Robin Hutt (letters, 29 September) suggests we should retain the present retirement age to ensure availability of jobs for young people. This naively assumes that someone fresh from school or university can step straight into the shoes of a worker who has had decades of experience.
This view takes no account of demographic history or of population projections. In the very near future, Britain will have too few people below compulsory retirement age to fund the pensions of the retired population.
Pension age in the UK was set in 1909 at 70 years; in 1925, this was reduced to 65. The expected age at death for someone who had reached 25 in 1925 was 66; in a person aged 25 in 2000, assuming no future improvement in life expectancy, it was already 77. When the retirement age was set at 65, the average person would draw a pension for about a year after retirement. By 2000, this was more than 10 years, and this will increase.
In earlier years, the working population covered the cost of their parents' pensions, trusting that the next generation would cover their pensions. In 2008, for the first time, the British population contained more pensioners than children. An ever-reducing workforce is covering the cost of pensions for an ever-increasing retired population.
At some time, probably soon, demographic change will leave the incumbent government no alternative but to increase drastically the age at which state pensions can first be drawn.
Unless we wish to return to the days of the workhouse, this means compulsory retirement ages must be abolished, allowing people to remain economically active for longer. Employers will still be able to dismiss an employee unfit to work, and a civilised society must continue to ensure the welfare of those who cannot work.
What we can no longer afford to do is to force healthy active people out of work purely because they have reached an arbitrary age limit.
Polanski should be condemned
Thank goodness for Dominic Lawson's article (29 September) condemning Roman Polanski's rape of a child. I have been reading about Afghanistan and abuses of the power-holders there against women. I have also been reading about marauding gangs of upper-class youths who used to rape and abuse lower-class women and men with impunity in Queen Anne's day. Not even the intervention of the Queen stopped the male elite from protecting these well- connected individuals.
Until the Polanski case, I read these cases feeling smug and secure that the Western world had moved on from such infringement of human rights by power elites. Now I am depressed at my naivety. Most depressing of all is that those defending Polanski don't even disguise that their defence is based on him being their mate, in their club.
Thank you again, Dominic, for condemning child rape. It is dispiriting to have to write that sentence, reflecting as it does the minority status of your opinion.
As the Swiss Justice Ministry has taken the bold step of arresting Roman Polanski, might we expect this newly found confidence to be equally responsive to calls for the arrest of corrupt African and Asian leaders who hoard their countries' wealth in Swiss bank accounts (The Economist estimated in 2005 that $20bn of Africa's money is stowed in Swiss banks) while their impoverished peoples die of hunger and treatable illnesses?
In a week when 157 people were massacred by the military in Guinea, a country whose immense wealth from bauxite, alumina, diamonds, and gold has found its way into Swiss bank accounts, the decision to arrest an ageing film director for a crime committed more than 30 years ago makes Switzerland look somewhat ludicrous. Macabre material there, perhaps, for Polanski's next film?
Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
If I had sex with a 13-year-old girl, I would expect to lose my job, my family and my friends and end up in prison as that popular figure the "nonce". Apparently, because Roman Polanski is such a brilliant film maker, the artistic community thinks he shouldn't be punished.
Personally, I think Polanski's films are highly overrated. Does that mean he should go to prison after all?
Library book stocks vanish
Although you give a page to "The Big Question" of public libraries (29 September) nowhere in it is there any mention that, in the past decade, library book stocks have dropped by 20 per cent. Time and again, readers (now called "customers") find good books have vanished from the shelves, which have become dominated by schlock.
And so readers drop away, and tell others of their disappointment. It is a paradox of our times that a government should urge "education, education, education" and yet presume the public-library system can subsist on meagre stock.
Provide abundant good books, word spreads, and readers return. Readers do not want to be patronised with waffle about coffee, mobile phones and chatter. And public-spirited librarians, with a word of advice here and there, have changed innumerable lives for the better. No life is very long. A significant number of people find that part of that precious time is well spent in reading. They rightly expect that a government should serve them better in this aim than it has done by a succession of trumpery "initiatives".
Hove, East Sussex
Does Murdoch dictate UK policy?
The Sun has decided to back the Tories at the next election because Rupert Murdoch perfers to back winners, according to Bruce Anderson (Comment, 30 September). Mr Anderson appears to think of this wonderful Australian as some force for good in keeping any UK prime minister in line with the thoughts of chairman Rupert (right-wing, pro-American and anti-Europe).
Mr Murdoch thinks it appropriate to dictate policy to our politicians in return for his endorsement. How can an Australian with American citizenship who consistently avoids paying his share of tax in Britain be described as patriotic? Indeed, Tony Blair ignored parliament and the country to support the illegal invasion of Iraq, his resolve stiffened by Uncle Rupert's support. Mr Anderson does not see anything amiss in a ramshackle political system which allows an unelected billionaire to dictate policy to our elected leaders.
J Duncan Greig
I was the first person into the Opposition Whips' Office in the House of Commons on the afternoon of 2 May 1997, after the debacle that befell the Conservative government. The place, like all other rooms in the Palace of Westminster, had been locked for the duration of the campaign and it had a fusty, unhealthy air.
Amid the detritus – scattered month-old newspapers, stale ashtrays and cartons of suppurating green milk – I was intrigued to discover an unwashed mug which bore the slogan, "Defend the Wapping Strikers!" Given that, outside, The Sun was proudly announcing its role in Labour's landslide victory, I found the contrast just a little ironic.
Peter Ainsworth MP
(Con, East Surrey) House of Commons, London SW1
"There is now a website," Harriet Harman told a horrified Labour Party conference, referring to Punternet. The bizarre word is "now". This website has been online since 1999, has enormous visitor numbers, and has been the subject of at least one academic study, Sex in Cyberspace: Men who Pay for Sex, by Sarah Earle and Keith Sharp, published in 2007.
This book would correct some of Ms Harman's misunderstandings, but it is obvious she is not interested in understanding. She is frightened and she is responding with scaremongering and sound-bites. And that means she cannot be trusted to promote the equalities for which she has ministerial responsibility.
Brighton, East Sussex
Help for victims of young thug gangs
Almost as disturbing as the sustained campaign of anti-social behaviour perpetrated against Fiona Pilkington and her daughter is that Fiona believed ending their lives was her only option. We have heard much about the failure of statutory agencies to use their powers or to work together to respond to the family's plight. But, for generations, the challenge of reaching out to those who "fall between the gaps" has been left to the voluntary sector.
Many statutory entitlements for victims of crime fail to reach victims of "anti-social behaviour". So Victim Support, with local partners, has set up dedicated services offering victims of anti-social behaviour emotional and practical support, and help going to court. Such projects in Wales, Northamptonshire and Birmingham depend on the support of police and local authorities, the tireless efforts of volunteers and hours of staff time spent filling in forms and attending meetings, to secure the funds needed. But when victims tell us they couldn't have got through their experiences without this help, it shows there can be options for victims of anti-social behaviour.
More than recriminations and forced apologies, victims of anti-social behaviour deserve dedicated services to be available whenever and wherever they are needed. However the police and local authorities respond to this tragedy, victims must know that there is always somewhere in their community to turn.
Chief Executive, Victim Support, London W1
Keep jails for only high-risk inmates
Lord Phillips could not be more correct in warning about the dangerously high prisoner numbers and the need to seek more community alternatives to jail (25 September). The legislative system over the past decade has become increasingly geared towards locking people up without consideration given to the economics and effectiveness of short jail terms for low-level, non-violent crimes.
For these offenders, prison is the most expensive and least effective punishment, and they are using valuable resources which should be used for the more high-risk offenders. Make Justice Work research shows millions could be saved if more offenders on short-term sentences were diverted into robust alternatives. This would reduce the enormous cost of our prisons, eradicate dangerous overcrowding, and cut re-offending. What are we waiting for?
Director, Make Justice Work, London W1
I was concerned by your article (10 September) about the difficulty the President is having getting public healthcare cover to Americans without it. Democracy works by majorities and only 50 million of the USA's 300 million people don't have private cover; so those Obama is trying to help are well in the minority. Mmmm.
No voter voice with G20
Sholto Byrnes makes interesting points about the EU and internationalism (1 October). He admits politics has a large international angle, and posits the UN, G20 and Commonwealth as alternative forums. But in other international bodies Britain is represented solely by Gordon Brown and David Miliband; in the European Parliament the public has directly elected representatives. We have a direct voice in the EU that we do not have with the G20.
London N22 ~
Dom Joly's assertion (28 September) that there is no "problem" in Renault ordering Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash is astonishing. Has Mr Joly forgotten the death of Ayrton Senna 15 years ago? When it comes to life or death, sport has no place in the argument.
Plea for BBC4
David Lister (Arts, 26 September) calls for the enforced transfer of much of the splendid content from BBC4 to BBC2 to permit possible closure of the BBC 4 digital channel. But surely BBC4 could provide repeats of much of the vast back-catalogue of excellent BBC entertainment, drama and documentaries now denied to us, the licence-payers. Why not cut BBC3, with similar youth-oriented programmes available on commercial channels.
Chew this over
Judging by the Aztec skull in Tom Sutcliffe's piece on the Moctezuma exhibition at the British Museum (2 October), it is obvious that, along with torture and human sacrifice, the Mexica were shoddy dentists. The turquoise and black pyrite bits are finely crafted but they've managed to stick the poor chap's upper central incisors in his lower jaw.
Steve Dodding BDS