Landlords must accept reality
It's hardly surprising that landlords would lobby so hard in relation to the proposed cap on housing benefit ("Landlords claim housing benefit sums are 'fiddled' ", 3 November). Many have benefited enormously from a flawed system which has undoubtedly driven up rents.
It is unjust and economic madness that a family claiming housing benefit can elect to live in a house costing up to £104,000 a year to rent, at taxpayers' expense, while working people have to make choices to live in a home they can afford.
The intention of the cap, which still pays a rent which a working household would need to be earning £60,000 a year to afford, is to cut the housing benefit bill, which has spiralled out of control. Landlords, like the rest of us, must accept economic reality.
Leader, Westminster City Council,
I read with incredulity the Welfare Reform Minister's response on housing-benefit reform. As Lord Freud will know, market rents are reviewed constantly by the Valuation Office and used to set the rate for local housing allowance.
Therefore, if it were the case, as the Minister claims, that market rents were falling, this would be reflected in the amount of benefit that can be claimed. Actually, of course, market rents are rising, not falling, reflecting a severe housing shortage in many parts of our country.
The latest survey by the Association of Residential Letting Agents was headed "Rental Demand Reaches Record High". I am sure there is a "property website", among the millions out there, which shows rents falling; next time the Minister might be so good as to tell us which one he is quoting from.
If being a housing-benefit landlord is such a money-maker, why are our members getting out?
Portsmouth and District Private Landlords Association
The Government claims that its cuts are about supporting people off benefits and into work. But the most savage cuts have been to working-tax credit, which gives extra support to people who are working on a low income, and in particular parents.
The Government will increase the number of hours that couples must work to qualify; increase the rate at which tax credits are withdrawn; freeze the elements of working-tax credits (so they will not be up-rated with the CPI), reduce the amount of childcare funding that can be claimed through tax credits, and introduce a complex system of "earnings disregards" that will leave families thousands of pounds worse off if their incomes fluctuate.
Many of their other cuts could have a disproportionate effect on working families, such as capping housing benefit for private tenants (as more working households rent privately than out-of-work households), ending contributory employment and support allowance after a year, and freezing child benefit.
The combined impact of these policies will mean that families are likely to be much less better-off if they move into work in the future, and suggest that the Coalition is determined to attack and punish not just the unemployed, but also the working poor.
Muslims are not all murderers
I am dismayed to read an unrepentant Julie Burchill again using her full page to expound her ugly views (3 November).
Why should a Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem courting Hitler be any more offensive than the Hungarian Zionist leader Kastner who collaborated with the Nazis while turning a blind eye to the deportation of thousands of Jews under his watch? Just as Jews should remain untainted by the actions of the latter why does Burchill attempt to taint Palestinians by the actions of the former?
I know some Muslims are murderers and I am also aware that some Palestinians are terrorists, but accusing Palestinians or Muslims, or gays for that matter, because of the actions or words of a few among them is morally repugnant.
Is Cherie Blair too wilful?
Your article "Rich and ruthless: how Cherie sees herself?" (4 November) was prompted by a miniature I have painted of Cherie as Eleanor of Aquitaine. The headline implies that the qualities that Cherie would most admire about Eleanor were her riches and power rather than her intelligence, learning and unconventionality. Andy McSmith writes: "Being married to a latter-day Eleanor of Aquitaine is a hazard that Tony Blair could do without now he has opted for a quieter life." Does that mean a more satisfactory wife would be similarly quiet, or less prone to having opinions and a will of her own? While I was reflecting on the misfortunes of having a wife with a will of her own, it struck me that surely that's an observation that people must have made about Eleanor, almost 1,000 years ago.
Stephen Fry's odd view of sex
I find the outrage concerning Stephen Fry's comments exasperating (1 November), primarily because the issue has prompted among friends interesting discussions about female sexuality, male sexuality and the danger of generalisations.
No one was outraged, no one was militant or snide, no one felt the need to degrade Fry or paint him as ignorant. This might be because, despite its bestseller status, we might be the only ones who have actually read The Fry Chronicles. This book makes it clear just how peculiar Stephen Fry's opinions and feelings about sex are. In it he writes of his infamous Tatler article in which he outlined his "distaste for being cursed by nature with an urgent instinct to rummage around the 'damp, dark, foul-smelling and revoltingly tufted areas that constitute the main dishes in the banquet of love.'"
I understand that here he is talking about himself and his own disgust with sex, but it's these very opinions and sensations that inform his judgement on what women may or may not think. So his comments should be placed not in the context of society, but in the context of Stephen Fry.
Heterosexuals find the idea of sex with their own gender repulsive; that is why they are heterosexual. Homosexuals find the idea of sex with the other gender repulsive; that is why they are homosexual.
Yasmin Alibhai Brown criticises Stephen Fry for his comments on women and sex (Opinion, 1 November). If she wasn't even slightly put off by the idea of going to bed with a woman, what would stop her jumping into bed with one?
We should accept that we are all, to some extent, deeply appalled, rather than living in a constant, shamed, state of liberal denial. That way, we could happily turn the other cheek, so to speak.
Cuban help is needed in Haiti
Michael Foss (Letter, 3 November) suggests Germany as the right candidate to help rectify matters in Haiti. Agreed it would be a better choice than the United States or France for the reasons he suggests, but there's a much more obvious choice: Cuba.
The Cubans have huge experience in providing support to developing countries and what is more, they are very close at hand. Of course the absurd US boycott of Cuba would make that more difficult than it need be, but it would not be impossible if the Europeans could only get over their ridiculous cringeing before this US obsession.
Both Peter Kellett and Keith Bailey (letters, 5 November) forget that much of continental Europe enjoys longer winter days than in the UK because it is further south.
The shortest winter day in my part of the world, south-west France, is about nine hours, whereas that shortest winter day in Edinburgh is less than seven hours. We don't need to go looking for an extra hour of daylight in the evening; we already have it.
DW Budworth (letters, 4 November) states that a change to permanent summer time would benefit those who live in the south-east and start work comparatively late.
My neighbour and I, who live in the south-west and start work early on a smallholding and dairy farm, find it is far easier and safer starting work in the dark and working towards the light, especially if problems arise, rather than fighting to do everything as the light fades in the afternoon.
Every autumn, like the leaves falling off the trees, we get the same whingeing about the hands on clocks being put back. This pointless exercise does nothing apart from change the names of particular parts of the day. Earth's position relative to the sun is the same regardless of whether we call that time 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock, or Stephen or Maud.
IQ of Aussies
With reference to the recent letters about clever and stupid people and who is average regarding intelligence, I am reminded of something said by Robert Muldoon, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who remarked: "When New Zealanders emigrate to Australia, it raises the average IQ of both countries."
St Germans, Cornwall
Perspectives on age discrimination
Give me wrinkles any day
So the BBC thinks we will not watch a country-affairs programme if it is presented by an experienced journalist with a few wrinkles, but we will watch if it is presented by younger but less talented people. ("'Careful with those wrinkles,' Countryfile presenter was told", 4 November). As the programme is not a patch on what it used to be and I have all but given up on it, they should really think again. I hope Miriam O'Reilly wins for the sake of standards in journalism as much as sex and age discrimination.
Oldies barred from hiring cars
Michael Brice (letter, 28 October) suggests a change in the criteria for entitlement to free bus passes to exclude those who own a car. He says it could have a dramatic effect on CO2 emissions if it causes people to trade in a car for a bus pass and perhaps just hire a car for occasional awkward journeys. But a word of warning: once a person reaches the age of 70, they will have to hire a chauffeur-driven car for those occasional awkward journeys. Insurance companies no longer provide insurance for rentals if the driver is over 70, so car-rental firms are forced to turn these drivers away even though they hold valid licences. This is the case not only in the UK, but in many countries in Europe. So my advice to pensioners is to hold on to their cars.
Try finding a job when you're 60-plus
Politicians will probably never be subject to the indignity of looking for a job when they have passed the magic mark of 60. This age group is the very one that personnel departments, sorry, HR, look to when drawing up lists of redundancies.
I have spent 15 months of searching, on zero benefit, because I draw a small pension. I can honestly say I have not found a single civil service, county council or local council department that even acknowledges an application from an over-60, far less gives them the benefit of an interview. Must be something to do with their retirement age.
The sooner these people have to work until the same age as the rest of us, the sooner these prejudices might be removed from the job market.