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Monday 26 March 2012
Attitudes to alcohol must change
The excessive drinking that leads to unruly behaviour (and often violence) in our streets is a serious issue (report, 23 March). If the Government is serious about curbing binge drinking it should return us to more restricted licensing hours and ban special offers in supermarkets whereby alcohol is often sold at less than cost price.
But there is a limit to what increased prices will do. Having a drinking binge on a Friday/Saturday night is a cultural issue and is not particularly price sensitive. Only education, and greater awareness of the dangers to the body caused by alcohol abuse, will effectively reduce binge drinking.
Changing attitudes is a long process but far from impossible. Smoking is a prime example; it used to be a fashionable thing to do, but attitudes changed as we became more aware of the negative health effects. If this change can be made, then the same can be done with alcohol, surely?
Here we go again. Some people drink too much and eat high-fat diets; some of these people develop liver disease. The the Government's solution? Easy – tax and restrict the other 98 per cent of the population. The Government seizes another opportunity to control the minutiae of every citizen's life.
Medicine is being used as a method of political control. This country is starting to look like a totalitarian state when you look at the list of things that have been or are about to be restricted or banned; things that only a few years ago were part of the freedom of choice of an individual. Personally, I'm going for a pint while I still can.
D J Owen
The UK Government is finally following the lead of the Scottish Government in taking seriously the problem of binge drinking. It remains to be seen whether a minimum price will be effective, but at least an effort is being made to listen to the public and physicians.
However as well as recognising that alcohol is Britain's biggest drug problem – often contributing to crime, debt, accidents, family breakdown, unwanted pregnancies and a huge waste of economic resources – the Government, schools, hospitals and churches need to go further and have the courage to counter the current culture by presenting the many benefits of an alcohol-free lifestyle. The example set by so-called moderate drinkers is not really very helpful in changing attitudes.
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
We still have laws on being drunk and disorderly so why don't we use them more effectively? Raising the fine to £1,000 per offence is far better than raising unit prices. Governments continually tweak, hitting us all with their edicts and doctrines, instead of demanding that individuals take responsibility for their actions.
The trouble with introducing a minimum price for alcohol is that it assumes problem drinkers always purchase cheap intoxicating products. Thus you'll end up with the middle-class person who's an excessive imbiber paying no more for their tipple, while the sensible drinker at the lower end of the wealth scale will find their wines and beer going up considerably.
Pensioners have been let off lightly in this Budget
I hold no brief for the Coalition Government. I voted for neither party involved. But I believe the effect of both on this year's Budget has made it one of the most appropriate in years. And I say that as an OAP. When the Coalition Government came in, the country was in hock, thanks to Gordon Brown, to the tune of £260 a minute. We all remember the abject seriousness on George Osborne's face when he left No 11 to present his first Budget. I braced myself for losing my bus pass, all – not just a fraction – of my winter fuel allowance, and council-tax benefit. None of that happened.
I estimate that my total income for the current financial year will amount to £9,129. In common, therefore, with 50 per cent of all pensioners I shall not be affected by the allowance freeze. Were I to be so, I should count myself lucky to be in a position of liability for any extra tax.
At the risk of sounding patriotic – a pejorative these days – I am satisfied by the thought that such allowance freeze is going to help off-load the national debt by £3bn.
When I compare my position with that of my parents at the same age, and even more so with that of my grandparents, I regard myself as being in clover.
Last year age relief gave me an advantage, in the personal allowance, over the ordinary taxpayer of £3,015. This year it goes down to £2,465, next year £2,395 and the following year £1,295. Over time the universal personal allowance will reach £10,500, at which point I will have no advantage at all over the ordinary taxpayer, apart from my free travel pass, my free TV licence, my free medical prescriptions, my winter fuel allowance, and a variety of substantial discounts often available to pensioners. On top of this I'm only to get a 5.2 per cent increase in my pension next year. It's absolutely outrageous.
I gasped as Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of the 10p tax rate in his 2007 Budget speech. But to my surprise his own party members said little about it though many complained bitterly a year later when it came into effect. I gasped again when George Osborne announced the withdrawal of age-related personal allowances. Will this turn out to be Osborne's "10p moment"? Tory MPs do not like to upset the grey vote.
As the shouting about the Budget dies down, at least we pensioners over 80 can be grateful to the Chancellor that there is no indication that he intends to cut our special allowance of 25p per week.
I wonder how many of the 300,000 or so 50-per-cent taxpayers also happen to be the major shareholders in the businesses from which they draw their salaries? I would speculate that the percentage is quite high. They will of course enjoy a double benefit from the Budget; a lowering of their personal tax bill by 5 per cent from next year and a lowering of the Corporation tax bill for their company. Talk about same old Tories!
The myth of ECT's effectiveness
You report that scientists have discovered how electroconvulsive therapy can help depression (20 March). Professor Ian Reid and his colleagues claim to have found that electrocuting the brain to cause seizures (of the kind the rest of medicine is trying to cure) reduces the "connectivity" between parts of the brain. They suggest that this is somehow a good idea.
The main problem with their claims (apart from making them on the basis of an astonishingly small sample of nine people) is that ECT does not work. In a review of 60 years of research, which I published with Professor Richard Bentall of Liverpool University in 2010, we could not identify a single follow-up study that found ECT to be more effective than placebo (in which the general anaesthetic is administered but the electricity is not). Nor are there any studies which support the oft-made claim that ECT reduces suicide risk.
We did find, however, many studies showing that ECT causes brain dysfunction, most often in the form of memory loss – often long-lasting and sometimes permanent. So what Professor Reid has actually found may actually be yet another example of the negative effects of applying the equivalent of about 150 volts to brain cells equipped to deal with a tiny fraction of one volt.
Professor John Read
University of Auckland, New Zealand
There's meat on them there hills
While it is true that good arable land can produce more food from crops than from raising beef, calls to replace all meat production with planted food crops (report, 14 March) take no account of the fact that most meat is raised in places unlike England's green and pleasant land. In areas of unreliable or sparse rainfall such as the vast plains of Australia, Africa or the Americas, or mountainous terrain (which includes parts of Britain), production of meat, usually from cattle, sheep or goats is the only option.
Much of it goes from pasture to table with no further input, but even where cattle are brought from rough grazing to feed-pens to be fattened, only the weight gained in the feedlot requires 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef. As much as 90 per cent or more of the dressed carcase would typically be from the conversion of otherwise useless rough pasture.
An honourable system?
Don't bash the rich. Don't pass laws they can easily circumvent. Just deny the wealthy two things they value: status and secrecy.
Publish everyone's tax paid, as a percentage of income. Then set a minimum per cent as a condition for being given any honour, public recognition etc. Empower us to decide for ourselves what we think is fair: then we can refuse to read the books, see the film, attend the play, listen to the music, buy the goods sold by – should we so wish.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
The rumpus about levying VAT on Cornish Oggies (pasties) and other hot foods overlooks the fact that a true Cornishman or Cornishwoman eats an oggie cold. They were originally made by Bal Maiden wives and taken down our tin mines for crowst (Cornish for lunch). By eating time they would be cold.
Power of prayer
Don't dismiss the potential power of prayer (Leading article, 20 March). Focus on an issue does seem to affect the outcome, sometimes, and may have contributed to the improvement in Fabrice Muamba's condition.
This could be because (a) a just God is unaware of a particular crisis and needs to be informed before intervening in nature's progress; (b) an unjust God is susceptible to lobbying and will deliver preferential treatment to appease public opinion; (c) there is some power in telepathy; or (d) a demonstration of public support encourages and empowers those involved in a crisis. However it works, if it works – do it.
Regarding "Sport Relief"; the slogan could be appropriated by us Londoners for our exodus during the Olympics.
Day of rest
I had to laugh when reading Sue Thomas's letter ("Rest for some", 22 March) in which she refers to the abundance of public transport available on the "day of rest". Clearly she's never tried to navigate Leeds by bus on a Sunday.
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