Letters: Ministers attack pensioner ‘perks’

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, April 30th, 2013
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Ministers are again discussing means-testing pensioners’ benefits (“Tax on pensioners’ perks seen as way to save billions”, 25 April).

They need to decide whether they want  to encourage the current working generation to save  for their retirement, or to discourage them.

Means-testing benefits – or even merely discussing it – raises the question as to how worthwhile pensions saving will be. If people who save for retirement end up paying for things themselves, and people who don’t save are likely to be given the same things as benefits, then why save?

The Prime Minister wants to give people certainty on which to base their savings decisions. His colleagues in government are undermining this.

Paul Main, Fleet, Hampshire


We live, if our politicians can be believed, in such desperate times that every penny saved from the public purse is essential. This has led to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, saying that wealthier pensioners should hand back their fuel allowances and free travel passes.

This is an area in which the Government should lead by setting an example. Can we therefore expect, in the next few days, wealthy members of Parliament, commencing with Iain Duncan Smith himself, setting that example by not only handing back their expenses, but in the case of multi-millionaire MPs, their salaries also?

Ian McNicholas, Waunlwyd, Ebbw Vale


Could I suggest to Iain Duncan Smith a much simpler way of dealing with pensioners’ benefits?

Get rid of all of them – free bus passes, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, even free prescriptions. They are patronising and demeaning, and suggest that older people are too mentally limited to manage their own budgets but need portions of their money ring-fenced for a single purpose lest they spend the money for their fuel on tonic wine and bingo.

Instead I suggest the Government increase the guarantee level of Pension Credit by about £15 a week for single people.

Catherine Petts, Steventon, Oxfordshire


Iain Duncan Smith’s suggestion that well-off pensioners should voluntarily return the cost of their fuel allowance, bus pass and free TV licence (and presumably free prescriptions, eye-tests, extra tax allowance, exemption from bedroom tax, etc.) to the Government is ludicrous. Will George Osborne now invite high earners to send 5 per cent of their top slice of income to the Government, as they do not “need” the recent cut? If not, why not?

Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent


Police who needed no  proof of guilt

I have no knowledge of the prevalence of torture in Dubai (“Queen dragged into torture row ahead of Windsor gala”, 19 April) but was reminded of an incident when I was working in the Gulf on a ship that was based in Dubai during the war between Iraq and Iran in the late Eighties.

One day I was invited to visit the splendid forensic science laboratory in the compound of the Special Branch. I saw that the chemistry laboratory was very well equipped and the apparatus all neatly positioned in its allotted places, but, as a chemist myself, could not but notice with surprise that not a single item of glassware with any substance under examination was on any of the benches.  

I pointed out this remarkable degree of tidiness to the man in charge – an Arab from a different country  – who was showing me round. His explanation was chilling, and chills me still: “Ah, most of our prisoners confess”.

Sidney Alford, Corsham, Wiltshire


Scotland sold for English gold

It is curious how much South Britons love to rubbish those on the nationalist side of the debate on Scotland’s future. If Dominic Lawson (24 April) had a better grasp of Scottish history he would know that the Darien disaster in the 1690s played virtually no part at all in the debate over the Union, except as a reminder that the English American colonies refused to help Scots at Darien when the latter were dying. All the pressure came from London. It is a classic southern fantasy to suppose the Scots were gagging for union. On the whole they were not, and English douceurs had to be offered.

Critics fasten on to the economic aspects of independence, but seldom look at the wider picture. If you look at Ireland and Slovakia, for example, they knew they were likely to be poorer if they seceded. I have not yet met a national of any of these countries who for a moment regrets the decision. There are other things more estimable than money, including national freedom of action. Democracy works far better in small countries.

David McDowall, Richmond, Surrey


Dominic Lawson, writing about Scotland, says: “That proud nation’s disastrous investments in Central America led to its being rescued by the government in Westminster at the cost of its independence.” I am no expert on Scottish history. Like most Scots, I was not taught anything about our country pre-union. We might have had a bit of social history, but the political stuff was always post-union.

As I now understand, Scotland’s attempts to set up a trading colony were thwarted by the English and I believe Spain.

The aristocrats who ran Parliament and had lost money on the failed and thwarted venture to establish a Scottish trading post accepted the bribe from Queen Anne to reimburse them in return for joining a union with the English Parliament. There were riots all over Scotland at the time and many years later, in writing of the Union, Robert Burns said: “Bought and sold for English gold, such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”

Cyril Mitchell, Dumfries


Landlords let out decent housing

In response to John Boulton’s letter (“Landlords cash in on poverty”, 25 April) I admit to being one of the buy-to-let landlords he criticises.

I have been self-employed since leaving school in the late Eighties and have built a few successful small businesses over the years. This allowed me to buy a couple of houses to put out to let several years ago. Since the property price crash I have been building my portfolio with interest-only mortgages.

Mr Boulton points out that we buy “cheap” housing. Has he ever asked himself why it is cheap? Most commonly it is cheap because it is either derelict or in need of major repair. With no money or drive coming from government, it is likely to stay derelict unless an enterprising buy-to-let “scrounger” brings it back into use.

Once I have bought one of these “cheap” properties, I then expend several thousands of pounds renovating it. When it is finished it can often be worth 20 per cent more than my outgoings, but this is never guaranteed, and as with any investment we can often lose money on a development.

Over 70 per cent of my tenants are waged. Of those claiming benefits, if it were not for the private landlord where would they live? There just isn’t enough social housing to go round. Would Mr Boulton rather they roam the streets, or does he have a spare bedroom he could let out?

I, like the majority of private landlords, take my responsibility to provide decent, well maintained affordable housing very seriously. There are some exceptions. Regulation or licensing as proposed by some councils seems a sensible way forward.

Ronnie Gerrard, Freshfield, Merseyside.


Assault on the football field

Luis Suarez has decided to acquiesce in the matter of his 10-match ban. Opinions differ as to whether his treatment at the hands of the FA is fair and reasonable. The question remaining to be asked is why the matter rests with the FA at all.

While such sanctions as the ban are clearly appropriate in the narrow context of the game, Suarez’s conduct, which was in no way connected with the conduct of play, constitutes assault – and should be treated as such.

If I bit someone during a scrum at the January sales I wouldn’t get a 10-sale ban from Harrods, I’d find myself in a court of law. Why does the law of the land not apply on the sports field? There’s a distinction to be made between unsafe and “dirty” play and wanton aggression.

John Welch, Telford, Shropshire


When GPs did the whole job

You suggest that pressure on A&E units might be reduced if GPs could be persuaded to take back 24-hour responsibility for their patients (26 April). Sixty years ago, when I was a very young boy, I fell on concrete steps and cut open my eye. I was whisked into the village surgery and the doctor stitched up the wound, without an anaesthetic.

If that happened to a child today he would probably be flown by air ambulance to the nearest hospital A&E unit. In the days of proper family doctors, minor operations were carried out in the doctor’s surgery or even in the patient’s home.

Mike Stroud, Swansea


Flourishing fritillaries

I was interested to read Michael McCarthy’s article on the declining number of snakeshead fritillaries in the UK (24 April). I make every effort to replicate a natural environment which bulbs can thrive in, planting in drifts and swathes.

This year has been no exception, and I am thrilled to say that at Arundel Castle we have had virtually no losses among our newly planted bulbs. We are currently proud to have nearly 10,000 snakeshead fritillaries approaching full bloom, naturalised at the entrance to the Castle’s walled gardens.

Martin Duncan, Head Gardener,  Arundel Castle, West Sussex


No profit, no problem

James Paton (letter, 24 April) is clearly one of Thatcher’s children in that he shares her obsession that only things that are run for profit can excel. This is clearly untrue. The best regarded bank in this country is a mutual, the best insurance company is a mutual, the best supermarket is a workers’ co- operative. The best schools in the world are the state comprehensive schools of Finland, where private education is simply not allowed.

Dudley Dean, Maresfield, East Sussex


Starbucks excuse

When I hear a representative from Deloittes stating that “Starbucks does not make a profit in this country” (the UK, where Deloittes audits Starbucks accounts), I am reminded of President Bill Clinton claiming “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Both are good legal defences, but they do not wash with the public.

Joel Baillie-Lane, Bristol