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Wednesday 1 June 2011
Letters: Driven out of property market by low wages
Once upon a time, not too long ago, a single bread-winner could go out and earn sufficient money to both feed a typical family and pay a reasonable mortgage. Nowadays two bread-winners are struggling to earn sufficient to be able to save for a deposit ("Britain to become a nation of renters", 31 May).
Obviously something has gone badly wrong; either rates of pay are far too low or house prices are far too high. The only two solutions seem to be to raise wages or to build a lot more council houses to reduce house prices.
Incidentally, if the principle of "right to buy" is such a good principle, why isn't it extended to the private rented sector?
East Halton, Lincolnshire
The scourge of high house prices will never be removed until governments of any hue grasp a critical nettle – the availability at top rate of tax relief on interest on loans for the purchase of houses for renting out.
As a former estate agent I remember only too well times when investment buyers were the only ones in the market, propping up prices when they should have fallen to more sensible levels. It is an outrage that investment properties are more tax-effective than owner-occupied ones, and that thus first-time buyers are priced out of the market by investors.
I am left fuming by the assumptions made by Sean O'Grady in his article "This generation has to learn that there's no God-given right to a home" (31 May).
The tone suggests that those of us who are priced out of the market wish to buy simply to enjoy the "large capital gains" that he assumes that we expect to accrue, as happened in the past. What he fails to mention is that when you rent, as I do, you are effectively throwing your money away, as apart from the immediate comfort of a roof over your head, you have nothing to show for the money that you are spending.
When you buy, you are investing money into a property which you can then sell and recoup at least some of the money that you spent on it. Even if you go into negative equity, you may find you do not lose as much money as you would have done by privately renting a property for 40 years.
I take issue with Sean O'Grady's view that home ownership is a pointless luxury. With sky-high rents in a deregulated market and security of tenure almost impossible to obtain, home ownership is necessary for many people.
The rental market is controlled by greedy landlords who view housing as an investment, and will not think twice about cranking up rents to absurd levels and often leave houses in poor repair.
In France and Germany, rents are controlled and tenants have stronger rights than in Britain. Home ownership is lower, because it offers far fewer advantages over renting.
"This generation will just have to get used to the idea that there is no God-given right to home ownership", opines Sean O'Grady. Certainly not God-given, but there ought to be a social right of good housing for all, together with social rights of full employment, health care, affordable food and energy and sufficient water.
These are the essentials of life that should be the foundation of a political philosophy which subordinates the markets to the people's needs.
For many people renting can be the best option. Home ownership grew in times of stable employment (at least for people in work) and career progression within a single organisation. In these uncertain times it makes sense for young British adults to have the flexibility that renting gives them to move to a new area for employment.
And if unemployment hits, housing benefits are available for renters but the help available to mortgage holders is much less generous.
Back the troops, hate the war
Stuart Alexander's words on the front page of your 30 May edition bring into sharp focus the insanity of our involvement in Afghanistan, as well as the dilemma of those who wish to show support for our troops while vehemently opposing the war.
The answer to his question – "Was my son's death in Afghanistan a price worth paying?" – is "No."
The invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan, quite apart from the fact that it was a clear and massive violation of international law, can bring no possible benefit or advantage to Britain. It follows, that every one of our soldiers killed in this pointless imbroglio has died for nothing. And that is tragic, in the strict meaning of the word.
"Was my son's death a price worth paying", could be the question of the thousands of Iraqi mothers speaking of the deaths of their children killed by the embargo imposed by the UK and others in the period between the two Gulf wars.
When asked about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, those were the words of Madeleine Albright – "A price worth paying." The same questions are being asked by the mothers of the innocents killed in Afghanistan.
While I mourn the deaths of our servicemen and women in these illegal wars, I mourn more the deaths of the innocents of these countries. In the past few days in Afghanistan 14 innocents including 12 children were killed by Nato forces. They had no option but to see their country invaded, whereas our servicemen and women did have a choice, as some did refuse to serve in these unjust wars.
Only a courageous, sensitive and responsible newspaper could publish Stuart Alexander's poignant article about the tragic death of his son. Please allow one of your regular readers to send heartfelt very good wishes to all of Sam Alexander's family, and congratulations to the editor of The Independent. You have performed a signal public duty which ought to have the effect of transforming a so-called defence policy that was foisted on the British public by an unscrupulous and uncaring prime minister.
Germans set out to save energy
Your editorial of 31 May concludes that the decision by Germany to go down an entirely non-nuclear route should not affect UK energy policy. In practice, the "German" energy efficiency and renewables route was precisely the direction the UK's 2003 energy White Paper concluded we should be proceeding – a direction that the UK energy establishment has sought swiftly to reverse.
Nor should concerns about any possible impact upon climate change prejudice our judgement. Germany and the UK retain precisely the same 2050 objective, of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases.
But there is a vast difference between where our government seems to believe our electricity consumption will be by then – twice, even three times, present levels – and where the German government thinks electricity demand can be, via a purposeful and consistent efficiency programme: consumption 25 per cent below present levels.
Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy
Wishing to enhance the security of her electorate, has Angela Merkel really chosen the best target? Currently, in Germany, cucumbers are far more dangerous than nuclear power installations.
Watch out for Fifa's revenge
Let's face it, this idea of exposing of corruption in Fifa is down to sour grapes from us after failing to secure the 2018 World Cup. Of course there is corruption, as there is in other organisations. Don't think we don't do back-handers.
With our holier-than-thou attitude, we had better watch out one day they don't wreak revenge on us by having us play our football under one Great Britain banner, as we do if we participate in the Olympics.
It is pretty clear that Fifa should be banned from all football-related activity indefinitely, and that a new, open and clean Association be set up forthwith.
No apology called for
No one of English descent need apologise for the Clearances (letter, 30 May), which were perpetrated out of avarice by the Highlanders' own clan chiefs. English involvement was limited to demonstrating the lifestyle to which the clan chiefs aspired, and to assimilating the displaced peasantry into the Highland regiments which fought bravely for Great Britain for two centuries.
Further to the letter of 28 May, suggesting the Queen should apologise for the Highland clearances, as someone of Scottish ancestry can I express my heartfelt regret for having inflicted the brutal totalitarian rule of the Stuart dynasty on the English. Since I grew up in Somerset, this is even more appropriate. The Civil War's first fatalities occurred within the county, and the Monmouth rebellion and its brutal aftermath are things that make me ashamed of my Scottish ancestry, not helped by the selective memory of most of my compatriots.
A test for health and ageing
I write to clarify some points regarding the article "The £400 test that tells you how long you'll live" (16 May)
Life Length does not claim to offer a test that indicates how long a specific individual has left to live. We offer a unique test to measure the percentage of "critically short" telomeres, which allows us with great precision to estimate the degree of telomere shortening of a given individual.
There is solid genetic evidence that telomere length and in particular the abundance of "critically short" telomeres are relevant for ageing and the development of age-associated diseases. A number of epidemiological studies also indicate that individuals with shorter telomeres have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and infections.
Life Length's test provides an excellent indicator of a person's overall general health status and an estimate of the biological age of their telomeres. It can contribute to the growing concept of "personalised medicine" by allowing physicians to provide treatments and care that are based on their patients' biological age.
We believe that our test will open the door to further incentivise the development of drugs that may allow us to slow the ageing of our telomeres and live longer if not healthier lives. Our test also has great utility for the pharmaceutical industry in helping in the development of treatment and medicine for such important and critical fields as oncology, neurological diseases and infertility.
There is no more an "ethical Pandora's box" for our test than there was for any of the medical tests developed in the past 40 years which have collectively given us great insight into our health and far better health care.
Stephen J Maltin
Chief Executive Officer
Enduring that painful split
At the risk of being labelled a pedant's pedant, I must object to the implied meaning in Jane Thynne's assertion that "there are some to whom a split infinitive is like biting on silver foil" ("So-so grammar puts sensitive listeners in a spin", 26 May). Although they certainly exist, it is generally agreed that they are being over-sensitive.
My Fowler's Modern English Usage quotes Birchfield (1981): "Avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if [it is]... unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence."
It seems that not only are they unavoidable for the use of natural and unambiguous English, they are unavoidable also in daily life away from careful speakers. I would advise these sensitive souls to just get used to them.
I was distressed when forced by your concise crossword compiler to spell "nerve-racking" as "nerve-wracking"; my nerves were indeed tortured, as on the rack, but have recovered, not having been wrecked or ruined.
There is an informal rule in internet comments that any comparison with Hitler and the Nazis immediately closes the discussion and causes the person who made the reference to lose the debate. Perhaps we could have a similar rule to be invoked when anyone blames events today on the prime minister who, whatever she might have done, was in power a quarter of a century ago (letter on failures in nursing, 31 May).
Perspectives on women
Not everything is a feminist issue
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is guilty of muddled thinking in her article about the plight of women in modern times ("Poisonous environment in which to be a woman", 30 May).
While it is sad that modern-day professionals have not heard of Dame Barbara Mills, who was the first female Director of Public Prosecutions, I doubt also that any of them have heard of some of the male holders of that post. Similarly, while these same professionals were not familiar with Christine Lagarde as a candidate for head of the IMF, I seriously doubt that they are au fait with the other contenders for the post. Young professionals probably have less dry subject matter to occupy their minds most of the time.
Alibhai-Brown also bemoans the phenomenon of slut walks as, "making a mockery of rape and of women's rights". Many feminists have reservations about the language and style of these demonstrations, but surely nobody should question the soundness of promoting the idea that women should be able to wear what they like without fear of attack.
I find it hard to see Cheryl Cole's sacking as an example of sexism. She has exploited her sexuality to gain fame and has consequently placed herself at the mercy of production companies who will decide her future based on the level of her perceived attractiveness to the viewer. The trade-off does not seem in itself outrageous.
Whilst it is true that the intelligent wives of Arnold Schwarzenneger and Fred Goodwin have both been betrayed, in both cases another woman was needed to complete the equation, so male sexism was not the sole cause of their misery.
Men's attitudes have to change for women's cause to advance, but it is also incumbent on women to pursue success in their own right rather than as the adornment on the arms of successful men. While it is possible to build a career by bedding footballers and selling their stories to the tabloids, the path towards future equality will always be a long and stony one.
Empowerment through bringing up a family
By her criteria, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown probably would not consider my modest publishing career as particularly successful, considering my education and my obtaining a first class honours degree (at Sussex) and a PhD (at Cambridge). However the achievement in my life I am most proud of is bringing up my two children, now young adults, who will launch themselves as responsible and productive independent members of our society in the next few years.
That they have been and will continue to be successful, achievement-oriented and respectful of others is due in no small part to they way they were brought up and guided by their parents. My education equipped me and gave me confidence to do this in the best way I could, not least having a career break and working part-time so I could support them in a hands-on way throughout their state education.
Their education and our commitment to it has given them choices in life, just as my education did. This is female empowerment. My education or theirs will not have been a waste, whatever careers they decide on.
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