Lord Young's comments that people will wonder what all the fuss was about in years to come regarding Government cuts and that we have never had it so good are not ludicrous (report, 19 November), and they do not warrant a grovelling apology. But they do tell only part of the story.
It is true that low interest rates have brought downward pressure on the cost of living for many (but clearly not the vast majority), and most of the population will hardly notice the cuts. If there are 500,000 fewer public sector workers by 2015, that will still leave more than when the Tories left office in 1997. Many cuts will in any case occur through natural wastage. The Government actually plans merely to halt the increase in public spending.
Moreover, it does not feel like a recession. Restaurants galore do a busy trade, and commuting into London in the mornings you see people carrying coffees from the likes of Starbucks. If they are struggling why don't they have coffee with breakfast at home?
The real fly in the ointment is inflation. It is rare to pick up a newspaper without reading somewhere of something else which is soaring or set to soar in price. Low interest rates, combined with this, have been disastrous for savers. While those of us of working age lucky enough not to have a mortgage or debts may not elicit huge sympathy, pensioners are getting poorer every year.
It is frustrating to have the cuts debated week in, week out, while politicians get away with keeping quiet about the inflation that is the most pressing concern for the average person.
Lord Young claimed that we have never had it so good during this "so-called recession". As a member of the House of Lords he is able to claim up to £308 per day in expenses. This at a time when the jobseeker's allowance is £60.50 per week.
As we are all going to be suffering from the enormous cuts the Government wishes to impose on us, I believe that it is time for the Lords to do their share of the belt-tightening, especially if, like Lord Young, they are so out of touch with the financial realities of us ordinary people.
Lord Young's comments that the vast majority of the population have "never had it so good" because of a reduction in mortgage rates ignores the impact on savers of the Bank of England's and Government policies. One hundred per cent of savers are worse off.
The Government and Bank of England are taking from the savers and giving the pillaged funds to the bankers and mortgage holders. Lord Young will go down in history as the Marie Antoinette of 21st-century Britain.
George D Lewis
The measure of happiness
I am writing to express my approval of David Cameron's excellent proposal for a "happiness index" ("A nation's success is defined by much more than wealth", 19 November). It will be interesting to see the variation between an unemployed Teesside steelworker and a part-time creative director (salary estimated in six figures) at a luxury leather-goods manufacturer. The index will also allow comparison between UK citizens and those in countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where income tax is higher, where social services are better, where there is less social inequality, where the countries are run along the lines of social responsibility and not to serve the markets, and where the senior government figures are not ex-public-school duffers, with limited experience of the workplace and life in general.
Mary Dejevsky's article (19 November) on the definition of success confirmed what I have long believed.
We started taking family holidays in France in 1987. I was soon convinced that the French had got it right; their attitude to life, their values, seemed to produce a very contented culture.
The really sad thing about putting growth before everything else is that neverending growth is unsustainable, and its pursuit is a waste of good pavement-café time.
D J Ridley
CCTV vital in slaughterhouses
I once asked a vet who had worked in a slaughterhouse whether he had encountered any sensitive, animal-caring people working there. His answer: "Some sensitive people go into that environment, but no sensitive people come out of it".
In the spirit of Johann Hari's brilliant tell-it-like-it-is article about farm-animal slaughter ("The religious excuse for barbarity", 19 November), isn't it time we faced the fact that the only way normal people employed by any type of slaughterhouse could possibly cope with cutting animals' throats all day would be to detach themselves from all feelings for the animals? Otherwise they would go mad. In self defence man quickly becomes habituated to routine cruelty.
Hence we need the very strictest controls; obligatory CCTV cameras everywhere. And, just as essential, open access to their footage by animal-welfare organisations like Animal Aid. As long as animals are slaughtered in secret needless suffering will continue.
Johann Hari is right to highlight our weird attitude to animal cruelty. This has been underlined by recent headlines. A lady, suffering a brief psychotic episode, popped a cat into a wheelie-bin for a few hours and the shock–horror response raged round the planet. Hundreds of millions of farm animals kept in worse-than-gulag conditions every year; unbearably crammed into slaughterhouse waiting-rooms during their entire short lives raises hardly a murmur.
A bird in a cage might put all heaven in a rage, but to us it just means chicken jalfrezi.
Johann Hari's assertion that halal meat is "served unlabelled and as standard meat on all British Airways flights" is incorrect.
Halal meat is not used in the production of standard meals served on board British Airways flights. A range of special meal options is available on request. One of these special options is halal, and these meals are labelled appropriately.
The confusion may have arisen from a recent media report claiming that one of British Airways' catering suppliers, Gate Gourmet, was considering moving to all-halal meal production.
However, British Airways has no plans to change its menus or to make all of its meals halal-compliant and has not entered into any discussions with Gate Gourmet on the matter.
Head of Customer Experience, British Airways, Harmondsworth, Middlesex
The Army: what is it good for?
Christina Patterson asks what the Army is for, exactly (17 November). It is to ensure that we have the luxury of containing insurgents abroad, terrorists at home and disorder wherever we find it inconvenient – as opposed to the necessity of fighting those same people here when we have given them the opportunity to organise themselves into the kind of army that Ms Patterson evidently believes we no longer need.
If she doubts my point, I'd suggest an autumn break in the various states of the old Yugoslav republic, reminding her that the various wars the bien pensants of the 1980s assured us "could never happen in Europe again" actually did break out in 1991, with truly horrible consequences.
We prevent war by preparing for it, not announcing it abolished.
R S Foster
All's not fair in love just yet
Jerome Taylor's report (8 November) on the commendable Equal Love campaign for marriage equality for gay and straight couples makes some misleading assertions.
Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband do not support converting civil partnerships into marriage, but opening up both institutions to everyone. Furthermore, civil partnerships are not "effectively the same" as marriage – they give different pension rights to gay people and force many transgender people to divorce against their will. It is important to keep the facts straight to avoid giving ammunition to opponents of equality.
The Prince of Tries
A pity that no mention was made of Prince Obolensky's two spectacular tries against the All Blacks in 1935 ("Twickenham's grandstand tries", 15 November). One, if not both, rank with those cited, and are worthy of recall, especially as "Obo"', a pilot officer, was killed in a flying accident in 1940. We will remember them.
R G Hart
Perspectives on vanishing bird life
Drastic action needed on hedges
There has been much debate on the causes of the decline in British songbirds (15 November). The decline started in the 1960s with the removal of domestic hedges and the installation of fences.
The birds displaced by this eradication have tried to find a home in the countryside but farmers have been grubbing up hedges at an alarming rate and the final straw is the latest farming technique, which uses a high-powered implement to strip the few hedges left down to no more than a few twigs. The farmers say this does not cause harm to the birds. No, none at all; if you discount starvation.
The only way to stop this decline is to alter the payments the farmers get, and require them to erect a wire fence on each side of the existing hedgerow five feet from the centre of the hedge; the hedge may be trimmed only if it grows beyond this boundary. We do this on our 50-acre site, which has regenerated naturally over 60 years, and now provides an endless supply of invertebrates, and supports a wide range of birds, small mammals, butterflies, bumblebees.
Our bird population includes healthy numbers of house sparrow, tree sparrow, bullfinch, dunnock, song thrush, mistle thrush, marsh tit, nightingale, white throat, lesser redpoll, garden warbler and grasshopper warbler, and we have a resident pair of sparrow-hawk.
If we do not take drastic action immediately our song birds will be gone, forever.
Farmers' tragic role in loss of wildlife
A vast number of your readers must have been deeply concerned to read the description by Kate Ravilious (15 November) of the possible devastation being inflicted on insect and, as a result, bird populations by the use of systemic neonicotinoid insecticides in intensive crop production. Germany, Slovenia, Italy and France have already imposed bans on some of these products.
I cringe with embarrassment at the terrifyingly crass response to this vital issue by my "fellow" farmer, Guy Smith (letters, 17 November), who appears to believe that increasing populations of magpies, crows, sparrowhawks and buzzards are somehow compensation for the catastrophic implications of the possible disappearance of bees, other insects and the bird species which rely on them as a food source.
It is sad that some farmers are defensive of their tragic modern role as a downtrodden link in a chain of huge chemical corporations, ruthless "food" manufacturers, and giant retailers.
Rothbury, NorthumberlandReuse content