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- Arts + Ents
Monday 3 September 2012
Plight of the unpaid young worker
David Thomas is being disingenuous in comparing unpaid internships to the proposal to make unemployed young people work for their benefits (Opinion, 31 August). He asks: "if unpaid work is a privilege for one group of young people, why is it demeaning for another?"
Perhaps he should be asking himself: "Why was my daughter so keen to get an internship at an national newspaper, instead of just becoming an unpaid street-sweeper or shelf-stacker like young poor people do, who don't have well-connected daddies?"
He knows the answer. At the newspaper, she would make excellent contacts with "people who matter"; she would have wonderful feedback on articles she wrote from experienced journalists; and they would give all the little tips so necessary for making it in that competitive world. Her future would be assured.
An unpaid job offer from McDonald's or Asda will lead nowhere and could be a blot on a CV. She also knows that the school friend who stacked shelves at a builder's merchant had a very lucky break to make it there as a manager.
What he probably has no idea about is the difficulty some poor families would have trying to keep their teenagers without pay for three more months after their schooling ends. Unpaid work can be a disgrace if it pushes young people further down the ladder, and leads you into further debt.
David Thomas seems incapable of making some very basic distinctions, between unpaid work that is chosen and unpaid work that its coerced by threat of withdrawal of income; between work that is enjoyable and interesting and leads somewhere and work that is monotonous and depressing and leads nowhere.
Would Thomas really describe working in Poundland or stacking shelves in a supermarket as "a fantastic opportunity to do interesting work in a top-level professional environment", the way he describes his son or daughter's internship? As a pensioner, I do a small amount of voluntary work for the National Trust.
I choose to do it, and can withdraw without sanction at any time. The introduction of a compulsory "national service scheme for pensioners" which involved mending the roads or something, would be a whole universe away.
Lorraine M Harding
Steeton, West Yorkshire
So the Tories want unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds on benefits to work for 30 hours a week. Their weekly Jobseekers Allowance rate is £56.25. This level of pay for a 30-hour week would give an hourly rate of £1.88. But the minimum wage for those under 21 is £4.98 an hour and for those 21 or more is £6.08. It seems hard to see how this proposal is anything other than slave labour.
David Thomas asks why workers in employment should pay taxes to support those who are not. The answer is simple: compassion, solidarity, the kind of values on which the welfare state is based.
The Government's attempts to destroy that to save a little money is dishonest. Why not return to the workhouse and have done with it?
London Met ban will prove bad for Britain
I write as a former overseas student. Fortunately, I was allowed to stay. I have contributed to the best of my ability, first as an Oxford don, and then as the longest serving vice-chancellor in Britain.
The situation imposed on London Metropolitan is crazy, and will prove to be counter-productive. I well remember the 1981 meeting of Commonwealth universities in Hong Kong when we had tell our Commonwealth colleagues what was going on in this country, that we had a new prime minister who regarded those from the countries with whom we had a common heritage and shared a Head of State as "spongers". It took years to repair the damage in countries such as Nigeria and Malaysia.
As a consequence, long- established links were broken. Access to British degrees became a matter of ability to pay on the part of students from abroad, and at the same time the governments of the day were reducing the funding per home student.
So, apparently we have arrived at a point where controlling immigrants is more important than other considerations regarding our standing in the world. If it made sense for me I would emigrate.
If London Metropolitan University failed to monitor the attendance of foreign students then the Government should consider taking appropriate action against the university. It could be put under special measures or have to pay for an approved external body to vet foreign applications and students' subsequent performance. The Government should not be punishing overseas students who have already paid tens of thousands of pounds to study there.
This ill-thought-out move not only risks making foreign students rightly wary of enrolling in any UK university. It may also blight the life-chances of thousands who are already well into their degree courses at London Met and who are there in good faith.
By imposing exorbitant tuition fees on UK students this cabinet of millionaires has already demonstrated that it has little or no idea what life is like for most people in this country. It clearly has even less concern for young people from overseas whose families have saved, often for years, making extraordinary sacrifices to offer their children an education and the hope of a better future. In South-east Asia, the cost of a British university education can be the same as the price of a house.
Given its dismal record, the Home Office simply cannot be trusted to judge the circumstances of students on a case-by-case basis. Those already at London Met must be allowed to complete their courses unless the authorities can prove that they have breached their student visas. Any other response would be a complete injustice.
Wadhurst, East Sussex
I have read many an article and editorial about foreign students, but not one of them addresses what the impact is on the students and faculty at these universities who accept bogus students.
As a recent mature student who returned to university to obtain a Masters in corporate governance, I was appalled at the number of "foreign students" who used the course as a means to work in the UK. The only time one saw these students was at exam time, when they would plead with the professor to help them pass the course. This was the norm, not the exception.
It wasn't until after mid-term that the professors had any idea who was actually on their course. This is both unfair to the professors as well as to their fellow students.
I applaud those genuine foreign students, who were taking the course to better themselves and take back what they had learned to their home countries. These students made an effort to attend the lectures as well as the seminars and one learned from them as well. The others, I am afraid, did not contribute anything, which made some seminars meaningless.
So it is not an issue of the Government destroying the higher education system in this country; the Government is, in fact, trying to make it useful and beneficial to all those bona fide students, local and from overseas.
It seems that venomous snakes are more welcome in the UK than foreign students who have paid a fortune for the privilege of studying here. The saw-scaled viper discovered at Tilbury docks (report, 31 August) had no passport or visa, yet far from being threatened with deportation, it has been put up indefinitely at a luxury wildlife hospital until a permanent home can be found. At the taxpayer's expense, no doubt!
Hunger in our hospitals
Passing my local hospital, I noticed large hanging baskets being put up. No doubt the contract for these ornaments includes daily watering and feeding, otherwise, of course, the plants would wither and die. Curiously, no such priority is necessarily attached to the feeding and "watering" of patients, especially those who are not able to fend for themselves.
In visits to family/friends in three large northern hospitals, in each I have seen patients unable to feed themselves often left with no assistance. My comments and suggestions were met sometimes with a bristling prevarication, but more often with a sort of stare suggesting, "What on earth has this to with me".
The objective scientific evidence is clear: ill-fed and dehydrated patients not only do not recover quickly, they deteriorate. The moral argument too is irrefutable. Such attitudes must come from the top. Why is so little priority given to feeding and watering patients?
I began my research career in Leeds almost 40 years ago, contributing to an investigation of why malnutrition develops in hospitals. It is sad that malnutrition is still often unrecognised and untreated when the solution is so cheap and simple.
Dr Allan Hackett
Primary teacher crisis explained
Your highlight of the primary school recruitment crisis is hardly surprising (31 August). The growing demands on teachers to deliver "hard results" are the greatest contributor to a teacher shortfall. When all children are different, but expected to meet similar educational requirements, it is no wonder that under-appreciated teachers leave the profession, and fewer choose to join. Equal opportunities for all should not always mean the same achievements for all. Everyone is different. We ought to use this teacher crisis to rescue true equality, and save our desperate education system.
Peter Smith (letter, 31 August) seems to be under the misapprehension that there is an equivalence between fundamentalist Christians and atheists. Not so. I have yet to meet a single fundamentalist Christian who would contemplate becoming an atheist. And all the atheists I have met would start believing in any of the gods tomorrow were there a shred of evidence for their existence.
I find it slightly odd, that in the UK we have world-leading higher education institutions, yet at the same time high unemployment, low social mobility, negative growth and one of the largest inequality gaps between rich and poor in western Europe. May I suggest that somebody gets their thinking-cap on?
Home for flame
As a lasting legacy of London 2012 and to raise the awareness of disability, Stoke Mandeville should become the home of the Paralympics flame. Starting from 2016, the flame should be lit at Stoke Mandeville and sent to Brazil. Who can make this happen?
I don't want to appear as pedantic as Guy Keleny, but why are you commemorating the 11th anniversary of his column (1 September)? Are you working on an article to celebrate the 47th anniversary of England's World Cup victory?
Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire
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