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Letters: Pensioners earn their benefits


Your attack on pensioners' benefits (8 June) was one-sided and blinkered. You looked only at individual pensioners in isolation, but failed to see their social and family responsibilities to other age groups. No generation exists in isolation – we all relate to younger and older family members. Many recently retired people have aged parents who need constant support, either financial or through regular care. Many "young elderly" people (sometimes the same ones) have offspring who cannot get jobs or who are still in education and need continuing support and then an expensive leg-up on to the housing ladder.

Quite apart from the fact that the over-60s have already paid for whatever benefits are still coming their way and which the Government would like to remove, these people in many cases are not able to spend the money on themselves. The little that comes from a bus pass or free prescriptions is spent on one's older or younger dependants. Whatever is left has to be kept as a legacy for those who find times are harder than for the baby-boomer generation.

The financial freedom of retirement is just a mirage, in the face of obligations to other age groups.

Sam Boote


The notion of "pensioners" being given a raft of benefits because they've attained a mere three-score years is just plain daft. Sixty is the new 50, and most of the current sixty-somethings are doing quite well in life, be they working or retired.

Like it or not, we are all now going to have to work longer, so claiming winter fuel allowance, free prescriptions, free eye tests and free bus travel just because you're 60 is utter nonsense.

I've long known people who commute to work on their travel passes, for example – and in London that is worth a very great deal. A travel pass should, at the very least, be treated as a taxable benefit in kind, but it would also be possible to restrict free travel to between the hours of 10am and 4pm, and 8pm and close, as was the case in my childhood, so taking the pressure off rush hours.

As for winter-fuel payments, the age level should be raised to 70, though exceptions could be made for those with serious health problems. Similarly, those who are fully employed should not need free prescriptions. As for eye tests, like dental check-ups these should be free for everyone – they are a cost-effective way of screening for any number of health problems. Charging was a false economy.

Liz Thomson

London N10

Gay marriage is within the Christian tradition

When I read your headline "Gay marriage is one the worst threats in 500 years, says C of E" (12 June) I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Religion is culturally flexible and progressive. Problems arise when religion becomes absolute, and its traditions become set in stone. If, as Christians say, "God so loved the world", then it is the world as it exists today, not the world with its ideas, values and social structures of 2,000 years ago.

Marriage does not suit everyone, and neither is it necessarily the legitimisation of sex and procreation. In the Anglican tradition it can be argued that it is much more centred on companionship, as it is "not good for man to be alone". Older couples marry with no hope of child-bearing. What it does do is to give a sense of commitment and social cohesion – for all, gay or straight, young or old.

L J Atterbury

Pila, Poland

It is not the place of the church to threaten the democratically elected government. What about the millions who aren't religious? Why do we have to have our lives ruled by a faith that is meaningless to us?

The fear that homosexuals will take court action to get married in a church is scare-mongering. Why would any self-respecting homosexual want to be married by someone who obviously hates them?

Matthew Laughton


About 70 per cent of marriages in the UK are civil marriages. Whether or not same-sex marriage is introduced, perhaps the Church of England should consider disestablishing anyway. It's clearly not as relevant to most people's relationships as it would like the country to believe.

Andrew Copson

Chief Executive, British Humanist Association, London, WC1

Safeguard our birds of prey

As organisations that care deeply about our rich and beautiful countryside and wildlife we were horrified recently to learn of the proposals to use taxpayers' money to imprison buzzards and destroy their nests for the purposes of protecting pheasants.

And of course we welcome Defra minister Richard Benyon's decision to drop the proposed research project. But we now urge him to go one step further in order to draw a line under this issue.

We all want to see healthy populations of birds of prey, from the buzzards that are widespread in our countryside to hen harriers which are down to just one pair in England. For this to happen, full legal protection must be maintained and action taken to stop illegal killing of these birds.

Given the strength of public feeling and lack of evidence for a problem, we are calling on Mr Benyon to confirm that no licences will be issued to kill birds of prey in order protect game birds or other livestock. Then we can all concentrate on protecting our natural environment so that our countryside is a place where people and wildlife can live side by side.

Martin Harper

Director of Conservation, RSPB

Simon Pryor

Natural Environment Director, National Trust

Douglas Parr

Policy Director, Greenpeace UK

Paul de Zylva

Head of Nature, Friends of the Earth

Deborah Pain

Conservation Director, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

Barbara Handley

Chairman, Hawk and Owl Trust

And seven others

Right to work in the UK

I have sympathy for David Felton (Letter: "Illegal staff at universities", 7 June) but he is wrong to blame the government department. The answer lies in a better understanding of the relevant legislation and a less risk-adverse policy by universities (and other employers in similar circumstances).

The relevant regulation does not require any employer to insist on proof of the right to work, but rather provides an absolute defence to a charge or penalty if they go through that very complex process.

In the case of an external examiner who is already employed full time by another UK University, the risk of finding that such a person does not have the right to work in the UK is infinitesimally small. Even were that very unlikely eventuality to occur, the probability of having any penalty imposed in such a case (of temporary employment of a highly qualified person at a very modest fee) is tiny.

So this university does not ask for such proof in the case of external examiners. But to get to that position required a long negotiation with internal auditors!

David Clarke

Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Bristol

Independent Scots will still be British

The comment by Labour leader Ed Miliband, that one could not be both Scottish and British after independence, clearly demonstrates the need for the greater teaching of history in our schools.

Scottish independence would see the ending of the Treaty of Union, ratified by the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. What would remain is the Union of the Crowns of 1603, and the unification of Scotland and England under one monarch through a personal union. In 1604 King James proclaimed himself "King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland", more than a century before political unification. It therefore seems naive to assume that one cannot call oneself both British and Scottish after independence.

Likewise, the Union Flag was introduced in 1606 as the "flag of Britain". On Scottish independence it would remain as is, and it is simply incorrect to argue, as some mischievously have, that the Scottish saltire would have to be extracted from it.

Alex Orr


Easy to blame derivatives


Alan Mitcham (letter, 7 June) says he cannot understand why credit default swaps and "other corrosive financial products" still exist. He suggests that "such products played a major part in the crisis".

Mr Mitcham should be aware that significant effort has been put into dealing with the issues that arose post-crisis. There is a whole host of regulations that have been legislated for, both in the US and Europe, that attempt to regulate derivatives. Such legislation is complex and subject to considerable discussion in the industry and among regulators in order to balance the commercial needs of industry participants and ensure safe and efficient financial markets.

Financial derivatives were not a major player in the crisis; it was leverage, and the interdependency of markets, that largely caused it.

Scott Robinson

London W2

Charity beyond jumble sales

Laurie Penny (8 June) refers to the Salvation Army as a "charitable organisation that these days deals mainly in jumble sales". Far from it. The Salvation Army is a charity which supports people in need.

It works with the homeless, the unemployed, the vulnerable and the marginalised throughout the country, giving support which is needed more than ever now. It is also there to help in the event of disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti. I do not share their Christian beliefs but I make regular donations to their cause. Perhaps Laurie could consider doing the same?

Judith Brooks

Fleetwood, Lancashire

What can I not boycott?

My television viewing is currently being curtailed by my boycott of the Euro 2012 tournament in protest at Ukraine's civil-rights record, and I will not be watching any of the Olympics because of the sponsorship of the stadium by Dow Chemical. I now have this reinforced by Locog's use of G4S, whose work in providing security services to Israeli companies in occupied Palestinian territory is in conflict with international law.

Can The Independent reassure me that I am safe in watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France without breaking my principles?

Brian Mathieson


No respect for royal titles

Look beyond their familiarity and let the meaning of these words play in your mind for a while: your majesty; your royal highness.

I think Guy Keleny is wrong (Errors and Omissions, 9 June): royal titles deserve nothing but ridicule. Anyone who would expect or even accept such a form of address is ignorant. We should get them wrong at every available opportunity, safe in the knowledge that we are annoying only those who deserve it.

David Woods

Hull, East Yorkshire


The Israel embassy press attaché repeats the usual line (letter, 11 June) about Israel having the right to defend itself. Of course it has, but when is he going to accord the same rights to the Palestinians?

Charles Bidwell