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Monday 11 October 2010
Letters: Childcare costs and benefits
Childcare costs dwarf benefits
Ten years ago I was the working mother of two pre-school children.
Neither my husband nor I earned enough to take us into the high-rate tax bracket, but our combined income was £60,000-plus, taking us well into what would be the higher rate for a single earner. We split the bills; I did the mortgage (of £65,000, well below the value of our house) childcare, household spending, and he did bills, council tax and holidays. On the face of it, we looked well-off and came above the new child-benefit threshold.
The cost of the childminder, however, was an enormous chunk. After the mortgage and a tiny slice of top-up pension, I was left with rather less than £300 per month for food and clothes. What seemed particularly unjust was that in order to pay childcare costs of roughly £1,000 a month, I had to earn approximately £1,275. The childminder would then pay £250 of that to the Treasury. This in effect made me a high-rate tax payer for the privilege of working.
I always regarded the child benefit I received as a tiny contribution towards the tax relief that I felt was due to me. If the Government would only look at the possibility of giving tax relief on childcare, then more stay-at-home mums might be encouraged back into the workplace (even if only part-time) and might finally get out of the poverty trap.
New Malden, Surrey
I have a possible solution for Tim Bell (letters, 8 October).Why doesn’t he negotiate with his employer to work part-time, maybe three days per week (as many women do when they become parents), and then his wife could get a job for two days per week and, assuming they would individually earn less than 44k, they could then continue to claim child benefit. This would have the added benefit of teaching children that fathers are also responsible for child care and help prevent employers being reluctant to employ women of child-bearing age. Maybe this child-benefit change is a progressive move after all.
My sister-in-law is a widow with two children, aged 10 and 14. She runs her own osteopathic clinic and earns just over £44k per annum. She struggles to pay business rates, mortgage, and send her children to grammar school.
That she now will lose her child benefit for being a single, working, responsible mother is an absolute disgrace.
How can this new Government have got this so wrong, that a two-income family earning in excess of that amount will keep their benefit?
I have never bought into the inverted snobbery that says that Cameron’s and Osborne’s class means they are not able to empathise with those less well-off than themselves. But at the first hurdle – what a monumental fall.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
As a full-time carer I am getting a little bit bored by being portrayed as a work-shy benefit recipient. Caring is a very real job and for many of us it becomes our entire life. In caring for my wife, I have no holidays, no sick leave and appalling pay. For the benefit of those Conservatives who can bear to hear anything other than their leader’s voice; I am receiving carers’ allowance of £53.10 before tax, for a 168-hour week.
If I did not do my job the state would have to stump up just a little bit more than that to care for my wife. Why is it that people who have such limited grasp of the real lives of others seem so eager to lecture us on how society works?
Now that the Chancellor has broken an election promise but done a sensible thing by stopping child benefit for high earners, I hope that he will continue and do another sensible thing; stop the universal grant of the winter fuel allowance. For any millionaire who reaches the age of 60 to receive it is scandalous, and anyone who has more than the national average income of £25,000 per year can survive without it. Come on George, be decisive.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
“Fairness” is not a satisfactory notion to be employed when thinking of our collective affairs. We pay taxes to enable those we appoint to have the funds to manage our common services. Those who misuse these services, whether rapaciously rich or incorrigibly indolent, present a problem to be solved by those we have appointed. To encourage me to think of myself as directly subsidising an indigent neighbour is to derogate from attempts to create a harmonious and cooperative society.
Ash Vale, Surrey
The wrong time to ditch the French
It seems an odd time to deride the French language as one that “deserves to be thrown into the dustbin of history” (Julie Burchill, 6 October), just as we look beyond our own shores for support in reducing our national deficit, as illustrated by your report “Britain and France may share nuclear deterrent” (30 September). Of course, Burchill’s advice “if you’re really smart, learn Mandarin or Russian” is very wise, but I suspect that few school pupils take up these subjects without first succeeding in a language which at least shares our own alphabet, such as French.
For the majority of today’s schoolchildren, the study of French is surely a much more realistic option for them to learn about another language, history and culture; not least because they might even get a chance to visit the country.
As well as broadening the horizons of our young people today, a better appreciation and understanding of France would surely be of benefit to the British people if the national security of the two countries is to be so closely tied in the future.
As a French national (who has been living in the UK for 40 years) I was delighted by the two letters defending the language, especially the one in French (7 October). I would add that for some years now, when abroad, mostly in Spain, my husband and I often converse in French to distance ourselves from English tourists who, thanks to “la Burchill” and others, have a reputation for at best arrogance, at worst drunkenness.
Janine Joubert Kempton,
As a foreigner, albeit with a first degree in English language and literature, I can’t work out which of this country’s cherished values The Independent was trying to promote by publishing Julie Burchill’s article “An up-itself language that deserves to be thrown in the dustbin of history”. Was it fairness? Or perhaps tolerance? Or was this actually a brilliant example of British (English?) humour that I am just not getting? Please enlighten me.
How the young communicate
Joe Roberts (letters, 6 October) cites the “conversation” he recently heard between two teenage girls, which consisted mainly of “like” and “ohmigod”.
At least the two girls were conversing face-to-face. The majority of young women I see these days, in the street, walking round the shops, queuing at a cash-point machine or on public transport, are chatting incessantly on their mobile phones, which seem permanently clamped to their ear. For every one male I see on his mobile phone, I see 10 women babbling on theirs.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I were having a drink in a local pub, when four young women sat at the table next to us, and spent the next hour chatting or texting on their mobile phones; they didn’t say a word to each other!
Your correspondents have suggested that the promiscuous use of “like” by teenagers is a new and possibly short-lived fashion (letters, 9 October). When I was growing up in Middlesbrough in the 1940s, it seemed to be common practice (not just among teenagers) to end every spoken sentence with the word “like”, as a sort of oral full-stop. My parents, having great respect for the proper use of language, strongly disapproved of this, so now I rarely do it myself like.
I support the vast majority of what Dr Lamb says about standard English being important for business purposes and formal writing (7 October). It is the form of the language that is understood by Scousers and Glaswegians as well as Oxford dons. We have standard English and hundreds of local variants; in India they have English and hundreds of local languages. People who want to succeed in business, and who need to communicate with people outside their local area, have to learn to use standard English. I have dedicated my professional life to helping them to do that.
But where is Dr Lamb’s sense of fun? The glorious variety and constant change in the English language is a thing to be celebrated and enjoyed. He wouldn’t tell a speaker of Urdu that they were wrong not to be speaking English, so why should a Londoner avoid glottal stops when talking to his mate? When Dr Lamb says that deliberately odd spellings such as “lite” and “nite” should be avoided, he comes across as a boring old busybody, when he could so easily have convinced one or two doubters.
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
Impact of obesity on pension plans
John Hutton’s conclusions about public-sector pensions may rely in part on projections regarding life expectancy, which has risen dramatically in recent years (report, 9 October).
But a report based on the Framingham study of obesity in adulthood in the Annals of Internal Medicine in January 2003 estimated that an obese 40-year-old female is likely to die 7.1 years, and an obese male 5.8 years, earlier than one of normal weight.
KL Rennie, writing in Obesity Reviews in January 2005, estimated that in 2002, 23 per cent of British men and 25 per cent of British women were obese. Concern has been expressed in medical and epidemiological circles about the effects of recreational drug use, binge-drinking, decline in activity and junk food on life expectancy.
Unless there is a dramatic reduction in obesity in the coming decades, it looks as though projections of cost based on past mortality rates may be questionable.
Are we in danger of dismantling a perfectly good pension system on the basis of unreliable data? Might we be about to ensure that the male obese teacher born in 1980 never gets to draw any pension and the obese female teacher of the same age enjoy no more than four and a half years of retirement?
Of course, we must hope that a solution to the increase in obesity is found, but it may be that changes in lifestyle over the past 25 years will impact negatively on mortality rates, and future generations will curse us for making them work till they drop while the pension funds find themselves awash with money.
I thought the work of MPs might be covered by the term “public servant” used in Lord Hutton’s report, but I can see no specific mention of them. Are we to assume that their pensions, which have sometimes been described as “gold-plated”, will remain unaffected by the changes being proposed to the pension arrangements of millions of public-sector workers?
Coalition pledges on illegal logging
Chris Davies MEP asserts that the Coalition Government has not “walked away” from a pledge to ban the sale of illegally logged timber (letters, 30 September). If that’s so, perhaps he’d like to let the relevant ministers know. I have a letter from Jim Paice, the minister for agriculture and food, which makes it very clear that the Coalition will not move beyond proposed EU legislation on timber import. According to Paice, the Coalition “will not be pursuing further UK legislative action at this stage”.
In contrast William Hague, in November 2009, said a Tory government would go further than EU legislation. And the Coalition agreement pledged to introduce “measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence”.
Chris Davies kindly attributes some of the success of the recently adopted work to my role when I was in the European Parliament, and wonders if I’ll “ever again play such a role in shaping legislation” now I’m in the Commons. Let me just assure him that keeping pressure on the Coalition to deliver on their promise to be the “greenest government ever”, rather than breaking pledges within a few months, is every bit as important.
Caroline Lucas MP,
Leader Green Party,
Your front page “Crimson tide” (8 October) reminds me of The Red Desert, a film made in the early 1960s, that depicted industrial waste from an anonymous factory spilling into local rivers and lakes. The year was 1964 and the director Michelangelo Antonioni. For over 40 years we have ignored the corporate vandalism that Antonioni recognised so long ago.
End for books?
There’s no reason why you should speak about the death of the book in terms of one technology supplanting another (“The end of the word as we know it, 8 October). There are page-turners who will prefer the traditional format and technophiles who will prefer the e-book. Both will have to be catered for. What you should be highlighting and lamenting is the decline of reading and the degeneration of publishing into the over-production of illiterate garbage.
Perspectives on climate change
Our planet has finite resources
If Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 5 October) had been around in the 16th century during the debate about whether the Earth revolved around the Sun he would have been firmly on the side of the traditionalists. He would have wanted Copernicus burned at the stake as a dangerous heretic. What do scientists know?
Well Copernicus was right, and so it will be with climate change.
The reason that Lawson is against the possibility of man-made climate change is because he knows that the measures needed to avoid climate change are incompatible with gung-ho free market capitalism.
What he fails to realise is that even if climate change was not happening, free market capitalism would ultimately fail; the reason for this is simple. We live on a small planet with finite natural resources. There is no way that every person now living on planet Earth will be able to enjoy the modest standard of living that I have had. It cannot be done.
Nothing green about this Government
What is becoming apparent is that the Coaltion Government’s cuts agenda makes no allowance for the need to address climate change. David Cameron’s protestations that this will be the greenest government yet do not stand up to scrutiny. The reality suggests it regards the challenge as something that can be put on the back burner until more prosperous times return.
This cannot be allowed to happen. If the Government is serious about climate change and economic recovery it should be investing heavily in green technology and reducing the country’s reliance on oil. Putting up rail fares to price people into their cars and cutting investment in industries involved in producing wind turbines suggests that this Government is heading in exactly the opposite direction.
No economic decision should be taken without considering its implications for the planet. To do otherwise will result in us all reaping a terrible price in the long term.
Denial is no longer an option
One of the major causes of “green fatigue” in Britain is climate-change denial in the media. The past five years have seen a deluge of cleverly worded but substance-free attacks on climate science in all areas of the media, and on the internet. These have allowed many people to feel that believing in climate change is an optional thing, like choosing a religion or a political party. It is no coincidence that Mintel found environmental concern to be much lower in men than in women, because males are known to be far more likely to buy into climate-change denial.
The solution therefore must be for more time and effort to be put into communicating genuine climate science. We cannot allow the smoke and mirrors of the denial movement to derail attempts to preserve the world for our children.
Dr Richard Milne,
Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences,
The University of Edinburgh
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