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Thursday 7 October 2010
Letters: Perspectives on child benefit
Nobody has to have children
I am mystified by the cries of "unfair" regarding the proposed cuts in child benefit. The fundamental question is why it should ever be paid to anyone other than the most desperately needy (impoverished widows, the genuinely disabled and/or unemployable).
Bringing children into the world is a choice; it is no longer an occupational hazard of sexual relationships, as reliable contraception has been available for generations. The planet is overcrowded and we no longer need to "populate or perish" – in fact, we are more likely to "populate and perish". We no longer need to produce massive armies to go out and kill other people – wars are much less labour-intensive these days. And, as we all know, there aren't as many jobs as there used to be.
The suggestion by Dudley Dean (letter, 5 October) that those with children will lose out by having their benefits cut whereas those without children will not flies in the face of logic. The childless pay the same amount of tax as do parents and therefore support the provision of free education, free NHS treatment and all manner of benefits for other people's children.
The idea that children are, ipso facto, a benefit to society and one to which we should all be thrilled to subsidise needs to be challenged. Children can be a source of great joy and fulfilment, but they should first and foremost be the economic responsibility of those who made the choice to have them.
Katherine Scholfield, Roborough, Devon
Tory attack on welfare state
The Tories are laughing all the way to the ballot box. This cut in child benefit for the rich is proving a political masterstroke.
That sounds an extraordinary thing to say, given the sustained attacks they are suffering, but their response is to say: "Look, with this deficit we have to make tough choices; and it is only fair that the richest 15 per cent give up this benefit so that there is more money to go round." This episode is enabling the Tories to identify themselves with fairness, and remove the impression that they are all about helping the rich.
Meanwhile, all the attention on those poor parents earning anywhere between £45,000 and infinity is taking attention away from what really matters about this: the impact on the welfare state itself. An iconic universal benefit has been taken away from the rich. This will universalise the principle of means-testing for state benefits, and loosen any remaining sense of "buy-in" that the rich have to the welfare state.
Before we know it we will be looking at taking away NHS provision from the richest, on the grounds that they can afford private healthcare. That would be bad for us all. The poorest welfare states are those which are designed only for the poor.
The Tories are concerned with the long-term reframing of British politics.
Cllr Rupert Read, Green Party, Norwich
Subsidy for rich spouses
Gina Purrman (letter, 6 October) writes that mothers (and fathers) who stay at home are not making "a lifestyle choice". She seems to be forgetting that child benefit is paid long past the age at which children have started school.
There is no reason why taxpayers should subsidise the spouses of well-paid workers so that they can attend coffee mornings and yoga classes. For once the boy George appears to have got it right.
Brian Carter, Lowestoft, Suffolk
Single parents are to suffer dual discrimination: once if they hit the higher-tax ceiling and again when the married tax allowance comes in. And Nick Clegg's response? Silence. Still the same old Tories, unfettered.
Margaret Adams, Keighley, West Yorkshire
Fat bonuses and no risk
The letter from the Lord Mayor of London (6 October), in his role as apologist for the banks, falls way short of the mark in assuaging the ire of this country. The trickle-down effect of taxes or any other expenditure by the overpaid is never a justification for inequality. Far from being an asset to this country, the financial services industry as currently constituted is a drain on the nation. It leaches money out of the economy and lures some of the brightest scientists, mathematicians and engineers away from productive enterprise.
I speak as an insider who worked in financial services for 20 years until 2003. In that time, it mutated from a service industry where entrepreneurs were risking their own capital in stockbroking, fund management and investment banking, with most enjoying good, but not obscene rewards in good years and getting nothing in bad years.
All that changed with deregulation in 1986. After the purchase by public limited companies of these partnerships, the risk was removed from the individuals but they somehow tricked the plcs, which were ultimately high street banks, into matching the pay of the bumper years.
The cuckoos have grown larger and larger and retain an increasing proportion of the income of the banks for themselves, leaving little for shareholders. Their preferred methods are little short of theft, as high-frequency trading and short selling diminish returns to longer-term investors. Pre-1986 they took a modest proportion of an expanding cake. The only reason they pay themselves so much now is that they can get away with it. The banks must be split up so that risk and reward are properly matched.
As we become a poorer country, I would prefer to become a fairer country. If that means forgoing the tax revenue of casino bankers as they relocate to Switzerland, so be it.
Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire
The Lord Mayor of London dismisses debate on bank bonuses as "emotional", but just how factual are his statements that tax paid on them to the Treasury will be greater than 28 per cent and that £4.1bn will be paid in direct and indirect taxation on this year's bonuses?
The source for his figures – which include National Insurance – appears to be a statistical report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a consultancy business. However, does anyone have knowledge as to the proportion of the bonuses which will actually be taxed in the UK and at what rates? Will such figures ever be released by the Revenue?
Alistair Darling is reported to have said that his supertax on bank bonuses simply did not work because of the "imaginative tactics used by the people it was targeting". Was he just being emotional?
Trevor Gidman, Crawley, West Sussex
It seems nothing effective can be done about bank bonuses (which are still huge after tax) other than mouthing platitudes about their unacceptability while good businesses are being starved of loans.
But, as a few in the City do admit, the whole bonus culture is excessive and needs radical change; even if the banks were lending to industry's satisfaction, would such bonuses be acceptable?
No one has yet explained why bankers deserve or have to be paid such sums, in contrast to other global industries equally dependant on recruiting and retaining the best talent worldwide in their industries.
John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife
Reasons to learn French
Julie Burchill's article about the French language (6 October) stands as an embarrassing indictment of our education system. In her outpouring of prejudice, she has not checked basic facts.
Learn Italian, learn Spanish, she says, because the French are precious enough to have an Academy for their language. With a couple of clicks, she could have discovered the existence of the Accademia Crusca, set up to protect the "purity" of the Italian language, or the plethora of academies that exist in Spanish-speaking lands (Asturian, Gallician, Castillian, Mexican, to name but a few) – or even of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the language which she congratulates herself on being "smart" enough to learn.
Independent readers might appreciate a more informed and intelligent discussion on issues such as laissez-faire against dirigisme in matters both linguistic and economic, or how best the EU can promote a range of languages and which ones it should translate.
It would be excellent if our schoolchildren were learning Russian and Mandarin, but let's start by promoting those languages which are reasonably accessible to us and for which we have the teachers (Spanish, French), and since the knowledge of one language helps with learning others, these will hopefully help with learning Mandarin or Hindi in the future. At the moment, people in Britain are not learning much of any other language or culture, and it shows.
Professor Carol Sanders, Headley Down, Hampshire
Si je voulais lire un article d'une telle ignorance et racisme que celui de Julie Burchill de mercredi matin j'aurais choisi The Sun. Je n'attendais jamais lire rien de si désagréable dans un journal tel que le votre, que je choisis grace à sa réputation d'un journalisme équilibré et d'un certain qualité.
Non seulement a Burchill attacqué la langue française – une langue d'une élégance et logique sans pareil – mais tous les français. Depuis quand l'Indépendent est-il du style "hop off you frogs"?
Ce n'est pas le français qu'on doit jeter dans "la poubelle de l'histoire" – c'est plutôt ces sentiments préjugés qui ne devaient pas trouver de place dans votre journal.
David Burgess, Little Bardfield, Essex
Make academic ideas pay
With regard to Richard Garner's article in on the cost of university education (4 October), one practical source of money which seems to have been neglected is UK industry.
There are of course several mechanisms, albeit modest in scope, whereby industry funds universities. However, these mechanisms focus on quite specific technological niche areas of university expertise and research and the reimbursements are correspondingly small. Industry allocates about £11bn to its own "in-house" research and development, but only £312m to higher education.
Commercial exploitation of university expertise for new ideas and product development doesn't just depend on the low-hanging fruit evidenced by technology transfer agreements and the like, but is critically dependent on the total of that "public domain" knowledge base. Any major innovative technology used in industry is sub-served by at least a dozen key subsidiary ideas and concepts embedded for the most part in conventional academic research.
The best available evidence for this can be gleaned by examination of innovative technology-based patents. All such patents have to submit a short list of basic ideas (usually five to six key publications) that not only led to the current breakthrough in question but were absolutely critical for its realisation. It is this hidden "substratum", largely academic in origin, that constitutes the historical antecedents of all patentable ideas and should therefore constitute a cost-factor for industry.
It makes sense to figure out some kind of payment to universities by industry to reflect this anomalous situation relating to public domain information and so ease the growing burden envisaged for students in the UK. A reasonable percentage of the industrial in-house R&D spending would go a long way to solving the current conundrum.
John Jennings, Oswestry, Shropshire
Have you heard parents speak?
I find my generation quite depressing sometimes, and especially the way we are turning into our parents. Teenage conversation, which has been criticised by your recent correspondents, serves the same purpose as everyone else's, and though teenagers' style and syntax may be different, they use speech in just the same way other people talk about the weather. It's called small talk, and we all make it.
Among their friends they use whatever slang is fashionable, and if it sounds stifled of vocabulary and rather ungrammatic to you, have you also noticed how we all talk? Our conversation is full of lost modifiers and non sequiturs, our verbs disagree and we lose track of the original subject halfway through a secondary clause. Informal speech is universally a mess, and if you don't believe me, dig out a few transcriptions on the internet: even the speech of educated people sounds quite illiterate.
Teenagers are perfectly capable of formal speech when they need it, but if they choose not to use it when they talking among themselves, that is their business. You can base a theory of teenagers on what you have overheard on the train if you like, but that is about as sensible as presenting a theory of adult conversation based on a few casual overhearings in the pub.
We must stop turning into our parents before it's too late.
Greg Whitehead, Northampton
Turned away by charities
I was dismayed to hear Boris Johnson say at a City Hall reception last week that he hoped young people would not "do a gap year in Tanzania" but instead "help young people in my city of London, where there is poverty and deprivation."
Having just embarked on a gap year myself, I was very keen to use this as an opportunity to volunteer with some worthwhile charities in London until the end of the year (instead of pulling pints in pubs) before going travelling. I contacted over 40 city-based charities offering my services for free; most did not bother to respond and those that did told me that they didn't require volunteers. I had one positive response, namely Barnardo's, and I look forward to working with them on some of their projects (although I have not been allowed to participate on some as I have been told four months is not a long enough commitment).
I wholeheartedly agree that teenagers should put back into the community closer to home – but please encourage charities to open up opportunities.
Freddie Brodermann, Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire
Fake faith wins school places
I agree with Tony Bex (letter, 4 October) about the immoral example set to children in order to get them into church schools. The fault lies as much with some school governors who collude with the deceit.
In one northern town half the pupils in church primary schools were Asian, yet the church secondary school was the only "white" school. It was heavily over-subscribed, not just by the demand from "faux Christian" parents, but by those wanting their children to avoid racially mixed classes.
Half of those who gained admission stopped attending church by the time their children started school. Add in the numbers of those who failed to get in, and there were generations of teenagers who had been set a poor example of morality.
Canon Christopher Hall, Deddington, Oxfordshire
Clean up the mean streets
The announcement by the Education Secretary that head-teachers are to be given power to discipline pupils for misbehaviour outside school hours makes me wonder if he read DC comics as a young boy. I guess Michael Gove dreams at night of gangs of caped headmasters sweeping the streets in local communities, dealing with oiks, rescuing cats from trees and helping old ladies cross the road.
Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex
Draft letter to Headteacher. Sir: My Johnny ran riot last weekend. Why didn't you stop him?
Mike Brayshaw, Worthing, West Sussex
Your two pages on China (2 October) illustrate just how old-fashioned such a state-capitalist system can be. Instead of letting market capitalism speculate on futures, there they are quaintly buying up the resources themselves and plotting a long-term industrial future. We of course rejected such a path ages ago in favour of banking bonuses, bailouts and quantitative easing. I imagine we will discover which path was the more sensible on the day that we happy Brits wake up, switch on the central heating and find that nothing happens.
Alan Hallsworth, Waterlooville, Hampshire
I can support a government cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, but when they mess with things they don't understand this can be dangerous ("Child protection centre row grows as more staff resign", 6 October). The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has a track record of keeping children safe in a world that most of us don't fully understand. Their budget seems, to me, a small price to pay for this. If it's not broken, why fix it?
Harvey Gallagher, London W7
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