policy of not marketing to under-12s. This is a policy we rigorously apply, and it is independently audited to ensure it is followed. None of the "examples" Which? lists are marketed to under-12s. We believe parents should decide what food and drink is right for their family.

To suggest our popular association with football is aimed at children is wrong. We provide a full range of regular and diet drinks, from carbonated and still, through sports and energy drinks to juices and waters. This is why we are introducing clear nutritional labelling for parents.



Biology dictates the 22-week boundary

Sir: A series of letters has implied that whether neonates delivered at 22 weeks should be intensively resuscitated is an issue of ethics, morality, compassion, health economics or resource rationing. It is none of these; it is an issue of simple biology.

Among large placental mammals, humans are unique in producing offspring that cannot, within hours of full-term delivery, follow a parent, flee from a predator or survive the climatic extremes. This is because the price of a large brain is a drastically short gestational period.

Even a full-term human infant takes years to catch up to the abilities of a "normal" large mammal baby. A neonate expelled from the uterus at 22 weeks has completed barely more than half of this truncated gestational period.

It is an obligate "parasite", incapable of extra-uterine existence without massive medical intervention. Even then, a 22-week neonate has only 1 per cent to 2 per cent chance of surviving the neonatal period.

The reasons are simple. The liver, lungs and other vital organs of a 22-week neonate rely on the mother's liver to detoxify its own waste products, and on the mother's circulation for oxygen and nutrients. Medical science can preserve life in a few of these infants; it cannot provide the conditions for the immature foetus to complete its development.

The few 22-week gestation infants who survive cannot be expected to achieve even a close facsimile of normal existence. Expulsion from the uterus at 22 weeks is not extremely premature birth: it is an extremely late miscarriage.

The proposal that decisions should always be made on an individual basis implies there is no boundary below which a neonate is so immature that resuscitation is ill-advised: the evidence considered by the Nuffield Council strongly indicates there is such a boundary and it lies at 22 weeks of gestation.



Protection from the 'good life'

Sir: Mental patients come in many shapes and sizes (Letters, 24 November). And they all have one thing in common. They want to live normal, eventful lives.

With dross such as Casino Royale setting the agenda of free sex, anytime, anywhere, without responsibilities, is it any surprise that mental patients with access to the opposite sex in a ward they are admitted to will "try to be normal" by emulating their hero's easy attitude to sex?

Impressionable and vulnerable people need protecting from the "good life" they can never have as portrayed in the popular media.



Joint effort

Sir: How come that while the general cost of living, with its essential goods and services, is getting more expensive all the time, the opposite is being reported about products in the illegal drug trade (article, 23 November)? Perhaps some esteemed economist will take note.



Stay tuned

Sir: Dr Brian Fisher (Letters, 25 November) has an invitation to a carol concert which warns him that "songs of a religious nature may be sung". He may care to warn the organisers that unless the concert is entirely composed of "songs of a religious nature", specifically Christian carols, it is not a carol concert, and they are committing an offence against the Trade Descriptions Act. I trust he would report them for prosecution should they fail to heed his warning.



Flight of faith

Sir: Didn't Jesus instruct his followers to pay no heed to how they should dress or what to put on ("Backlash forces British Airways to review ban on wearing cross", 25 November)? Were I to fly BA, I would much prefer for my plane to be serviced by an atheistic, qualified engineer than someone who put his faith in some sort of religious icon.



Sir: If British Airways staff are allowed to have the cross dangling from their necks, spare a thought for poor old Count Dracula. He'll have to travel with Ryanair in future.



Going Dutch

Sir: The names "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are not interchangeable (article, 23 November). The name of the country is "Nederland" (the Netherlands) or "Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden" (United Kingdom of the Netherlands). These days, Holland is merely an area within the Netherlands.



Cycle of crime

Sir: The letter "Mass use of helmets has never made cycling safer" (24 November) illustrates the moral high ground cyclists believe they occupy; they can ride at night without lights, ride on pavements, jump red lights and generally ignore the law. And cycling on pavements does makes life more risky for pedestrians.



Zulu first

Sir: Cetshwayo was not the first Zulu to visit London (article, 24 November). Nearly 30 years earlier, in 1853, a group of 13 Zulu "Kaffirs" went on show at the St George's Gallery near Hyde Park, then toured the continent. Many comments can be found in the contemporary press and by Charles Dickens in his Household Words issue of 11 June that year.