Letters: Immigration and women

Immigration: remove all controls on women and reap the benefits
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Sir: Having watched the debate on immigration for some time ("Immigration: the real scandal", 18 May), I have come to a conclusion which may provoke some controversy, but which could clearly solve many of our immigration service's current problems. This is that we should immediately remove all migration controls on women.

It is clear that many of the public's apprehensions about immigrants are really confined to male migrants: none of the missing foreign criminals appears to be female; we do not seem to have any female terrorist suspects stalking our streets, and the low-level disorder that sometimes sours relations between migrants and host communities also seems to be male-dominated (I am sure this summer will give ample opportunity for our own lads to demonstrate that young men away from home sometimes get into scrapes).

By contrast, our immigration service seems to spend much of its time chasing female migrants, who in turn seem to be the most vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs etc. Cutting our immigration service's workload by 50 per cent would clearly lighten their load considerably.

This could have considerable fringe benefits. A large number of female migrants would clearly benefit our economy, as few people now seriously doubt that most women work harder than most men; becoming the first democracy to have considerably more female than male voters ought to prove an interesting experiment; and around the world societies with a track record of treating women badly would face the need to reform or face extinction within a generation.



Sir: The issue that politicians should focus on is what happens to failed asylum seekers once their applications are rejected. The plain truth is that they tend to disappear into the communities with the same ethnic or cultural origin as their own and find employment on meagre wages devoid of employee benefits or rights.

Instead of creating myths against all immigrants and asylum seekers, the Home Office should start by targeting those businesses that employ workers without authorisation to be in the UK. Any action taken, however, cannot be successful without the active participation of hardworking communities who invariably absorb such migrants, without realising how this is adversely affecting the economy and community cohesion of this country.



The US must wake up to Africa's needs

Sir: I was grateful for your RED edition (16 May) as I listen carefully in my own country for any mention of Africa. The consciousness about Africa in America is subdued when compared to that in the UK.

Why? Perhaps because Aids and poverty are long-term problems, which demand long-term solutions, like trade. We Americans appear to be a short-term people. We are incredibly compassionate when emergencies arise, such as a hurricane or a tsunami, but we struggle to find our will when seemingly less urgent needs kill millions more.

Reaching the soccer moms and dads of middle America is essential. Product RED offers another tool to touch new audiences, but to raise the consciousness of America, we need to hear the message again and again.

I attend church with Liberians, work with a Kenyan, have a relative living in Zambia and another who travels to South Africa on business. Africa is on my doorstep. We are all witnesses and we must respond. You just have to hold our attention first.



Sir: The problem of trade lies not just in its unfairness as a consequence of subsidies and tariffs, but also as a result of its global scale. There is absolutely no reason why we should be exporting chicken legs to Africa with one hand while importing mange tout from them with the other. Chickens can thrive in Africa, while mange tout can be grown perfectly well in Europe without the need to warm the planet by transporting them around the world.

Your RED edition made it seem as if Europe's farmers are to blame for Africa's crisis. Yet every farmer I know is struggling to make ends meet here in England. Local production for local consumption is the only way forward, especially with the looming oil crisis, which will effectively bring an end to international trade in the long term anyway. Self-sufficiency in foodstuffs is required on continental, national and local levels.



A chaotic journey on England's railways

Sir: I read with great interest the article "A shabby system of fares and franchises", (20 May). My travelling companion and I experienced this chaos when we travelled by train several days last April, visiting UK friends. I was responsible for working out the costs and spent a great deal of time on my computer trying to figure out the pricing system for four different legs of our journey. In every case I was wrong. The cost from London to Chippenham was over twice what we paid for the trip from Wolverhampton to London. The cost of the trip from Chippenham to Bromsgrove was less than expected, but the only travel time was a late-afternoon routing which got us into Bromsgrove around 8.30pm - awkward for our hosts.

The "Super Savers" were not savers at all so we consequently did not buy them. We both commented on the nightmare for tourists trying to travel by train the least expensive way possible. My co-traveller, his first time on British trains, wondered what had happened to the famed Brit Rail system of many years earlier. The shambles was quite the opposite of what he had been led to expect. In the midst of my frustration I shrugged my shoulders and said that's the price of turning an excellent system over to big business. How sad.

We went from England to Spain and found the trains exceptional, both reasonably priced and easily used.



Sir: The Transport Select Committee is absolutely right. I recently wanted to travel from London to Leeds. Three weeks before the journey, it would have cost me around £60 return. Quite steep, so I considered the coach which was cheaper but longer, and less comfortable; I dithered. Then a few days before I was due to go I looked again. It was £9 each way by train. Same times, same company, no reasoning.

And New Labour have made it worse. Under the Conservatives, two companies served the Colchester to London line. One was quicker, but a little dearer. The other slower, but cheaper. The free-market in action. Then New Labour "rationalised" the service, creating only one provider. The fares went up, and the fast trains now stop more often. With no competition, there is no incentive for that company to improve the service.



Sirs: As if the chart of comparative European rail pricing was not damning enough of Britain's shambolic privatised services, the picture is even bleaker for journeys across two or more operators. For example, the standard return fare from Cardiff to Aberdeen, using three operators, is £70 more than the single company fare from London to Aberdeen, a longer journey.

As well as paying the highest fares in Europe, we also suffer from a de-integrated network, chronic overcrowding, and much poorer reliability and punctuality than the gerrymandered and generous terminus measures suggest.

Is it any wonder domestic air travel has increased so rapidly?



Action needed on women's pensions

Sir: The Government's intention to make the system fairer for women is good news ("Ministers will extend full state pensions to 270,000 more women", 18 May). We have long been campaigning for the pensions system to be reformed so that more women are able to build up a full entitlement to the basic state pension.

But waiting until 2012 is not good enough. There is an entire generation of women who are in or approaching retirement who won't see the benefit of this reform. Many of these women are facing poverty in later life simply because they have been in a low-paid or part-time job, or taken time out of the workplace to care for their family.

Unless there is a serious commitment to change, future generations of women will experience the same poverty in retirement as their mothers and grandmothers. The imminent White Paper on Pensions offers a golden opportunity to radically reform the current system to give women a fair deal. But bold action is needed to help today's and tomorrow's older people.



Floods and droughts

Sir: From the look of the weather I wouldn't rule out the possibility of rain from now until St Swithin's Day. Even so I understand London and the South-east could still experience water shortages this summer. Given the recent history of rivers bursting their banks, does this mean we could have the curious incidence of flood and drought at the same time? Might some people have water in their living rooms while their taps were dry?



Sir: Your Environment Editor, Michael McCarthy, thinks that the high temperatures recorded on 10 August 2003 were a "side effect" of the heatwave in France (The big question, 17 May). Weather systems don't recognise international borders. It was all part of the same heatwave.



Sir: Whatever happened to Hippos? You put them in the toilet cistern and saved water. Simple. If they had been promoted more perhaps the impending problems would not be so bad. Some water companies even give them out for free on request.



Television refusenik

Sir: Chris Hirst is quite wrong to say that we are legally obliged to cough up £131.50 per year for the BBC's wall-to-wall football coverage (18 May). Despite the best endeavours of the TV-licensing authorities I do not pay as I do not have, and have no intention of acquiring, a television. Television is not a necessity and in my view would detract from, rather than enhance, my standard of living.



The law of which land?

Sir: In "The big question" of 19 May you refer to "British law". You are not the only culprits; the term is used ad nauseam by television and radio presenters - but there is no such thing as "British law".



Deaths in Iraq

Sir: Referring to recent British casualties in Iraq your front page story (19 May) asks "How many more?"May I suggest that, rather than asking your readership, you should put that question to the frequently unmentioned foreign governments who are supporting the violent insurgency in Iraq and who are murdering both British soldiers and innocent Iraqis.



Names, backwards

Sir: Can I add to the correspondence following your report (19 May) about names spelt backwards but still implying a message or meaning? It is rumoured that by applying this to Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, he is actually one of Yorkshire's favourite sons!