Letters: Pensioners’ perks under attack

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 26th April 2013

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After the extravagance of the state funeral, the arrival of the tax cut for millionaires, the £300-a-day fee for turning up at the House of Lords, along with subsidised food and travel thrown in (and the heating perhaps?) along come the Liberal Democrats supporting an attack on the winter-fuel allowance for pensioners.

Set this alongside one of the most extended winters of recent 1years, and the arrival of some inflated energy bills. It would be most welcome if the Labour Party had something to say about this – they are missing an open goal here.

John Humphreys, Milton Keynes

Free bus passes, free prescriptions and winter fuel payments kick in at the age of 60, presumably because this was once the discriminatory female age of retirement. But at 60, most people are still working – or at least, should expect to be working. It is perverse for any government faced with rising life expectancy to encourage anyone to think that they should stop at 60 and ride the buses.

It is hypocritical to call something a “winter fuel payment” when it is paid out not when winter fuel bills arrive but completely unconditionally a couple of weeks before Christmas. It is actually bad for older people’s health to give them free prescriptions – there is ample evidence that GPs overprescribe to this age group, dazed and confused from too many free pills.

The political parties will stand up to benefits scroungers but not to the over-sixties, the worst of the lot when it comes to special pleading. Of course, the root problem is the failure to have put an adequate state pension in place to support those who have actually retired and an adequate insurance scheme to fund care for the elderly frail.

But that is the consequence of the weakness of politicians who have refused for decades to tell the truth about what a pension or good quality care costs. Much easier for them to hand out small bribes to those who will vote rather than care for those who are beyond voting.

Trevor Pateman, Brighton

Andrew Grice (25 April) says “so far older people have been relatively unscathed by the Coalition cuts”. But anyone living off the interest on their savings – and that is a lot of older people – has seen their income fall by 90 per cent. Unscathed?

Conrad Cork, Leicester

Schools can’t replace parents, Mr Gove

I am the headteacher of a primary school and I am also married to a headteacher and Mr Gove’s latest nonsense regarding the need for longer school days and shorter holidays has provoked me into writing.

Mr Gove underestimates the family and its role in educating a child. For too long policy has placed the onus on schools to provide the child with every attribute necessary to access adult life. This has in turn disempowered parents. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of children coming to school without being toilet trained, with poor speech and language skills and incapable of any independent tasks; the expectation is that schools will take responsibility for these issues. This is not the answer.

Providing longer school hours and shorter holidays will reduce the amount of time spent with family and further diminish the role of parents within society. Children need time to play, explore and learn about human relationships beyond school. Populating the global society with creative, intelligent and highly motivated and flexible individuals is surely Mr Gove’s ambition, but such people do not evolve from a childhood spent entirely in the classroom.

I have spent some time in schools in China, which is one of the education systems that Mr Gove would have us replicate. Talk to educationalists in China and they will tell you they want to learn from the UK about creativity, and recognise that their power within global society and commerce is affected by this current deficit within their curriculum. There is a great deal of work being undertaken between China and the UK in order that we learn from each other – but that does not mean that either system should forgo its successes.

D Eveleigh, Glastonbury, Somerset

Mr Gove is to be congratulated on getting a massive 25 per cent or more increase in the budget for teacher salaries in these straitened economic times. Twenty-five per cent is just the increase in teaching hours that follows from lengthening the school day by three-quarters of an hour and, say, adding a week and a half to each term.

And putting massive increased demand in the labour market will (classical economics) push up average salaries, particularly when – after adding in preparation, marking and meetings – teachers already work more hours over a year than professionals in industry.

Or does he think that teachers will do this for free and at no cost to the quality of teaching?

Sean Barker, Bristol

It is astonishing that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has not been answering Freedom of Information requests put to him in a timely fashion. Surely, the factual information that he is being asked to divulge should have been simple for him to memorise and then regurgitate within the allocated time. Still, when the information finally does come out, at least we will be able to be confident that he hasn’t been in any way creative with it.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

Too poor to bury their dead 

Much has been made of the cost of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. It was an appropriate mark of respect and successive governments were right to set aside the money to fund it. However I find it difficult to understand how the same successive governments can fail to find similar resources to enable the poorest in our society to bid even a modest farewell to their loved ones.

Funeral poverty is a major challenge facing an increasing number of people. The average cost of a funeral is in excess of £3,000 and rising. Yet the Government’s Social Fund Funeral Payment, which is designed to help the poorest meet the costs of a funeral, has been capped at £700 plus disbursements since 2004.

Over 35,000 people received this assistance in 2012 – but 31,000 were rejected. Even those who are successful end up with an average shortfall of around £1,300.

If £10m – the same amount as was set aside for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral – were put into the Fund today, an extra 14,285 people would receive the £700 funeral payment, or the payment could be increased to £985, the first cost-of-living rise in the payment for almost 10 years.

This would help people at a time of intense distress and ease the burden on local authorities, who have to meet the basic costs if no one else will, and on funeral directors who are often forced to meet any shortfall.

lan Slater, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Funeral Directors, Solihull, West Midlands

Funny isn’t it: the arts must make an economic case for state funding, but state funerals don’t have to.

Gordon Whitehead, Scarborough

Suarez’s bite wasn’t so bad

I was very pleased to see Ian Herbert (24 April) bringing some rationality to the Suarez affair. I think he is the only reporter to do so. I totally agree that there is no parallel between Tyson’s bite and the Suarez bite. I have also asked the question before about just how independent the FA’s regulatory commission is, especially when the FA has stated that the standard punishment of three matches is insufficient in this circumstance, before the commission  has even met.

Jack Cockin, Gauldry, Fife

Malcom Howard (letters, 25 April) claims that Luis Suarez would be on a flight home if he played for Manchester United as “only Sir Alex Ferguson realises football is a team game”. In doing so he ignores Eric Cantona’s assault on a spectator, Roy Keane’s attempt to injure an opposing player, and Rio Ferdinand’s avoidance of a mandatory drug test. In all these cases the players involved were accommodated by the Old Trafford manager despite their transgressions.  Could it just be that he considered their loss would be too great for his team to bear?

John Holmes, London W4

Golf clubs stuck in previous century

How on earth can Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, defend the indefensible (“R&A defends men-only clubs”, 24 April)? While many golf clubs are losing members of both sexes in the current recession, his attitude, clearly stuck from early in the last century, is unhelpful.

Surely, Muirfield hosting this year’s Open and the other two “men only” clubs on the Open rota could and should have been instructed to allow women members before the honour of hosting the Open was bestowed on them? It’s not “bullying” as he says; it’s normal behaviour in the 21st century.

Dr Michael Reynolds, Buxton, Derbyshire

Flaws in Osborne’s ‘household’ plan

Economically, the points that Mr Osborne and the supporters of his policy missed were: unemployed people can spend very little, thus failing to contribute to demand in the economy.

People still in employment but afraid of losing their jobs will stop spending with an eye on an imminent rainy day, thus also failing to contribute to demand. If we must use “household” terms, we are trying to pay off debts quickly while and by reducing our ability to do so.

Cole Davis, Elets, Russia

Quacks and fakes

I note that James McCormick has been convicted and fined for selling bomb detectors which don’t work and lack any basis in science (23 April). I suppose it is naive of me to expect those who peddle homeopathic and like quack remedies to be similarly treated?

Tom Saul, Hereford

Lost counties

The annotated map of the lost counties of Britain (24 April) notes the demise of the  herring industry in the 19th century in Rutland. It should also have pointed out the uniqueness of that industry in that it caught only the red herring.

Anthony Clenent, Bury St Edmunds,  Suffolk 

Rude questions?

Jeremy Paxman considered it quite OK to ask two women on Newsnight, on 24 April, why they had had cosmetic surgery; yet I’m sure he would never dare ask David Beckham why he covered himself  in tattoos.    

Brian Christley, Abergele, Conwy