Letters: No use preaching to the poor about birth rates

These letters appear in the 1 October issue of The Independent

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Michael McCarthy (Nature Studies, 30 September) perpetuates the notion that population growth is uncontrollable and threatens the future of the planet.

There is little point in telling poor families in sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America to limit their family size. Children are an economic investment, potential workers in the agricultural sector. They are also an insurance: they will care for their parents when they get older. When so many die before their fifth birthday, the pressure to have large families is imperative.

In the developed world, the enormous population growth during the 19th century, after the Industrial Revolution, was slowed only at the end of the century by better public health, higher living standards in urban areas and increasing literacy and education. Families became aware that fewer of their children would die and the growing cost of bringing up each child was also a disincentive to large family size.

One of the solutions therefore to the problem of the world’s population growth is the economic and educational development of what has become known as the Third World, not the censorious stances adopted by those who have achieved population stability and a measure of wealth and comfort to which so many in poverty throughout the globe increasingly aspire.

Derek Watts



Michael McCarthy is right: population growth is indeed the truth that dare not speak its name. But read the papers, listen to radio and TV: what do we hear repeated constantly every day, as we groan inwardly, even by Michael’s colleagues in The Independent?

Those running the show are constantly arguing for growth. We are told we must do our utmost to squander finite resources to obtain ever more useless things which we don’t really need. If the population didn’t grow, we could not continue to do this and the system would break down. It relies upon producing ever more houses, ever more cars, ever more roads for an increasing population. 

This is why, in conjunction with the growth mantra, we periodically hear cries of panic that births to a population of 64 million crammed into a tiny island are not at replacement rate.

The solution lies not in controlling the population, which is something which we see occurs naturally anyway in First-Wworld societies, but in scrapping growth economics. It has had its day. 

There was never a more urgent need for equilibrium economics, finding ways to use less, not more. People can live a contented and fulfilling life without worshipping possessions, wealth and celebrity. The real enemy is growth, not population.

Terence Hollingworth

Blagnac, France


Tories launch an austerity election

Rather than squeezing the poor until the pips squeak, there is a much easier, fairer and more efficient way to plug the £25bn hole in Britain’s finances: eliminate the need for working tax credits by raising the minimum wage to a sensible living wage.

According to the latest figures this alone would save the Treasury £30bn, and place the burden for closing the deficit gap on the shoulders of those who can and should bear it – the businesses who currently employ people at wages so low that the Government is forced to top them up.

Tax credits are nothing more, nothing less, than a subsidy for business paid for by the taxpayer, and if the sponsors of the Conservative Party won’t let them abolish this iniquitous form of wealth redistribution, the Lib Dems or Labour should jump on the opportunity.

The elimination of tax credits would have a further benefit to the Treasury in the form of increased receipts from income tax. What’s not to like?

Simon Prentis



The Conservative Party’s decision to introduce a £23,000-a-year household benefit cap after the 2015 election would seem to reiterate a one-size-fits-all approach when what is required is one that is more nuanced, tailored to geographical location and individual circumstances.

Incentivising back to work those who have made living on benefits a lifestyle choice is laudable, but this policy ignores sections of society such as those suffering with long-term sickness, unable to work, much as they might want to. After one benefit cap and the bedroom tax, why should these people and their families be further penalised?

Richard Steel

Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire


The Chancellor wants those with £1m pension pots, already lucky recipients of tax relief, to be able to pass them to lucky others free of tax. Can one respect such a Chancellor who at the same time intends to reduce in real terms the benefits of those who, through no fault of their own, have to rely on those benefits to live? 

Those on benefits are often hard-working and in need of the benefits to make up their wages – or unemployed or disabled in need of benefits just to get by. I doubt if “need” applies to many of those recipients of the tax-free pension pots. I wonder what that shows about the Government’s grasp of fairness and fellow-feeling.

Peter Cave

London W1


Ukip and certainly more defections by MPs; the imminent split of the political right in the UK; ever more severe austerity measures affecting the poor disproportionately; a panicked Prime Minister scurrying to Scotland; and an electorate disenchanted with an outdated political system. Is the Conservative Party actively planning its defeat in May next year?

Michael Johnson



George Osborne plans to cut benefit for five million low-paid working households but leave the rich untouched. He has launched Two-Nation Conservatism. 

Chris Rose

Wells, Norfolk


Not enough time to mark exams properly

As an A-level examiner, and sometime principal examiner, of over 25 years, I would like to make a couple of observations about the inadequacies apparent among current practitioners (Richard Garner, 29 September).

The most important is the constricted time examiners have to do their job. Recently, exam boards have managed to extend the examining period by a day or two, but this has to be balanced against the demands of the school environment in which most examiners work. 

When I started, the Inner London Education Authority allowed for something called “examiners’ leave”, but nowadays even the winding-down period towards the end of the summer term in which most examiners worked has all but gone.

This might not sound too important but, even with my experience, I can only manage to mark three to four scripts an hour, and that means, in order to keep to very strict deadlines, marking for five hours a day at least. Fortunately, I have for many years been in a position to make time for this but I do wonder how most teachers can manage, on top of a typical school workload, without normal human fatigue affecting their judgement – or without their having to speed-read candidates’ work that requires sentence-by-sentence attention.

These problems have been compounded by online marking and, even more, by online moderation. These are supposed to save time and cost, but, with increasingly complex marking schemes, seem to leave many examiners feeling less secure about their marking, despite the support of a new professional institute.

It is also concerning that there does seem to be some turnover among new examiners. They find that combining their day job with marking puts them under pressure, and many do not persist long enough to acquire the experience sufficient to be “adequate”.

I would ask for anonymity as my exam board every year sends out emails warning ominously against contacting the press.

Name and address supplied


New low in Australian refugee policy

Not only “inappropriate, immoral and likely illegal” but also indefensible. (“Australia offers new home to its would-be migrants in Cambodia”, 27 September). As an Australian privileged to travel the world freely, I felt compelled to respond to the new low in Australian refugee policy detailed in the article by Kathy Marks. I would hate to leave the UK without your readers knowing there are many Australians profoundly disturbed by the trend of the Australian government to deny the human rights of those seeking asylum in our country.

Sharon Laura

Newtown, NSW, Australia


Adding to the English mix

Edward Thomas (letter, 30 September), as an Englander, you are the product of a melting pot of other people’s cultures. If you were a true Englander you would welcome new flavours and give the pot a really good stir. Anything else just isn’t cricket.

David Rose

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands