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Friday 24 March 2006
Letters: Booming house prices
Sir: The Halifax Bank says we are currently experiencing "the largest intergenerational transfer of housing wealth in history", and accuses the Government of cashing in on what it probably assumes is a social good ("Boom in house prices 'to drive inheritance tax up to £5.6bn' ", 18 March).
Though inheritance tax is an unsavoury but effective fund-raising tool, it is also a much needed check on the cementing of class position and obstruction of social mobility. The latter is an unrecognised consequence of the housing boom. Buying a first home is becoming ever more dependent on the property status of the generation before. Such is the size of average first-time deposits in most areas, property in the family - parents' credit ratings or inheritance from the sale of their house at death - is now defining the difference between joining the home-owning class and not.
The long-term effect of this on society is that those with capital assets in property now will always ensure their children have such assets; those families with no stake in property now will more than likely have no stake in the next generation, or the one after that.
In an economy almost exclusively orientated around the property-owner, and with educational opportunities often dictated by house location, the prospect of a propertied and un-propertied class-based society, with no movement between the two, is becoming ever closer. Inherited wealth is, after all, unearned wealth, and capital from the sale of a house bought 30 years ago is even more unearned. If this Labour administration is shy of taxing high incomes, it should at least keep redistributing wealth for which no one has worked.
The unchecked passage of wealth from property, from one generation to the next, used to be termed "old money". The property boom has left us in danger of returning to a society defined by "old money" and "who your father was". As disagreeable as it is, inheritance tax is a crucial longstop to our current slide in this depressing direction.
Brown fails to hit the gas-guzzlers
Sir: So the Chancellor has decided to demonstrate his "green" credentials by hitting the gas-guzzling motorist in his Budget. Once again we witness a miserable failure to take the issue of global warming and energy waste seriously, due, no doubt, to the fear of voter reaction.
The new £210 road tax will do very little to discourage irresponsible drivers of 4x4 monsters and 3-litre gas-guzzlers. The majority of people who are willing to spend huge sums of money on these ego-boosting status symbols are unlikely to be deterred by an extra few pounds on their tax disc.
The only fair way to get these people to act responsibly and stop jeopardising my (and their) grandchildren's future is to introduce a graduated road tax based on the car's engine capacity.
Start from the present level of around £100 for 1,000cc and increase by £1 per cc thereafter. Unlike raising the price of petrol, which hits the worse off and those in rural areas, this would drive no one off the road.
The tax could be introduced gradually over, say, five years, giving a clear incentive to the motor industry to start investing in smaller, fuel-efficient cars and allowing drivers time to adapt to the "new environment".
Last but not least, it would show that at last the Government is willing to bite the bullet and start taking real measures to tackle what is the number one danger we are all facing - and desist from feeding us their pathetic snippets of spin, as with the announcement that No 10 has just (!) converted to low- energy light bulbs!
WEST RUNTON, NORFOLK
Sir: Gordon Brown's decision to raise tax on tobacco comes as yet another blow to local shopkeepers across the UK who, like myself, are struggling to stay in business because of the effect of tobacco smuggling on our sales.
Independent retailers are losing out and smuggling is now rampant in the UK because the Government's high tax rate on tobacco draws the smugglers in. UK tobacco tax levels are the highest in the EU. With this tax rise, the Chancellor has just created greater opportunities for the smugglers. We are simply playing into the smugglers' hands and encouraging them to sell their goods in the UK where the most profit can be made.
A recent Retailers Against Smuggling survey found that 74 per cent of independent shopkeepers said that the only way to stop the tobacco smuggling problem was to reduce or freeze taxes. The survey also found that 21 per cent of independent shopkeepers were considering closing down their business as a result of tobacco smuggling.
It is impossible for legitimate retailers like myself to compete with the smugglers who are taking away our business. Honest shopkeepers are being punished and until the tax on tobacco is brought more into line with the rest of the EU, the situation will continue.
The Government should be aware that these smugglers, who are attracted by the high tax rate in the UK, do not care who they sell their products to and can easily target the underage who are turned away by retailers like me.
NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, RETAILERS AGAINST SMUGGLING LONDON W14
Sir: Pensioners who have lost their £200 council tax allowance in Gordon Brown's Budget will no doubt be comforted by the thought of the "Chelsea tractor" brigade having to pay a punishing extra £45 vehicle tax. Another prime example of New Labour's equal society.
Sir: Thursday's paper contained the Budget supplement, which seemed especially bulky until I discovered I had three copies of the Education and Careers section. Good to see that The Independent's priority remains the same as Tony's - education, education, education.
SOLIHULL, WEST MIDLANDS
Party donors want to serve the country
Sir: As Robert Edwards writes in your letters column (22 March), "The debate over party funding is spurious". Left-wing journalists like Johann Hari get worked up about the super-rich subsidising the Labour Party, supposedly with the dastardly intention of perverting its proper objectives.
Hari and his friends only have ideas about how to spend other people's money, that is money obtained by taxation. Would the country not be better off listening for a change to those who know how to make money? Should we not welcome those prepared to enter the public domain and serve their country in Parliament?
The unquestioned assumption of all the critics has been that businessmen only want the privileges of a peerage. Perhaps they would also be pleased to find a forum where they might be listened to respectfully. Do we really need a House of Lords kept going only by promoting tired politicians put out to grass, or, heaven help us, replaced by an elected assembly made up of politicians without the ability even to get into the Commons?
All the critics seem to have a very low view of the second chamber. Do the superannuated politicians simply put their feet up? Do businessmen seek a peerage only to preen themselves? If it really does still count for so much, is it not also possible to exercise political influence there? Should the critics not attend to this aspect of the matter and stop assuming that it is all about ermine and frippery?
There was a time when those with substantial property or financial interests were expected to enter into public life and carry its burdens. No bad thing, I should have thought.
Is it not a scandal, rather, that those who have such a powerful influence on the economic well-being of the country now should be deliberately debarred from the opportunities to contribute to political discussions? Why is it so desirable that politics be left in the hands of persons brought up in debating societies?
D J A MATTHEW
Sir: Taxpayers should not object to greater state funding for political parties. There are great opportunities to bring "power to the people", provided that funds are allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast for each party.
Even voters for unsuccessful candidates will be able to see that their participation in the democratic process has aided the party of their choice financially. In this respect, whatever the outcome in a particular constituency - every vote will count.
Sir: Was it the intention of Tony Blair to mortgage the future of the Labour Party to a small number of his supporters? By funding the party through loans rather than gifts any future shifts of policy can now be met with a threat to call in the debts and bankrupt the party.
DR MICHAEL PARASKOS
What Bede meant by English identity
Sir: Bede did not write a history of England (Letters, 23 March), but a history of the English church and people. In his time Northumbria was a kingdom in its own right, and if the term "England" was then used, it would merely have referred to the territory - the several kingdoms - where the "English" people lived.
By telling the story of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and their conversion to Christianity as a history of the "English", Bede, it could be argued, was suggesting that their common faith, and their loyalty to Roman rather than Celtic traditions, was more important than political and tribal distinctions.
THE REV ALAN WALKER
Probation Service is improving
Sir: The remorseless criticism of the Probation Service ("Four men who killed girl were on probation", 21 March) is misplaced. Currently the service is supervising 13,000 offenders who pose a high or very high risk of reoffending. Last year, 0.6 per cent of these offenders were charged or convicted of a further serious offence.
All three appalling tragedies, John Monckton, Robert Symons and Mary Anne Leneghan, occurred in London at a time when the service was experiencing an unprecedented crisis characterised by lack of funds, 25 per cent probation officer vacancies, a recruitment freeze and yet more reorganisation.
The London service was bottom of Home Office target league tables. Since that time London has improved and now is in the middle. Nationally the Probation Service is performing better than ever. The most recent figures show that "breach" targets were achieved in 92 per cent of cases, "orders" were completed in 81 per cent of cases and completion of "offender behaviour programmes" exceeded the target by 7 per cent.
It is extremely difficult to predict exactly which offender's behaviour might deteriorate to the point of vicious murder. The National Association of Probation Officers fears that politicians will use this criticism to drive through privatisation.
Yet the private sector's record in criminal justice so far, with escorts, curfews and hostels management, has been uninspiring. It is extremely difficult to see how the introduction of the private sector would prevent further serious crimes by those on probation.
ASSISTANT GENERAL SECRETARY NAPO, LONDON SW11
Madrassas need to be regulated
Sir: I am pleased to know that finally the issue of physical abuse of children at madrassas [Islamic religious classes] is being taken seriously by the Muslim community (report, 22 March).
As a Muslim parent I have been skeptical whilst thinking about utilising the services of a madrassa, hearing about the way children are supposedly mistreated there.
At last there is a glimmer of hope for parents like myself that the madrassas will be properly regulated and that it would be safe for Muslim children to be sent there without the fear that they would be physically abused by imams most of whom have unfortunately been trained overseas, in countries where physical abuse at religious institutions is an acceptable norm during the learning of Koran and getting other religious education.
DR SHAAZ MAHBOOB
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