Letters: Housing crisis

A proper Labour government would sort out this housing mess
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The Independent Online

The free marketeer, Gordon Brown, has exacerbated the mess that is housing in this country by years of sitting on his hands, and now he seeks to save his job by setting up a scheme which persuades first-time buyers to buy in a declining market. It's government-sponsored negative equity. You couldn't make it up.

The Government should let house prices slide to realistic levels, based on a 3.5 to 1 ratio of prices to incomes, the historically established norm. Help the dispossessed by the usual means, accelerate social housing provision, let local authorities regulate rents, introduce a land-value tax on undeveloped property to deter land speculators and compulsorily purchase the 750,000 empty properties in the UK to refurbish for occupation by the homeless.

That is what a proper Labour government would do. Pity we haven't got one.

Alan Marsden

Penrith, Cumbria

It is disappointing that the Government's stamp duty plans in effect exclude all properties in London, where average prices stand at £330,000 – almost double the threshold.

We think that councils can go even further than the plans outlined by the Chancellor through our own flexible mortgage rescue schemes, by buying repossessed properties and by offering mortgages ourselves. We will continue to urge the Government to provide us with the freedoms we need to set these plans in motion. It is important that we do all we can to help those at risk of falling off the housing ladder – but it is vital that the Government helps us do more for those who could never even contemplate grasping its first rung.

Councillor Jamie Carswell

Executive Member for Housing, London Councils London SE1

Our clear-thinking government announces measures to allow people who cannot afford mortgages to get on the property ladder. Excuse me; is this not the sub-prime mortgage scenario which started the whole crunch situation?

Derek Brundish

Horsham, West Sussex

Bringing down the cost of solar panels

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has missed the point ("Solar panels take 100 Years to pay back installation costs", 3 September).

Installation of solar panels is not about recouping costs, being a missionary, or even about being holier than thou. It's about helping to give a start to a fledgling non-fossil-fuel energy industry. Solar is just one facet of a sustainable-energy future but if no one supports such a future, by whatever means seem reasonable and appropriate to one's circumstances at the time, it will never happen. Demand creates supply; no demand for sustainability, no sustainability.

I estimate that my professionally installed solar panel will pay for itself after about 20 years, assuming that gas prices rise no further. A hundred years' payback time seems to me a wild overestimate. But hey, who cares?

Andrew Bristow

Chorley, Lancashire

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors' claim that it will take 100 years to pay back the costs of installing solar panels is misleading. If you take rising fuel prices and grants available into account it will actually take around 13 years.

But government action is needed to make small-scale green energy systems more affordable. In Germany solar panels cost half as much as they do in Britain to install and the payback period is down to seven years – after which households and companies can make handsome profits.

This has been achieved because the German government has taken effective steps to support renewable energy. The centrepiece for this has been the introduction of a feed-in tariff scheme – a premium price paid to householders for the green energy they generate and sell back to the national grid, guaranteed for up to 20 years.

As a result, renewable energy generation has rocketed. Germany now has 200 times more solar power and over 10 times more wind power than the UK and employs 250,000 people in the renewable energy industry – compared with just 7,000 in this country.

The UK government must do more to encourage homes, businesses and communities to generate clean, green power by amending its Energy Bill and introducing a feed-in tariff in Britain too.

Ed Matthew

Head of UK Climate Campaign, Friends of the Earth, London N1

I think both surveyors and panel vendors are avoiding the point. The problem with hot water solar panels is their high cost, which in turn is a function of small scale. Mass production on a car-industry scale could greatly reduce costs of a standardised design, and installation could also be made simpler and easier. They would then make economic sense. Right now they do not, especially with this year's summer.

Colin King

Montgomery, Powys

Mr Day's suggestion for energy tariffs (letters, 29 August) is a good one. The present tariff structure used by gas and electricity companies creates difficulties for poorer customers and encourages excessive use by the well-off. The initial price per unit is high, but after a certain fixed consumption the price drops considerably.

But no company could reverse this tariff structure on its own. It would lose its profitable customers to its rivals and go out of business. Industry-wide legislation is needed to ensure that the energy to run an average-size, well-insulated house is affordable, and heavier use is expensive. Overall revenue for the industry need not be affected.

Incidentally, the Government still imposes full VAT on home insulation products.

Clive Bashford

London E8

There is no 'date rape' – just rape

As an organisation that provides free, confidential, legal advice to survivors of sexual violence, we were appalled by Helen Mirren's comments to GQ Magazine that appeared to suggest certain "types" of rape cannot, or should not, be brought to court.

While Mirren may be unclear about how the criminal justice system should respond to sexual violence, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is not. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape. Phrases such as "date rape" have no legal meaning, as it is not relevant what relationship, if any, a defendant has or had to a survivor of sexual violence.

Nor is it relevant if the sexual violence complained of occurred within a relationship or between people known to each other. We know from the thousands of women that we advise every year that sexual violence is devastating, whether it is perpetrated by a stranger or within the context of a relationship or friendship.

Many readers of Mirren's comments, or Paul Vallely's, article (2 September) will dismiss them for their triviality. For the one in six adult women who experience sexual violence Mirren's comments represent something much more serious, as they serve to reinforce misogynistic stereotypes about appropriate female behaviour that contribute to our depressingly low conviction rates. They may also discourage women from reporting incidents to the police or contacting organisations such as ours for advice and support. If we want to secure a society where women can live free from sexual violence we need to change attitudes as well as laws.

Emma Scott,

Acting Director, Rights of Women, London EC1

Helen Mirren is right to make a distinction in the circumstances of a rape offence, but I'm sure the effect on the victim can be just as severe whether they had a knife held to their throat by a stranger or forced against there will by a "friend".

Maybe it is time to look at having offences of first- and second-degree rape, as is proposed with murder. That way, the offence would not be minimised, and there could be a chance of more convictions when the accused was known to the victim.

Phil Budden

Watford, Hertfordshire

Brain-washed into fear of 'obesity'

I know Shetland well, having visited the islands, described in a report last week as an "obesity hotspot", many times. I cannot recall seeing even one obese person in my 38 years of visits. On the whole, people might be sturdy, because they eat very well, but they work very hard too, crofting, for example.

I believe that, going by BMI, I, too, am obese. I am 67 years old, plump but not inordinately fat. When people put on weight as they grow older we used to call it "middle-aged spread" and it meant nothing, just a sign of getting on a bit.

We've been brain-washed into all this obesity nonsense. In the USA, you do seem to see many grossly overweight people, but I have never seen the like in the UK, yet.

In the past, I have followed diets and lost weight, then invariably the weight goes back on and you end up heavier than when you started. It's just not worth it. People come in all shapes and sizes. Learn to be happy with the one you've got is my advice.

Vivienne Rendall

Haltwhistle, Northumberland

British farmers shunned by MoD

Over recent years, the Government has introduced legislation which has "raised UK animal welfare standards to among the highest in the world", at a considerable cost to the farmer and the abattoir. At the same time, the Government has given responsibility to commercial companies for food-purchasing for the NHS, education and Ministry of Defence, with a specific directive "to purchase food primarily against a priority directive to provide best value for money." In simple terms, the cheapest market regardless of air miles, animal-welfare standards and support for a home industry.

This would no doubt explain why 87 per cent of all lamb and mutton for the MoD is bought from abroad; of poultry, 98 per cent is sourced from 13 countries, including France, Latvia, Poland, Thailand, Argentina and Brazil, some of which are not noted for their animal-welfare standards, and only 2 per cent of chicken and 13 per cent of lamb and mutton is from the UK, in a period when UK farmers are being hit by increasing costs not incurred by other countries.

Two weeks ago, the MoD wrote to landowners and farmers in this area (farmers producing mainly lamb and beef) requesting permission to perform troop exercises over their land for one week in October. There is no fee or compensation.

The feeling among some farmers is that while they support wholeheartedly our service personnel, the MoD should perhaps do their training where they purchase the food.

Robert Jameson

Clun, Shropshire

Don't keep quiet about dementia

Thomas Sutcliffe may want Carol Thatcher to shut up, but Alzheimer's Society wishes he had kept quiet with his outdated and insulting comments on dementia (Opinion, 26 August).

There is no such thing as "senile" dementia. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing; it is caused by diseases of the brain, and gradually robs people of their lives. Keeping quiet won't help people affected by dementia. It will just ensure dementia stays in the shadows, with families left to cope alone and care and research desperately underfunded.

Condemn or condone Thatcher's memoirs, her description of living with dementia will strike a chord with millions of families battling with this devastating condition. It could also help to erase some of the stigma that surrounds it. Baroness Thatcher is not alone: one in three people over 65 will die with dementia. A conspiracy of silence won't help us beat it. It is about time the voices of people affected by dementia were heard.

Neil Hunt

Chief Executive, Alzheimer's Society, London, E1


Tally of disasters

There has been plenty of media coverage about the near-disaster in New Orleans, but very little about the real disaster in India, where 1.2 million people have been made homeless and thousands killed. Why?

David Morgan

Wistow, Cambridgeshire

Risky candidate

Long ago, as a novice bridge player faced with deciding between possible bids, each of which had potential disadvantages, I would sometimes opt for a wild bid that made less sense than any others I had considered. It would appear that the same psychology lay behind Senator McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate. Is this really a man fit to be Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces? Is there not a risk that, faced with a choice between difficult military scenarios, he might just opt to press the button?

Martin A Smith


Get out of jail

Ian Fannon of TV Licensing says there are only three women in prison for non-payment of fines (letter, 3 September). The cost of keeping people in prison is ruinous. If Mr Fannon will let us know before these people go to jail, perhaps we could save a lot of money by having a whip-round.

David Partridge

Bridport, Dorset

Highland clearance

"Hundreds of thousands of families" could not have been evicted from their homes by the Sutherlands, clearing the glens for sheep-rearing (letters, 1 September). One hundred thousand families, with an average of five members, would have made up about a third of the population of the Scotland at that time. Professor T M Devine states in The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 that "between 1807 and 1821, the factors of the Countess of Sutherland and her husband Lord Stafford removed between 6,000 and 10,000 people from the inner parishes to new crofting settlements on the coast".

Catriona Graham


Operatic behaviour

Conflict, in an opera house ("The facts about Opera Australia", letters, 30 August), between an established soprano and a new director? Situation normal, I'd say.

Miriam Miller

London NW5