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Saturday 30 October 2010
Letters: Housing benefit changes
Poor will stay in inner cities
Many of us involved in housing agree that the proposed benefit changes are challenging and must be examined carefully. But the talk of "cleansing" is nonsense – and may indeed unhelpfully stiffen the Coalition's resolve rather than promote rational debate.
Most inner-city boroughs have a significant social housing sector. In Camden, for instance, one of London's richer boroughs, where it is said 800 families might be displaced by the proposed housing benefit cap, there are and will continue to be over 30,000 low-rent homes for poorer tenants, either council or housing association. That represents roughly a third of the borough's population and it will stay roughly a third, cap or no cap. So talk of cleansing is completely unjustified.
But let's think about the claim that 800 families will have to up sticks and move. It's a crime as bad as cleansing to regard them as some leaden statistic, stuck on benefits for ever. Some will get jobs and need less help. Some may be in transition, and not expect to stay put. Some may benefit from rent reductions; a survey of private landlords by London councils shows that as many as 40 per cent admit they are willing to cut their rent if a family can't pay. And some will benefit from "discretionary benefits" – we know that the Government has also trebled the allocation to £60m so families can be helped to stay where they are if that is necessary.
So the number which actually have to move may be small – certainly not justifying this "cleansing" rhetoric.
Cllr Chris Naylor
(Lib Dem, London Borough of Camden), London NW5
While we're about it, the Coalition is also cleansing the poor from our universities. Clegg may not like the term, but has anyone asked him what he would like to call it instead?
David Cameron is the Arthur Scargill of the right. He is using class war to stir up the bourgeoisie against the low-paid.
Housing benefit is drawn by the hardest-working group of all, those on low pay working all hours in menial jobs to support a family. How much will their departure from London damage the economy? When the inevitable mass protests against evictions arise, how keen will the police be at keeping order? They are also victims of the Government.
As for the Liberals, for whom in the past 59 years I have (foolishly?) delivered tens of thousands of leaflets, the Orange Book mafia who have now hijacked them remind me of the aphorism about the old French Radical Party: "They wear their hearts on the left but their wallets on the right'."
Derek J Cole
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
I have a suggestion regarding the proposed capping of housing benefits and the impact on London residents.
The very high salaries of many employees in London – and particularly in the City – must contribute to housing price inflation in the capital, for both rental and purchase. How about a hypothecated surtax on bonus payments above a certain level, levied on London employees only, and set against relief benefit payments above the proposed cap of £400 per week?
This would seem to kill several birds with one well-aimed stone, and save the rest of the country from having to fork out for London once again.
The real scandal over housing benefit is the rip-off rates that private landlords have been able to charge and its use as welfare assistance for tax- avoiding companies. Low pay means taxpayers having to make up the difference through welfare such as housing benefit. This is effectively a welfare subsidy from the taxpayer to big business.
Given that housing benefit is to be capped at £400 per week for a four-bedroom house, would it be fair to apply a similar cap to the rent for that house?
With AV, fewer duck houses
Steve Richards (28 October) makes a welcome argument that the campaign for the Alternative Vote (AV) has more potential for success than political pundits give it. He is right that we have a "range of support", although the assumption that we are led by the Liberal Democrats is still not correct, considering that in the offices of the Yes campaign there are people from Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
But I disagree fundamentally when he tells us to forget claims about "fair votes", because "this is a battle about power". It is a battle about power, but not about who can slip into Government. It's about the power of the voters over their MPs.
Far back in the mists of pre-election coverage, a speech by a little-known party leader called Nick slipped on to BBC Radio 4. He said: "I am not the kingmaker, the voters are the kingmakers." Would that were so. Our broken electoral system allows MPs to treat constituencies as property, and elections as though they are in the bag; leaving them free to concentrate on higher matters, such as how much to claim for their duck house or wallpaper.
AV, by turning more seats into marginals and forcing MPs to chase second preferences, means that MPs and prospective MPs have to fight to get elected. This takes power away from them and gives it to the voters.
I'm glad Steve Richards supports change. But there's no need to be so cynical about the reasons for reform. When my party, the Green Party, voted overwhelmingly in favour of backing AV, some knew it might not benefit them directly. But we voted for it for the great principle of democracy: that it's the people, and not the elites, who decide the government.
NHS can bridge the funding gap
Talking just in terms of an NHS funding gap ("£6bn funding gap threatens NHS services," 26 October) risks simplifying a very complex set of issues.
In the context of the settlement for other Whitehall departments, even a small real-terms increase in the NHS budget seems generous. Whether this results in a funding gap in the years ahead depends on a number of factors, correctly summarised in the article, including demand for services from our ageing population, cost pressures in the system (including future pay awards) and the future rate of NHS inflation.
But most importantly, it depends on whether the NHS is able to increase its productivity. We estimate that productivity improvements of around £14bn are required by 2013/14 if the NHS is to maintain quality and avoid significant cuts to services.
There are opportunities to improve efficiency at every level of the health system. Evidence suggests that productivity improvements valued at £4.5bn could be made in hospitals alone by bringing performance up to the level of the best. Significant savings can also be made by tackling inefficiencies in back-office functions, improving workforce productivity and managing demand for services more effectively.
So, there are grounds for optimism. If the NHS can rise to the productivity challenge, it can continue to deliver on its core mission of improving quality without cutting services for patients.
Chief Economist, The King's Fund, London W1
Christians in Israel
In his piece on Christians in the Middle East ("Exodus", 26 October), Robert Fisk writes: "The Jordanian royal family have always protected their Christian population – at 350,000, it is around 6 per cent of the population – but this is perhaps the only flame of hope in the region."
The only flame of hope? What utter nonsense. In one country alone has the Christian community grown in numbers, and that is Israel, which has laws for the protection of religious minorities. There were 34,000 Christians in Israel in 1949 and there are now 154,000. The rate of increase is roughly the same as it is for Israeli Jews. Islamic law, by contrast, discriminates against Jews and Christians.
Dr Denis MacEoin
Newcastle upon Tyne
Oh dear, only satisfactory
Jonathan Wallace bemoans the now-standard assumption that "adequate" means "not good enough" (letter, 29 October). He writes in connection with the assessment of police forces. It's even worse in education. Ofsted inspections grade schools on the scale "unsatisfactory", "satisfactory", "good" and "outstanding".
Over recent years, ministers' words have encouraged parents to perceive these as "appalling", "barely scraping by", "just about good enough" and "OK". Can the Office for National Statistics please redouble its efforts to explain to the Government that not everything can be above average?
Jews for Man U
My fellow Mancunian Howard Jacobson should know better than to assert that more Jews support City than United (23 October). A straw poll of my family and Jewish friends suggests that United are more popular by three to one. And surely Mr Jacobson knows that the name of the largest religious grouping in the British Jewish community is the United Synagogue? I rest my case.
It would probably come as no surprise to most of us, but it was depressing to see these two figures next to each other on the "saver account" statement I've just had from the bank. Credit interest rate: 0.05 per cent. Debit interest rate: 19.90 per cent. That's a ratio of 398:1. Who's the saver?
Perspectives on the fate of Saddam’s right-hand man
This will not heal any wounds
I am a victim of the Saddam regime, but the decision to execute Saddam's lieutenant Tariq Aziz fills me with apprehension .
The so-called Iraqi court that has put the Saddam regime on trial is the special tribunal set up under the occupation. The tribunal attracted a great deal of criticism for conducting show trials and delivering victor's justice. Not knowing whether Aziz is guilty of murder beyond any doubt, killing him after a show trial is not about reconciliation, certainly not about justice or more accountable governance. One can justifiably wonder if this new breed of Iraqi politicians who returned to Iraq with the US tanks are secret admirers of Saddam and not real opponents of his methods and values.
Thanks to the violent illegal war and occupation, the crimes committed by the previous regime seem to fade in comparison to the continuous nightmare currently experienced by the Iraqi people. This death sentence is an insult to the victims of the previous regime. It has elevated Saddam Hussein's regime into martyrdom and robbed Iraqis of the chance to move past dictatorship and learn from experience.
Like Saddam Hussein, given the chance, Aziz could have caused the US a great deal of embarrassment, by exposing the extent of US support for the regime during the Eighties. I wonder whether this death sentence is more to do with the US plan to draw a line under Iraq than any of the official reasons.
Tahrir Abdul Samad Numan
Revenge of the Shia zealots
With sadness and dismay, I have learned of the death sentence imposed upon Tariq Aziz, former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. I feel this death sentence has nothing to do with justice and is merely savage revenge perpetrated by the current Iraqi government comprising Shia zealots.
Tariq Aziz, a Christian, is an educated man of integrity and was a proud and dedicated proponent of secularism and, additionally, exceedingly well respected in international diplomacy circles. With hindsight and history, I hope and trust we shall remember the inestimable value of a secularist regime in the Middle East, albeit too late. To quote Mr Aziz: "My country has been killed by the US and Great Britain" – words which I hope will ring in the ears and conscience of Messrs Blair and Bush for ever.
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