Letters: Child benefit

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Unfair cut in child benefit

George Osborne is proposing changes in the system of child benefit. Currently for two children under 16 years old, £134.80 is received every four weeks. After the change, payments will depend on the income of the higher-earning parent. So a small change in personal income may cause large changes in family income: if either parent has even a small amount of income taxed at 40 per cent, all child benefit for the year will be lost.

So with two parents each earning £40,000, child benefit is received; with two parents, one earning £70,000, the other £10,000, no child benefit is received.

Here are some questions for Mr Osborne. After a separation, divorce, or re-marriage, how quickly will the eligibility for child benefit be reassessed? How many families will separate in order to maintain eligibility for child benefit? After the death of a high-earning father, how long will it be before the widowed mother receives child benefit? Will the child benefit to be received depend on the income for the previous year, or will the child benefit have to be repaid when a parent realises that income tax for the current year includes amounts at 40 per cent? How much will this proposal cost to administer?

Sir Humphrey might have commented on this proposal, "Very courageous, Minister."

Roger Scowen

Hampton, Middlesex

George Osborne, in proposing to claw back child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers, displays the same contempt for single-breadwinner households, and "stay-at-home mums", that Conservative Chancellors have always demonstrated.

Where one spouse stays at home to care for the children, no child benefit will be available where the other partner earns say £50,000 a year. However, a couple who each earn £40,000 will receive benefit.

Many years ago, under repeated Conservative governments, when our own children were at school, we were such a family. My wife turned down the possibility of a career to bring up the children full-time. Her reward from the Revenue was to be prevented from transferring any of her personal and higher-rate tax allowances to me. So while we were not especially well off at that time, we suffered higher-rate tax on my income for many years.

If the Conservatives want to be taken seriously as a party which supports marriage and the family, they need to understand that tinkering at the edges by offering a derisory benefit to people who elect to marry, rather than live together as single people, is merely cosmetic. If they allowed full-time mums (and sometimes dads) to transfer all of their tax allowances to their working spouse, as any sense of reason and fairness would dictate, they might then be seen to discharge their promise to "support families".

Chris Sexton

Crowthorne, Berkshire

Removal of child benefit will not affect me but it will affect my children, and I have no doubt what their reaction is going to be: "Why the hell should I lose out when people without children are not and when the blasted bankers who caused the problem in the first place aren't being asked to pay for the damage they caused."

I find it difficult to understand how this is "looking after hard-working families". Of course it will not affect Mr Osborne and his rich buddies in the Government – or at least they will not notice it, whereas there are many to whom this will cause some hardship.

I am not against sensible re-distribution of income but so often we pick the wrong targets because they are easy.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, east sussex

Apparently the Prime Minister is urging us to keep the public spending cuts in perspective. I've started looking at them from the perspective of a millionaire armchair economist who's never needed a job, and never will – and he's right; everything's going to be fine.

David Woods


Island nation's naval defence

The letters from assorted folk critical of admirals and aircraft carriers (2 October) are rather economical with the facts. Unlike other Britons, servicemen and women are not allowed to speak publicly in political debate. It is only right that the Secretary of State for Defence fights their corner and champions their cause.

The UK has 14 overseas territories, all but one an island, and most many thousands of miles away, in every ocean of the globe. They may be small but some may be more important in the future than they seem now. They are a UK responsibility and it is our duty to have the naval forces appropriate to the requirement.

Not one of the wars in the last 30 years was expected, but the MoD was able to put together adequate forces and, in the case of the Falklands War, quite clearly win. Aircraft carriers allow the Government to exert influence independently and, although some think we have no influence to offer, that is not the view of other nations – or many Britons. An aircraft carrier, strategically placed, can deter as well as strike, and, as the Americans showed off Haiti, a carrier can be a great help in humanitarian assistance.

There are some pretty unpleasant and dangerous regimes overseas and, as resources become stretched for the ever-growing world population, I'd rather we were able to try to look after ourselves and our interests worldwide. We cannot just cancel the national insurance policy because one spendthrift government, and its banker mates, took their eyes off the ball. The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines provide a highly efficient and flexible mix of options, at a relatively modest premium.

The bottom line is that the UK is an island trading nation: 92 per cent of our international trade goes by sea. The Royal Navy has had aircraft carriers for the best part of a century; now is not the time to scupper them.

Lester May

London NW1

With reference to the letter "Why we need our aircraft carriers" (29 September), I am not "ill-informed" about carriers; I spent three years with the Fleet Air Arm in the Directorate of Aircraft Maintenance and Repair in MoD, and had some sea time in Ark Royal.

Surely we are past the requirement to "project UK power worldwide"? What would be the purpose of this? Is the UK to continue to pay handsomely in cash and lives to "punch above its weight" in world affairs, or can we now try to be realistic about what constitutes a proper role in our post-imperial circumstances?

David Applegate

Taunton, somerset

The Prime Minister has commented bluntly on the letter to him about the Defence Review from Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, which had been "leaked" mysteriously to the press. Several Conservatives have said that their party have always been strongly in support of good defence forces.

They may have forgotten Lady Thatcher. In making her defence cuts in 1982, she cancelled the South Atlantic "guard-ship". The Argentines put two and two together to make 22, and assumed that it was the go-ahead for them to take over the Falklands.

What matters for any defence review is first that a forecast is made of likely future wars world-wide in the next 10 or 20 years – not all that difficult. Our politicians should then decide in which of them they might wish to take sides. Only then could the Defence Ministry propose what forces would be needed and the costs, leaving it to those politicians to say what they could afford and in which wars they would not expect to take part. As far as I know, there is no sign of that having been done.

Air Marshal Sir Reginald E W Harland

Bury st Edmund's, Suffolk

What would impress would be a letter from the admirals in support of the Army's boots on the ground, a letter from the generals in support of an independent RAF helicopter force and a letter from the air marshals in support of the Navy's aircraft carriers.

Robert Davies

London SE3

Wear a poppy with hope

In the 1950s, when I was at school, poppies were worn on the 11 November and Remembrance Sunday itself. Those days had impact. But today, some time soon TV interviewers will start tosport their poppies: "Look at us, how patriotic we are."

Evidence from the 1920s shows that Remembrance Day was a day of real grief, and behind the grief a determination that such a war would never happen again. No one now alive can remember the dead of 1914-18 as individuals, and rightly the focus is now on 1939-45 and helping those wounded or disabled in subsequent wars. However the tone has changed, the change encapsulated by the slogan "Wear Your Poppy with Pride".

Pride is one of the deadly sins and is thoroughly unattractive in this context. To those who died, to those who were disabled, to whom my small contribution for poppy purchase goes, I feel gratitude and I feel respect. I am not "proud" that they are injured or dead, nor am I "proud" of the politicians who often muddled us into war.

I want to wear my poppy with hope that there will be as few wars as possible. I am especially grateful that the enemies of yesteryear are the firm friends of today.

T H C Noon

Cadeleigh, Devon

Get drug addicts out of prison

The results of the National Treatment Agency and Home Office study are good news indeed ("Breakthrough in Britain's war on drugs and crime", 4 October). Drug addiction is a major driver of low-level crime and accounts for much of the UK's high re-offending rates. Good rehabilitation programmes are crucial for lowering this rate.

But while treatment in prison is better than no treatment at all, recent Make Justice Work research shows that the most cost-effective way to reduce drug-related crime is to take rehabilitation out of prison and into the community. Diverting a single offender from custody to residential drug rehab saves up to £200,000.

With our prison population at a record high and the Comprehensive Spending Review looming, why not take the only logical path and stop locking people up at great expense when they should be getting cheaper and more effective treatment in the community?

Roma Hooper

Director, Make Justice Work

London W1

Financial theme and variations

Philip Hensher (Notebook, 4 October) says that "it used to be said that if Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn had been written in Hollywood, Haydn would be credited as the composer and Brahms as the 'arranger'."

Far fetched, you might think, but it is actually the case with jazz. No matter how inventive a jazz musician is, if the starting point is a popular song then the "composer" of that song gets all the credit for what is played, and the musician is legally classified at best as the "arranger". The owners of the copyright of these songs often, as I know to my cost, ban the publication of transcriptions of solos (whether they contain any reference to the original song or not) unless hefty fees are paid.

If painting were treated the same way, the architect of Rouen cathedral would get the royalties for all those Monet pictures of it.

Conrad Cork


Like, like it or don't like it

You may like or dislike young people's "like" as you will, but please don't misrepresent it (letters, 1, 4 October). It's nothing at all like the hesitation noises "err" or "erm".

It has two chief functions. "Quotative like", as it's technically called, is illustrated by "So it was like anybody there?" It's the equivalent of quotation marks around the words following the "like".

"Emphatic like" is illustrated by "So it was like three o'clock." It's equivalent to using italics or bold face to draw attention to an expression.

These uses aren't meaningless or random. They've certainly increased in frequency in recent years among young (and some not so young) people, and overuse of any word is always likely to cause irritation, but there's nothing especially new about it.

A parenthetic use of "like" meaning "as it were" or "so to speak" has an earliest recorded use in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1778.

Professor David Crystal

Holyhead, isle of Anglesey

Standards are slipping, man. You know, in my day, man, we used language properly, you know? No wastage, man: that's not cool. You know, man? So yeah, like I said, man, these teenagers today, man: they have lower standards than we did, you know man?

James Ingram

London SE1

Worse to come

I always suspected that believers lacked imagination and that religion was an excuse for lack of thought. One of your correspondents (4 October) has deepened that suspicion. He states: "There is nothing worse than sitting behind a man ... who is reading the Sunday newspaper during Mass." I've had a think, and there is. What if his wife is flicking through Hello magazine as well? What torments would ensue?

James Vickers

Redcar, Cleveland


Being a non-golfing person, I must admit I enjoyed watching the TV news bulletins showing the entertaining spectacle of the Ryder Cup players swinging their clubs on a waterlogged course at Celtic Manor. Perhaps "aquatic golf" could be the start of a new sporting craze.

Ivor Yeloff


Perspectives on teaching methods

Faith schools no better

Alan Sykes (letter, 4 October) suggests that church schools are "popular", and this is because they provide "an excellent all-round education".

In 2007, researchers at the London School of Economics studied the performance of children who lived in the same area and had similar family backgrounds: they reported that religious affiliation had little impact on primary schools' effectiveness in teaching core subjects.

Where church schools achieve better results it is because they have the power to admit children who are higher achievers. Where a church school is in a deprived neighbourhood (and these schools are not over-subscribed), the results are the same as other schools in similar neighbourhoods.

As for the inclusion of unbelievers, the same study found only a tiny percentage of the children of unbelievers in church schools. The reason for this is very clear in the admission criteria of the vast majority of church schools, which start off with the particular denomination, move on to other Christian denominations, and then to other world religions. The unbelieving majority usually come in either last or nowhere, and are excluded from a huge number of schools which are financed almost entirely by their taxes.

Peter McKenna


Same old answers

It was interesting to read about Professor Dylan Wiliam's "secrets of a happy classroom" (23 September) , and sad to reflect that once again old ideas which by now ought to be standard pedagogic practice are being pushed as some sort of powerful breakthrough.

In 1968 three colleagues and I placed the teaching of geography for the first three years in a six-stream Southampton comprehensive school, on a team-teaching basis. We taught the children in groups of 90. Each child was given a large Evans Flashcard with four coloured edges and the introductory part of each 90-minute lesson was highly structured. Using an overhead projector and a series of coloured key questions, immediate feedback could be obtained as to the children's understanding.

The "rainbow" effect in the classroom signified total misunderstanding. If only a few children were incorrect then one of the two or three auxiliary teachers present would immediately deal with that child's problem. Follow-up tutorial groups were changed weekly, depending upon a child's progress.

It placed a great responsibility upon the teacher leading each session to know exactly what he was talking about and to prepare sets of multi-choice questions where the "wrong choices" indicated by the flashcards often told us a very great deal about the child's misunderstanding.

In my 80th year I have been a student again for the past six or seven years. I note with envy the superb new technology: the whiteboards, the computers, the wealth of good software . But I note the almost total lack of a good pedagogy to go with it, despite my teachers being just as committed as I was. Maybe Professor Wiliam could explain why we have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Jack Oakley

Chandlers Ford, Hampshire