Letters: Co-habiting couples

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Co-habiting couples with children need the protection of the law

Sir: I am delighted that the Law Commission has recommended changes to the law extending legal protection and fairness to unmarried couples (report, 31 July).

I have met several women at my advice surgeries who, despite contributing to the relationship by bringing up children or working in their partner's business, have been left homeless because they have little protection under the current law.

Last year I put forward an Early Day Motion calling for changes to the law which was backed by 123 MPs from all parties. It also brought heartbreaking letters from women across the country who discovered too late that, legally, there is no such thing as a "common-law marriage".

The Law Commission is right to identify the need to extend protection to all cohabiting couples with children, whatever the length of their relationship. There is a clear link between relationship breakdown and child poverty.

These recommendations will provide a safety net so that one partner and their children are not left destitute after a long-term relationship ends. Currently it is left to the Government to pick up the pieces by providing social housing and benefits, but this should be the responsibility of the former partner.

Cohabitees in Canada, Scotland and Australia have certain protections under the law. Research from Australia found no discernible impact on the marriage rate. It is vital that Parliament brings forward new legislation without delay and determines a fair minimum qualifying period for couples and protects the rights of couples who wish to opt out of such protections.

There are 2.2 million unmarried couples living together in the UK. The law must catch up to give them and their children the protection they need.

MARY CREAGH MP (LAB)

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Britain must take the lead on Europe

Sir: I congratulate Steve Richards on an excellent article on the Brown-Bush meeting ("Forget George Bush and America - the big foreign policy challenge for Brown is Europe", 31 July). Is it not obvious that the UK will eventually withdraw its troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan and probably sooner rather than later?

The British presence in both countries has the smell of some pretentious imperial adventure which we can no longer sustain, either financially or morally. The body bags have been coming home regularly this last few years and the British people are quietly seething about it.

The real issue is Europe, as Steve Richards describes so exactly. British interests would be best served by a full-hearted commitment to European federalism. By throwing its weight in with the soft power of the EU, Britain would be making a genuine contribution to a peaceful future instead of insisting that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the world's leading warmonger. Tony Blair did nothing at all for the European cause.

In ten years he did not lift a finger to promote the European ideal - no Eurozone, no Schengen, no European constitution, no reversal of Maastrict etc. During his premiership, his take on Europe was, I read, dictated to him by Rupert Murdoch.

If there is one thing that I hope for from Gordon Brown, it is that he, unlike his predecessor, gives a lead on Europe.

CHRIS PAYNE

PLESIDY, FRANCE

Sir: Steve Richards' assertion that our future is inextricably bound with Europe ( Editorial & Opinion, 29 July) is self-evidently right. In the era of global entities, notwithstanding the imperial past, we cannot be an off-shore island.

On the contrary, it is in our vital interest to be an integral part of The EU. At the same time, Britain's historical background and our existing institutions make this country a vital element in building a viable union of nations. A union of 27 nations must have rules. If "Constitution" is grating, let's call it "Treaty", and it would be salutary to have a referendum which would give rise to a long overdue national debate on this most important aspect of our foreseeable future.

JOHN ROMER

LONDON W5

Car and rail journeys need reappraisal

Sir: Traffic congestion and vehicle emissions could be greatly reduced if employers and the Government co-operated with a view to reducing work-related car use (Letters, 31 July).

My employer purchases season tickets for city centre car parks at a cost of several thousand pounds per year and distributes them to senior staff (who have no operational need for their vehicles while at work). For higher-rate taxpayers, this equates to a tax-free benefit of £800 per annum. Those who travel to work by bus or train get no subsidy; if they did it would be taxable.

If I need to attend a meeting in Cardiff I can get there by train for £6. But my employer will cheerfully reimburse my expenses for travel by car at 40p per mile plus parking, a total of £45.

It is little wonder that car use is so prevalent; for the individual employee it makes economic sense to go by car. The Government should amend the tax system to penalise unnecessary car use and particularly work-place parking.

It should put pressure on employers to promote alternative methods of transport. The Government should have no difficulty in persuading my employer; I am a civil servant, and the taxpayer is generously subsidising my colleagues' journeys to work by car.

BRIAN JONES

SWANSEA

Sir: I tried to book a trip by train from Cologne to Leeds but had to give up. It was far more complicated than I imagined. First the price will be significantly more than flying but on top of that I will be locked in to travel on the train that I select (extra flexibility would massively increase the price).

I would have had to wait in Brussels for two hours to get a connection and, to reduce the waiting in Brussels, I would need to contact each travel company (Deutsche Bahn, Eurostar, Thalys and Virgin) separately. Then, if any of the trains were delayed and I missed a connection, I would be liable to pay the full fare for a replacement connecting ticket.

A travel-that-day ticket for the Eurostar between London and Brussels is £154 one-way. All I can say is argh. How can anyone do the right environmental thing in these circumstances?

I am seriously peeved and will probably end up flying but my irritation is partly directed at those smug economists and politicians who keep telling us that privatisation and the free-market is the "one true way".

In many areas, including transport, private companies naturally want to maximise profit by squeezing maximum revenue out of minimum service, and are not really interested in providing a "joined-up service" to those who need to travel.

ALAN SEARLE

COLOGNE

Statins cause shakes and palpitations

Sir: It may be for the greater good if all men over 50 were prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins to avoid heart attacks, but count me out (Letters, 30 and 31 July).

When I was placed on them after heart valve and bypass surgery eight years ago. I thought I was going to die. At first, they did reduce my cholesterol level, though not to the level required, despite paying careful attention to my diet. But then I began to feel sick, suffered palpitations and the shakes.

I stopped taking them and felt much better. Recently I was prescribed an alternative from the fibrates family of drugs with similar unpleasant results.

CLIVE GOOZEE

BOURNEMOUTH

The meaning of charity today

Sir: As a wide range of charities consider how to meet the new guidance on public benefit and charitable status, it is right to warn that we must not be deceived by tokenism (leading article, 23 July). This isn't simply about private schools, it is about sending a clear message about what charity means today. If access to any charity's services is unduly restricted because of high charges or fees, the case for charity will be undermined.

Charities that charge high fees must be expected to demonstrate how the public benefits from their charitable purposes. The Charity Commission's draft guidance recognises that fees or charges can restrict public access, and that the impact of fees will be taken into account when assessing whether organisations meet this principle.

Only by having a robust and meaningful public benefit test can we ensure that people will have trust and confidence in charity in the long term.

STUART ETHERINGTON

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS, LONDON N1

Student debt takes years to pay off

Sir: I refer to your article "More than 100,000 students drop out of university after first year" (26 July). That the Russell Group universities have the highest completion rates, and the former polytechnics the lowest, is no surprise.

The case for tuition fees is based on the observed "graduate lifetime earnings premium", the calculation of which is based largely on the earnings of graduates from Russell Group and a few other older universities. These highest earning graduates, with generous starting salaries, handshakes, increments and bonuses, and those with wealthy parents will pay off their student debts in a few years.

Faced with debts in the range £20,000 to £30,000, the majority on lower earnings (mainly graduates of less prestigious universities) working in the public service, in provincial jobs, in "non-graduate" employment, and especially in low income regions of the country, will be repaying their debts, and effectively paying a 40 per cent tax rate, for between 15 and 25 years.

Student debt repayment will take a far larger proportion of the lifetime earnings of lower-paid graduates. It is no surprise that financial concerns are a major cause of dropping out, and that other disadvantaged debt-averse young people decide against going to university.

Tuition fees should be replaced by a lifetime tax on new graduates, at perhaps 2 per cent or 3 per cent, payable once their student living costs debts have been cleared. This need not involve significant loss of revenue to universities or government for the next decade, and would shift some of the unfair burden from the modestly paid majority of graduates to the minority of high earners.

LAWRENCE LOCKHART

BATH

The number that could save your life

Sir: Unfortunately, your survival tip to climbers in distress to call 999 and ask for mountain rescue would not be of great use on Mont Blanc ("The day-trippers who risk death on Mont Blanc", 27 July).

To assist travellers throughout Europe, there is a Europe-wide emergency help number, 112, that may just be easier than trying to remember the plethora of national emergency numbers if you're in trouble on holiday abroad.

MEPs recently tabled a written declaration to member states urging them to increase the effectiveness of the 112 number by providing multilingual support and increase the range of receivers, a positive example of European co-operation.

JAN MARINUS WIERSMA MEP

(SOCIALIST, THE NETHERLANDS), BRUSSELS

Bergman blues

Sir: The death of Ingmar Bergman (report, 31 July) reminds me that in my youth the BBC would actually show an Ingmar Bergman or an Akira Kurosawa season, but these days such adventurous programming is beyond them. It is where I learned that cinema was more than Hollywood.

HENRY GIRLING

LONDON SE6

Ill-gotten gains

Sir: I have any number of Scottish friends and relatives who use the expression "gotten" (Letters, 30 July).

My understanding is that it was once common in English but died out. It was retained in American English when the New World was opened by British colonists. There is no legitimate reason why we should not reclaim it. In any case, how about the still common usage ?ill-gotten? as in ill-gotten gains.

IAN K MCKENZIE

EXMOUTH

Sir: Gotten is a perfectly good English word that we Brits no longer use, instead we prefer to sneer at Americans who are maintaining the cultural heritage of old English.

JENNIFER HENLEY

LONDON W5

Smoking rooms

Sir: From what I have seen pubs have changed little since the smoking ban. The same people are there every night, the smokers are not smoking and the pavements are not littered with butt ends. Surely this proves that the smokers do not need to smoke. It is rubbish to say that the smoking ban has killed pubs; remember, smoking kills people.

Better perhaps would have been to reintroduce the old Smoking Room as was in most pubs 50 years ago, and permit its use for its original purpose.

CHRIS HARDING

PARKSTONE, DORSET

Roman decline

Sir: With young people (and no doubt adults too) entertaining each other with images of violence, pain and death on mobile phones and websites (Letters, 30 July), at what point do we accept that we are moving closer and closer to Roman Coliseum mentality? And what does that tell us about what we like to refer to as our "civilised society"?

We are already voting on people being put through pain in our so-called reality TV shows. The decline and fall of Western society within 150 years?

RICHARD BRYANT-JEFFERIES

EWELL, SURREY

Meaningful subtitles

Sir: Norman Shepherd (Letters, 28 July) is too ready to see an insult in the use of demotic spellings in TV sub-titles. Whether one is dealing with fictional East-enders or real statesmen there are all sorts of cultural and linguistic implications in the use of forms like "gonna".

When watching French films with sub-titles I can approve of "dunno" as a translation of "sais pas", even though I would be annoyed if a sales assistant spoke to me in that way. People who rely on sub-titles should see these renderings not as something lost but as an extra layer of meaning.

TREVOR FIELD

INCHMARLO, ABERDEENSHIRE

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