Letters: Pensioners' benefits

Attacks on pensioners 'perks' make no sense
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The Independent Online

Your leading article "Pensioners' benefits cannot be untouchable" (8 June) is based on the premise that universal benefits are a bad thing – a premise which is challengeable – and in arguing your case, you trample over the facts.

If we chose to spread means-testing further through the system, it would be both costly and inefficient as a way of helping the majority of pensioners who really need the extra help. Only around two-thirds of eligible pensioners actually claim Pension Credit. If the same held true for winter-fuel payments, many more pensioners would spend winters suffering, and fretting about remorselessly rising energy prices. Restricting bus passes would increase social isolation and loneliness, and reduce the scope for older people to contribute to their families and society.

Further, you assert that funnelling money into older people's bank accounts is not a way to escape recession. Is constraining the ability of older people to spend a way out of recession? Older people are important consumers, and much of their expenditure is on local goods and services.

Michelle Mitchell

Charity Director General, Age UK, London, WC1

I hope that future discussions of benefits for the elderly will go deeper than generalised assertions and cheap jibes at "perks for very well-off people". Citing the provision of a bus pass to Alan Sugar, as was mentioned on the Today programme, is absurd. Passes need to be applied for and I, in common with several friends who are still driving their own cars, have not applied and I doubt if Alan Sugar has either.

The "perks" that your editorial refers to, such as the winter-fuel allowance and the bus pass, were introduced to tackle the real problems of cold houses and isolation. These problems have not gone away. The free television licence for the over-75s recognises at least in a small way that the cost of a licence represents a heavy regressive tax and one which amounts to more than a week's income from a state pension. Free prescriptions are the most expensive benefit, but recognise the inevitability of declining health for the elderly and the greater cost of not treating problems.

The single incontrovertible fact about the elderly is that their situations are largely static or declining. Old people have little opportunity to change their lives, their incomes are not going to increase; there are no promotion prospects. What will change, and for the worse, is their health and the level of demands on their incomes for things such as home helps, gardening and taxis.

We all agree that benefits should go where they are most needed. But we also need to look carefully at why those benefits were introduced and at what other needs – and costs – might surface if an apparently unnecessary benefit is removed.

C Lehman

Ripon, North Yorkshire

The actual cost of the pensioners' bus pass is nowhere near the figure often quoted – it costs no more for a bus to run largely full of pensioners than it does to run with a handful of paying customers. Further, the bus pass encourages people not to use cars, thus reducing pollution and congestion. Most importantly, the free pass contributes greatly to psychological well-being, strengthens families and friendships, and creates independence. The free bus pass must be kept at all costs.

Paul Cooper


In the interest of fairness and justice there should be no reduction of benefits paid to supposedly comfortably-off pensioners (most of whom have an income of considerably less than £150,000 per year) until the tax relief that was given to people who have an income in excess of £150,000 per year has been cancelled.

Eric Lund

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Football extremists must be confronted for change to occur

"Some things are more important than sport" writes Philip Hensher (1 June), and as a gay man with a viewer's interest in soccer and rugby union, I take his side completely in doubting the rectitude of the decision to stage Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

For some people, life on the terraces is their only experience of being in a position of dominance, so it is not surprising that baser instincts are exposed.

Great strides have been made in British football towards a game where players of all races and lifestyles can compete freely, thanks to a large extent to great players like Sol Campbell, whose high profile has done much to put players' ability ahead of racial origins in the eyes of the vast majority of football fans.

It is vitally important that the views of extremists should be challenged and examined in the context of public exposure. The coverage of the events in Poland and Ukraine will play a vital role in changing attitudes. The personal safety of players and staff is a very good reason to withdraw from the tournament, but it is even more important that they remain if change is to come.

There have been some repellent scenes of racism in British and in European games, but nothing would have been achieved at all if the likes of Mr Campbell had stepped back from the limelight, taken a quiet desk job and not bothered. Perhaps the courage and excellence of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin can offer today's sportswomen and sportsmen a timely example?


Crymych, Pembrokeshire

Why shouldn't Israel defend itself?

It was disappointing to read a front-page report critical of measures Israel unfortunately has to take to keep its people safe ("Firm in charge of Olympic security polices Israeli settlements too", 8 June). That such measures are viewed in any way as controversial reveals a somewhat skewed mind.

At the height of the second intifada, it was only the presence of this security that prevented hundreds of Israeli deaths becoming tens of thousands. Daily, suicide bombers were blocked from reaching the cafes and shopping centres they were hoping to blow up. Even in subsequent years, this relentless attempt to slaughter innocent Israelis did not cease. In 2006, over 70 suicide attacks were thankfully stopped in time.

Those attending the London games should be grateful they are being kept safe. Those who oppose Israel's right to defend its citizens should question why they deny that basic right to only one country.


Press Attaché, Embassy of Israel, London W8

Avraham Burg's support (7 June) for a boycott of goods produced in Israel's illegal settlements is encouraging.

He is right that the Green Line is vital to a two-state solution but he needs to go further if he wants to help achieve it. He must argue that the US must rediscover the rule of law, embodied in the preamble to UNSCR 242 of 1967 – "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" – and also in the requirements of the Hague Regulations (1907) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) from which, with regard to the Occupied Territories, the US derogated 30 years ago.

Only when Israel understands that the US is building its search for peace on the strict observance of international law is there any chance of a two-state solution. And, without it, there will be a drift to a one-state solution with Palestinians outnumbering Jews in a bi-national state or with the darker danger of another bout of massive ethnic cleansing. Mr Burg, let's have a just and gentle outcome for everyone.


Richmond, Surrey

More paid work for convicts, please

It is understandable that trade unions are suspicious of prisons being a source of cheap labour at a time of high unemployment (report, 5 June), but there are other factors to consider.

Every ex-con who reoffends is a drain on our national coffers. Insurance, police, courts, lawyers, prison and dependents on benefits – £1m for 10 offences is possible. Any scheme which has a realistic chance of reducing this monstrous waste must be good news. Picture a young man leaving prison who has worked hard for three days each week at a manual job within his capabilities, and attended education classes for another three days.

He is wearing £100-worth of new clothes which he has earned honestly, he is met by his girlfriend and child whom he has supported to some extent for the past four months. The prospect of filling in application forms does not frighten him because he is used to working with a pen or using a computer. This ex-con is self-disciplined and confident, he has kept himself out of trouble and it has paid off. His sentence has been reduced by 70 per cent, which means a huge saving to the state and pays for the extra costs of running this programme. And above all, the chances of his reoffending are greatly reduced.



Olympic Torch's mixed reception

May I draw attention to a bizarre contrast during the torch's brief journey to Ireland?

In Northern Ireland it came under attack from dissident republicans yet the next day it was wholeheartedly welcomed by the people of Dublin – capital of the Republic!



Lisa Markwell's astonishment that tickets for the beach volleyball were not sold out (8 June) should be tempered by the fact that the remaining tickets are for the men's event. Trust me, I looked.


Ruthin, Denbighshire

Let's keep our cool over Syria

Mary Dejevsky's cool analysis (8 June) of the going-ons in Syria comes as a relief in the face of hysterical outpouring in the media about military intervention. The fact that the Syrian uprising has now been hijacked by the Sunni Orthodoxy, that gave us the late Osama bin Laden and the al-Qa'ida hydra, is not appreciated by most of us.


London SE3

Battersea Power Station's future

The obvious answer to the problem of Battersea power station is to demolish it ("The white elephant saved? Pigs might fly", 8 June). It is useless, of doubtful aesthetic merit and sterilises a huge prime riverfront site. It is plainly beyond economic repair, except by the likes of Mr Abramovich, whose plausible bid has inexplicably been rejected.


Shipdham, Norfolk

Sharp practice

The guillotine was not a French invention, as you claim (9 June).

Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin brought this machine into use in 1792, during the French Revolution, but it had been around long before that. In the National Museum of Scotland we have such a machine, known as "The Maiden", which was used by the Earl of Morton in the 16th century. When I told a visiting group that we had invented this device long before the French, I was quickly put in my place by a Hungarian visitor, who claimed that his country already had one in the 13th century.