Grace Dent (17 October) is surprised that the party which advocates notions of a Big Society now sneers when communities work together to be charitable. And well she might be, as food banks are the clearest possible sign that Big Society is succeeding as a policy.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury alerted Christians like the Trussell Trust in June 2011 to the dangers of this Government initiative to shrink the state and hand more control of services to volunteer groups and charities, warning that it might be a “stale slogan” and “an opportunistic cover for spending cuts”.
This much was apparent in an address to the Council of Christians and Jews at a reception in Downing Street last year, where David Cameron reaffirmed his Big Society idea “that there’s a huge space between government and the individual that can be filled by organisations, faith-based organisations perhaps in particular, that can deliver great public services, that can do great things in terms of tackling some of the problems of our time”.
There can be no greater witness to “the problems of our time” than food banks, a clear sign that the poor are both increasing in number and becoming poorer. We shared Rowan Williams’ concern then as we do now, that while at grassroots level the churches, other charities and the donating public are delivering a valuable service, they are being seen as convenient patsies by a government intent on offloading the financial and social responsibility for the poor on to voluntarism.
Alistair McBay, National Secular Society, Edinburgh
You report (16 October ) the food bank operator Trussell Trust as saying that food bank use has increased and people going to food banks had “started to return food that needed to be warmed up because they could not afford to switch on their electricity”.
This raises some questions. When selecting food from the bank are those concerned unable to tell the difference between food that requires heating and that which does not? Prior to food bank distribution were those concerned able to return food to the shop where they purchased it because they were unable to heat it? What happens to food returned to the bank?
By making such a statement I cannot decide if the Trussell Trust is displaying a bleeding heart philosophy or taking the majority of us for gullible mugs.
It is also alleged by some that food banks are utilised more because of benefit cuts. This being so, I for one am pleased that my charity to others is, through the medium of food banks, putting the choice to donate into my own hand rather than having it forced upon me by taxation.
Finally, of course the use of food banks has increased; why pay for food when you can get it for free?
Dennis Wang, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
On the front page of The Independent on 16 October, a telling juxtaposition. Next to the headline “Hungrier than ever... since April, 350,000 people [in UK] have received emergency handouts”, is a photo of an elated Wayne Rooney, who earns in the region of £200,000 a week!
Bankers, eat your hearts out!
Peter Brown, Brighton
This English thing about badgers
We have a peculiar English problem with badgers. A top predator, they have no natural enemies and population is limited only by road deaths.
Evidence shows they attack hedgehogs, ground-nesting birds and domestic poultry. Much has been published about their spreading bovine tuberculosis (bTB) to cattle, with a recent report attributing over half of herd breakdowns to badgers.
Authorities in other countries such as Ireland have accepted the need to remove diseased badgers. In England the badger is sanctified to an almost untouchable status, and the culling policy has provoked fanatical hostility. The only explanation for this disproportionate reaction appears to be the Wind in the Willows effect. This has produced a folk memory of Badger as a benign father-figure. It is time to grow up and engage with the real world, while we still have a dairy industry.
In reply to Mick Humphreys’ query (letter, 15 October), yes, many other animals have been found to be infected with bTB. In most species it is individual animals and they do not spread disease to others. By contrast, infected badgers shed large quantities of the organism and the infection is amplified to other susceptible animals.
Janet Devoy, Newcastle upon Tyne
I read in your interview (14 October) that Owen Paterson stated that if badgers were not shot, gassed or by other means culled they would die a slow unpleasant death from tuberculosis. Is he saying that all badgers have TB?
If not he appears to seriously expect us to believe that the people undertaking the culling discriminate between healthy and infected badgers and only kill the infected ones. If he really is so lacking in knowledge on this matter, who is going to have any faith in his views on GM crops?
Simon W Yorke, Semley, Wiltshire
Latest bright idea for education
So, Lord Baker announces the latest in a long, very long line of “pioneering reforms” to fix secondary education.
“Technical education is a matter of vital interest to us as a nation. We are going to have an enormous struggle to get back our exports. It will be an enormous asset to have as many as possible of our young men and women effectively educated in the technical schools and I hope that technical education will be given in the future a far higher status in educational circles than it has had in the past.”
No, this isn’t a quote from Lord Baker. This is Captain Edward Cobb, the Conservative MP for Preston, speaking to the Education Bill in the Commons in 1944.
The Butler Education Act did indeed set up a nationwide system of technical schools and colleges. These were dismantled by successive education ministers with successive bright ideas. The more things change the more they stay the same?
Jeff Wright, Broughton, Hampshire
I was brought up in Wigan, Lancashire. There was a college there, Wigan and District Mining and Technical College.
My brother did not pass what was then called the scholarship to grammar school – this could have been because he came from a Methodist family and our father was a railway guard. He then went on to the secondary school, which was not denominational, and at the age of 13 passed the entrance to the college.
This college ran many courses, some of which enabled students to gain a degree from London University. This he did, at the age of 20 – an unusual feat even today.
Of course, this college no longer exists, but it would seem to be quite a superior establishment to several that either exist today, or are proposed in the continued meddling by our leaders.
Margaret Rowden, Bath
Business brains fried by recession
Nick Goodway reports that workers at every level in banking are suffering under increased pressure (“Stress and job cuts take toll on bankers”, 17 October). But the scale of the problem is perhaps greater than reported.
Research carried out by Head Heart + Brain has shown 40 per cent of employees in the UK’s banks, insurance companies and accountancy firms think the leaders in their organisation have put them under a lot of pressure in the past six months. This was the highest level of any industry in the UK and compares unfavourably to the average of 22 per cent.
There are wider implications beyond the health of workers. Our findings demonstrated a correlation between sectors where employees say their leaders are under a lot of pressure and sectors with poor “brain-fried” leadership. It is clear that the credit crunch and the resulting recession, far from bringing out the best in our leaders, has brought out the worst in them.
Jan Hills, Partner, Head Heart + Brain, London, E14
Big Six offer no real choice
It was laughable of British Gas to claim that they “understood the frustration” of their customers as they announced another huge price rise.
No business is obliged to pass on rising costs to its customers. They can instead choose to allow their profits to fall, or, more likely in this case, not continue growing at such a fast rate. The Prime Minister is failing in his responsibility by failing to take a stand against the Big Six. There is no meaningful competition in the domestic energy market and consumers therefore have no genuine choice.
Dr Dominic Horne, Ledbury, Herefordshire
A senior British gas executive says use less if you want to pay less, and the PM says switch if you don’t like it. Are we living in a Wonderland visited by Alice and ruled by Marie Antoinette?
Ramji Abinashi, Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Boyd Tonkin may be right, for all I know, about the literary merits of Morrisey’s autobiography (18 October), but the important point is that a book published now for the first time cannot be a classic by definition, and by publishing it as a Penguin Classic, Penguin Books are jeopardising the well-deserved reputation of Penguin Classics as a brand. I wonder how the many excellent editors and translators who have worked hard on editions of classic works for Penguin over the years are feeling about this absurd devaluation of Penguin Classics.
John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire
Value of Latin
Ignoring his mention of Polish plumbers, I understand Laurence Shields’ need to point out any deficiencies in our education system for technical skills (letter, 17 October). However, he seems not to realise that the current inability “to conjugate Latin verbs” is one of the main reasons for the emergence of a new generation of young people unable to construct a correct grammatical sentence in English.
Jennifer Richards , Tenby, Pembrokeshire
The award of the Man Booker Prize to Eleanor Catton’s 832-page The Luminaries rather than Colm Tóibín’s 101-page The Testament of Mary surely indicates that austerity is over.
Dr John Doherty, Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal