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Tuesday 26 October 2010
Letters: Bus passes
Keep the bus pass for all
I doubt whether Mary Ann Sieghart has yet reached her 50th birthday ("Not every pensioner needs a bus pass", 25 October). As I approach my 80th and find myself struggling to get on a bus in the rain, not seeing too well and laden with this and that, I thank my lucky stars that I can just show my old person's bus card rather than fumble for change.
I use my bus card often and regard it as some small "thank you" for the taxes that I paid, having been in paid employment from just after my 18th birthday until just before my 75th.
I think, therefore, Ms Sieghart should consider very carefully what she implies when using the word "need". To be sure, I am grateful for the universal benefits that are provided without a means test. I am pleased that I no longer have to remember to pay annually for a TV licence and that I receive some help towards my winter fuel bills. I do have a university pension, for which I paid contributions for 40 years. I am truly glad that I do not have to survive on the quite inadequate state pension, which is not as I envisioned it when I listened to Sir William Beveridge on the radio all those years ago.
If Parliament were to decide to tax the notional value of my universal benefits, as they tax my state pension, I should regard that as a just option.
Please let us not, though, create two classes of pensioners, one class qualifying for certain universal benefits and one class denied them. Then, as I got on the bus, perhaps no one would help me because without my bus pass I should be regarded as a "rich git". This smacks of the means testing that my parents complained about so bitterly in the 1930s.
Professor Gerald Elliott
Unlike fuel payments the free bus pass is not simply of benefit to those who avail themselves of it. It helps to keep cars off the road, which is good for us all. It provides an income stream that helps keep bus services viable. Fewer bus passes would mean fewer services, even the complete withdrawal of routes: the victims would be not only the elderly but also people of all ages who, for economic or other reasons, depend on public transport.
The Coalition Government is right to keep David Cameron's promise on bus passes.
In reply to Mary Ann Sieghart's rant (25 October) about how well off most pensioners are, I would like to ask her, and anyone else who is jealous of the old, if they would honestly be prepared to change places with a person in their seventies or eighties? The young have something that no amount of money can buy: a reasonable expectation of a lengthy future.
Money can't buy everything, certainly not immortality, so enjoy the years you have. Who knows, things might really get better, and, you, the young, will be there to enjoy it, perhaps with an inheritance from the your dead relatives.
Mary Ann Sieghart's article misses the point that not all pensioners use bus passes. There are very few millionaires on the 252. The pensioners who use bus passes are the ones who cannot afford to run cars.
Mary Ann Sieghart writes that not all pensioners need bus passes. Actually, if we are to make any impact on CO2 from private cars, we should all have bus passes.
Cynical gamble with jobs
From the puerile, simplistic, pre-Keynesian, micro-economic, repetitive claims of the Coalition it has become increasingly clear what the political strategy of this government is.
The severe cuts already announced can only mean a deep double dip in the economy. When the country is at the bottom of a deep economic depression, with a huge increase in unemployment around 2012, they can still blame the previous government. What a great opportunity for regressive legislation, a big reduction in the size of government, another bout of union bashing and an assault on the "nanny state" and the "welfare culture".
Even if the "black hole" in the county's finances gets bigger than ever because of the increased costs of unemployment, lack of exports and much lower tax revenues, there is still the hope that by 2015 an improving world economy could come to our aid and produce a feel-better factor in time for the next general election.
It is a huge, cynical, gamble but the product of three generations of stockbrokers is unlikely to be risk-averse.
The Coalition is intent on demonising the unemployed. Here are some facts about job-hunting in the modern world.
Most firms and agencies require you to apply online. Fine if you have a PC. If not, you are reliant on the soon-to-be-cut library service.
The online forms are often complex and obsessive – list every job you've ever had: dates, titles, salaries.
Once the form is submitted, you get an automated reply, stating that you may not enter into any correspondence: if you don't hear within 14 days, you have not been selected. So each application goes into a "black hole". The threat is that you can prejudice your chances if you phone to follow up the application. After a couple of weeks, you just assume that they didn't want you.
The remarkable thing is that anyone even bothers to apply. If the Coalition is keen to pursue the unemployed, they should also enforce a code of conduct for employers: the job-seeker should have the right to query progress, and the right to be told outright if they have not been selected.
Teach young people to lead
The issue of UK youngsters leaving school ill-equipped for work perennially rears its head; last week, it was the turn of Rupert Murdoch ("Murdoch criticises UK education in speech to honour 'Iron Lady' ", 22 October).
While I share Murdoch's view, I feel his argument that we need "a system ... that really teaches" misses the point slightly. In my experience, it's more about what is being taught than that the system doesn't teach. Academic results in the UK are fairly strong; it's practical and professional skills in disciplines such as management and leadership that businesses like mine need new recruits to have.
The present lack of collaboration between industry, schools and professional bodies means our young people aren't getting enough opportunities to develop these types of skills. While it's important that business leaders voice concerns about skills, they must also recognise the prime position they are in to help young people meet the high expectations of employers by forging links with the education and training sectors and helping to deliver practical and professional skills to students.
Director of Policy and Research, Chartered Management Institute
Treasury shoots down Nimrod
The Government's decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4's entry into RAF service is perplexing.
Every state recognises the need to be directly involved in providing aeronautical and maritime search and rescue (SAR) services to those in distress. To the west, the UK search and rescue region extends way out into the North Atlantic to meet those of Canada, France, Portugal and Iceland.
SAR cover for the UK and the enormous area of the surrounding seas is provided by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. This SAR force consists of RAF and RN Sea King helicopters operating from various locations around the UK. Up until a very short time ago, specially equipped RAF Nimrod aircraft based in RAF Kinloss, in Scotland, provided the nation's long-range search-and-rescue capability. The new Nimrod MRA4 would have provided continuation of this essential capability.
Fixed-wing aircraft such as the Nimrod are capable of reaching the search area quickly, covering large areas quickly, and remaining on the scene for several hours. They are capable of sustained search operations in remote areas where lengthy en route times reduce the on-scene endurance of SAR helicopters.
The Government is either naive, poorly briefed or disingenuous to say that airborne maritime capabilities are being covered by other assets. These other assets lack the necessary electronic search equipment (specialised radar and night vision cameras) or, in the case of helicopters, the necessary range. The decision to halt the entry into service of the new Nimrod MRA4 patrol aircraft can only have been political. Due to the unfortunate negative press that the Nimrod has received over the years, this was an easy, soft target for the Treasury.
Lab animals to lose safeguards
Sadly, the threat of a reduction in official scrutiny of animal laboratories is far from the gravest threat to the welfare of animals used in scientific experiments in the UK ("Lab animals, the unseen victims of Osborne's cuts", 25 October). In addition to the Comprehensive Spending Review's threat of significant cuts to the development of alternative research methods, the EU's new directive governing animal experimentation could permit the UK to lower standards of scrutiny, inspection and welfare when it is transposed into UK law in the next two years.
The Government has already declared its intention not to "gold-plate" the directive, but a narrow definition of gold-plating could see regulations "harmonised" with lower welfare standards in the rest of Europe. The current system of regulation is already grossly inadequate and excessively permissive: any deregulation would be utterly incompatible with the Coalition's stated aim of "working to reduce the use of animals in scientific procedures". The Government must stand by that pledge.
Policy Adviser, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Malaria means deeper poverty
I read with interest your articles about malaria on 22 October, but felt the link between malaria and poverty was not clear enough.
A million people die from malaria each year in Africa and many millions more are affected. Malaria and the other "diseases of poverty" such as TB and HIV/Aids have dramatically held back Africa's economic growth.
How can you adequately educate children who spend a quarter of the year off school because of three or four recurrences of malaria? What is the quality of their education if their teachers are off sick with malaria three or four times a year? How can businesses grow and thrive if adults are off work a similar amount of time because of malaria? How can healthcare workers focus on tackling other diseases and implementing other healthcare programmes when hospitals are full of malaria cases?
Unless you tackle malaria by, for example, providing insecticide-treated bednets and educating communities about their use, all our efforts to provide education and better healthcare in the developing world will be wasted.
Moderate Islam under threat
Being an Ahmadi Muslim from America, I was deeply disturbed to read your report "Hardliners call for deaths of Surrey Muslims" (21 October). This is too much change since my last visit to London in April.
Over the past six months, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has launched a bus campaign with our slogan "Love for all, hatred for none" in London. The same bus campaign then took to the streets of New York, Wisconsin and Houston in the USA. Our youth went door-knocking with "Muslims for Peace" leaflets. In the USA, we have reached out to over 25 million people with this message of peace through outreach efforts.
And during the same time "hardliners" have called for deaths and boycotts in the name of God, and reinforced the same misguided image of militant Islam which the moderate Muslims such as Ahmadis despise. These potential terrorists must be removed from the streets of the UK before things change even more adversely for the moderate voices within Islam.
Faheem Younus MD
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
How Kelly died
Please let us not a have another expensive and pointless inquiry into the death of David Kelly. Those unconvinced by the current verdict will not accept any new conclusion unless it confirms their own particular theories. We can be 99 per cent sure of what happened here: an honest man of integrity was hounded to his death by politicians and their advisers. David Kelly was not murdered, but that doesn't mean nobody was responsible for his death.
Kenneth Tynan and Laurence Olivier will be spluttering over their extended interval drinks when they read that Tynan was artistic director of the National Theatre" ("The naked ambition of Bob Guccione," 22 October). Olivier would no doubt paraphrase one of Tynan's remarks thus: "A literary editor is a man who knows the way, while an artistic director drives the car." Tynan was, in fact, literary editor of the National.
George I on film
Philip Hensher (Notebook, 25 October) seems not to know of a film featuring George I. There is one: Saraband for Dead Lovers. The part is played by Peter Bull. It includes all the stuff about the murder of his unhappy wife's lover. She is the lovely Joan Greenwood.
Cross-in-Hand, East Sussex
Perspectives on looking after the biosphere
Take care when you sell off our forests
While it may seem anachronistic to have a publicly owned forestry industry, large swathes of Forestry Commission land have real benefits for wildlife and need to be protected ("Government plans huge sell-off of Britain's forests", 25 October).
The Government's plan to sell off 50 per cent of this land must take into account important habitats such as lowland heathland and ancient woodland that the Forestry Commission estate includes. There is just a small fraction of the country's original lowland heathland remaining, and populations of specialist species such as Dartford warblers, nightjars, natterjack toads and smooth snakes have declined in recent decades as a result.
There are large areas of dormant heathland in the form of heather seed banks under plantation forestry, and with the right push these areas could be restored to help the Government meet its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020.
The Forestry Commission has carried out a lot of valuable conservation work over the years, but it also provides green space for recreation and cares for some of our most strikingly beautiful landscapes. Quite an achievement for an organisation set up 90 years ago to provide cheap pit props.
This is major land sell-off and it has major implications. If it is carefully thought through then it could provide a boost to threatened wildlife and the beleaguered public purse at the same time.
Director of conservation, Royal Society for the protection of Birds
Eurocrats saved Thames
The Environment Agency (EA) is right to publicise the healthy river Thames ("The tale that the river told", 19 October), but they really only played a bit-part in its transformation.
The most influential were those pantomime villains, the EU bureaucrats. Wastewater directives from Brussels forced the Government to act. The burden of achieving the improvement fell in turn on to the Greater London Council, Thames Water Authority, and finally, the privatised Thames Water Utilities. The latter took on the main burden from 1990, invested vast sums in improved treatment and continues to maintain the higher standards today.
By the time the EA came into existence, much of the main work had been completed. Its roles have mostly been to interpret the EU directives into local standards, and to tackle pollution from agriculture and other diffuse sources.
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