Letters: Pensions

Leave us our public-sector pensions - we earned them
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The Independent Online

Since the beginning of the financial crisis I have been expecting someone like Dominic Lawson (16 October) to try to open a debate about the supposed unfairness of final-salary public-sector pensions.

I am in receipt of such a pension, and critics of it regularly say that it is "unfair" because my pension could be larger than the interest payable on the sort of amount that, for example, a well-paid journalist could afford to put aside during a working life.

All my life as a teacher in higher education, I was financially disadvantaged compared with my contemporaries in the private sector. No company car, no share options, no expense account and a salary always too small for the BMW or the golf club or the foreign holiday or private education for my children. Each year, as a Chartered Engineer, I would receive the results of the annual salary survey of all working engineers: 95 per cent of engineers earned more than I did.

I have no doubt that Dominic Lawson's idea of a civil servant is some well-paid Whitehall mandarin, but most of us from the public sector are in the ranks of the low-paid. Small as my remuneration was, it was not as small as that of many other public-sector workers in, for example, the health service or primary schools. One of the things that kept us going was the thought of the eventual pension and the minimal financial security it affords. Who would not consider that a fair exchange for a life of trying to maintain professional standards on a miserably low wage?

I am particularly worried that this resentment of public-sector retirees could turn into a cause . In these coming times of financial restraint, a lot of people would be happy to see some political party "take on" the retired teachers and nurses.

We have earned our pensions. We worked our lives for them; we paid our deductions month in and month out for decades.

Chris Payne

Plesidy, France

Thatcher is to blame for crisis

Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 14 October) said that Mrs Thatcher was not to blame for today's financial mess. But to anyone who worked in the City at the time it is obvious that the lust for money and fast profit was conceived, born and raised by the Thatcher government.

They demutualised building societies, so that the careful link between mortgage and ability to pay was cut. They sold cheap shares when they privatised utilities, spreading the message that quick, easy profits were available. Big Bang destroyed the small well-controlled brokers, so their employees moved to banks with telephone-number pay rises. They reduced controls on bank lending, so that advertisements for unsecured loans met you at every cash machine and in floods of junk mail.

Financial greed is not a product of recent policies alone; it is firmly rooted in the Thatcher-Reagan era.

Anna Hodgetts

Burgess Hill, West Sussex

I am amazed to see a Conservative leader and his shadow Chancellor aiding and abetting the part-nationalisation of British banks, with no idea of what else to do.

No wonder the old fellow-travellers in the Labour Party are celebrating. Market forces should be allowed to prevail, and the weak, incompetent and over-optimistic should be allowed to go to the wall. The markets would soon heal themselves. They have always recovered in the past. The billions of public money would be better spent on helping the poor, the aged and those facing repossession etc in the difficult times ahead.

To put it in perspective, the money immediately on offer to the greedy, incompetent bankers is well in excess of our total annual defence budget and half the health budget. I doubt Lady Thatcher would have been as generous with our money, or as lacking in constructive alternative remedies.

Delwyn Williams

Guilsfield, Powys

The writer was Conservative MP for Montgomery, 1979-83

The world is in global economic meltdown and David Cameron takes a cheap, opportunist shot at a prime minister who has led the British economy through its longest period of sustained growth, and who has shown statesmanlike leadership in the current economic emergency.

Cameron's unjustified attack will rebound on him because, hopefully, it will focus attention, not only on his complete lack of experience and ideas, but also on his untrustworthiness and arrogance in trying to score political points at a time of international crisis. I may not always agree with Gordon Brown, but, my goodness, I know who I prefer to be running the country – and it's not a shallow PR man.



I see that the credit crunch is now spreading to the industrial sector, with large numbers of bankruptcies and layoffs looming. Does this mean that Gordon Brown will commit £500bn of our taxes towards supporting the UK's industrial sector? I won't hold my breath.

Ralph Ellis

Northwich, Cheshire

The poor need a climate agreement

We are concerned that the current financial crisis will be used as a smokescreen for not taking necessary and urgent action to prevent dangerous climate change at Monday's EU Environmental Council meeting.

Billions of pounds are being made available to alleviate pressure on the markets and guarantee savings. This is important, but so is climate change. If we don't act now the price to be paid in years to come will be on an unprecedented scale.

Food, fuel and the financial crisis are interrelated. By reducing carbon emissions and our dependency on oil we will create new jobs and the ability to live sustainably.

Decision-makers must work together to ensure that the EU can go to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan with a strong position that will build the trust and confidence needed to agree an equitable global climate change agreement in Copenhagen in 2009.

We believe that the EU needs to be reminded that people living in poverty are being hit first and hardest by climate change and need to be at the heart of the debate.

Liz Gallagher

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development

London SW9

Look at evidence, not innocence

Michael Naughton's criticisms of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (letter, 13 October) are legally inaccurate as well as misconceived.

Were the CCRC or the Court of Appeal to focus on the innocence of individuals, few convictions, including those of the Birmingham Six, would be overturned. In the absence of DNA evidence, innocence is almost impossible to establish. Instead the courts apply a test that is more generous to appellants of whether a conviction is "unsafe". Referrals and appeals should be based upon new evidence or argument, but section 13 (2) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 states that nothing shall prevent the making of a reference if it appears to the Commission that there are exceptional circumstances which justify making it.

A careful analysis of the evidence, and a correct interpretation of the law, offer greater safeguards to the interests of justice as well as those of individual appellants, than political posturing about innocence.

Hannah Quirk PhD

School of Law

University of Manchester

Steam powered the first flight

Jim Russell claims that the first powered flight in this country took place in 1908 (letters, 16 October). As you enter the town of Chard in Somerset, you are greeted by a large sign which says "Chard, the birthplace of powered flight", and it is true. John Stringfellow flew a steam powered aircraft there in 1848.

His son described the flight as follows: "The steam was successfully got up after a slight mishap; the machine started down the wire and upon reaching the point of self-detachment, gradually rose until it reached the further end of the room, striking a hole in the canvas placed to stop it."

Raj Kothari

Bridport, Dorset

Gulf expats must accept the rules

I read the article (17 October) about the couple sentenced to jail in Dubai for "indecent behaviour" with interest – not so much because of the sentencing (working in Islamic countries should prepare one for such consequences) but because you report that it is "illegal to import pork". I lived in Abu Dhabi for six years, and in other parts of the Middle east, and I recall that in supermarkets there was a section labelled "Pork products for non-Muslims".

the UAE generally is a tolerant place, and in Abu Dhabi city there is an Anglican church next to a Roman Catholic church next to a large mosque. The Emirate cities also are home to branches of Marks & Spencer. Expats who break the laws are really exploiting the generous welcome given to westerners by their Arab hosts.

Susan I Harr


Yes, princesses can marry each other

The anti-gay lobby are outraged at first-graders being taught that princesses can marry each other ("The honeymoon's over for gay newlyweds", 18 October). My five-year-old granddaughter announced last week that she was not after all going to marry her childhood boyfriend, since he was being horrid. She preferred to marry her best girlfriend.

Boyfriend said girls didn't marry each other. Granddaughter appealed to mum who said he was mistaken. Granddaughter then wanted to know if they could have babies. Adults don't have to put ideas in children's heads – they have plenty of imagination already.

Nicola Grove

Horningsham, Wiltshire

London's not very secret tunnels

Richard Bamford, the "senior BT technician" escorting journalists round the "secret"' tunnel ("A taste of how the other half lived in the Blitz", 18 October), has a rather quaint view on the need for secrecy. Anybody familiar with Peter Laurie's book Beneath the City Streets (Penguin, 1970 and revisions) will know the location and alignment of the BT tunnel now for sale.

For the record, it runs parallel to and slightly south of Holborn from Holborn telephone exchange to just west of St Paul's, where it branches for a short distance north and south. I suppose we will need to wait a few years for the one that runs from Trafalgar Square along Whitehall and on to Horseferry Road to come on the market.

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Middlesex

Wasting police time

Why are you surprised about the inability of the police to do a decent job (Opinion, 17 October)? Not so long ago we were bemoaning the mountains of paperwork they were buried under. There is a connection there somewhere.

Helen Burton

Brinsley, Nottinghamshire

Released by death

Imagine spending the rest of your life in prison, convicted of a crime you did not commit. I would find that preferable to being rendered physically helpless and in effect sentenced to endure my remaining years staring at the ceiling and waiting for someone to change my nappy ("Paralysed rugby star who chose to die", 18 October). Facing such a fate, I would have no objection to a quick death. Why are some presumably well-intentioned people so cruel as to inflict prolonged existence on those who do not want it?

Martin Copsey


Valued wilderness

I can assure Peter Brown (letter, 14 October) that it's not because of lack of cash that some bits of Brighton's cemeteries are overgrown – it's because that's how we want them to be. We have allowed a large section of our extra-mural cemetery in Brighton to become partly overgrown to encourage wildlife to thrive. The area is used for our "Nature and Tomb Trails" and for guided tours.

Councillor Ayas Fallon-Khan

Cabinet Member for Central Services, Brighton & Hove City Council

The books we like

As Janet Steet-Porter rightly says, friends do swap their favourite books rather than paying too much heed to literary prizes ("Booker prize snobs have lost the plot", 15 October). Long before the Booker list came out, I was given a book by a friend who raved about it. Since reading it, I too have been raving about it. The book? Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, shortlisted for the Booker. By all means, Janet, be an inverted literary snob, but risk missing out on a truly moving, beautiful novel.

Karen McMullan

Ballyclare, Co Antrim

Usual suspects

Researchers at Cambridge University are mistaken in their claim that poor parenting is to blame for the poor behaviour of primary school pupils ("Parents get the blame for naughty children", 15 October). Should pupils misbehave in class the fault lies with poor teaching. Any Ofsted inspector, armed with guidelines on how to evaluate lessons, would have been able to put the Cambridge people right on that one.

Stephen Shaw