Letters: Perspectives on fiscal principles

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A few more facts about taxation

What a contrast between the generous Ian Watson, comfortably off and willing to concede an additional point on basic rate tax, and the even more comfortably off Peter Salter (Letters, 31 December) on circa £44,000 pa who demurs at paying an extra £335 to lessen the burden on those less fortunate than himself.

Not so long ago, Gordon Brown decided it would be a cunning wheeze to dock those on £10,000pa £200pa to help fund two points off the basic rate of tax which would have benefited the likes of Salter by more than £600 pa even before he got the extra personal allowance that Alistair Darling eventually used to lessen the impact of the abolition of the 10 per cent band on those with moderate incomes.

But what is needed is not a penny on the basic rate but a return to the traditional 30 per cent basic rate that existed for many years before politicians realised that a largely innumerate electorate is easily fooled into thinking that a reduction in the basic rate is good news for all taxpayers rather than weighted very much in favour of the better-off. If the 20 per cent band was halved to £18,700 and the remainder taxed at 30 per cent, then only those on incomes above £25,175pa would pay any extra tax, and only those who were fortunate enough to earn more than the median income would see their income tax bills rise by more than £100, the amount that some of those who lost out when the 10 per cent band was abolished might still be out of pocket.

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Remember supertax?

Having read the letters about taxation, I am reminded of an uncle – now dead – who had been working for HSBC in Singapore when the Japanese invaded. He was co-opted into the militia but was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in Changi Camp. His wife managed to escape.

After the war, he managed a large branch in Delhi for years. Towards the end of his working life, he managed the bank's business in the whole of the Indian sub-continent from his office in London while living in a very nice house in Woking.

His salary was large and, at that time, a large portion was eligible for supertax, a rate of 19s 6d in the pound. This meant, for those of the modern generation, that for every pound he earned, he received just 2.5p. Having been a Labour man all of his life, he had no quibble with this, saying that with a salary like his, he was proud to pay supertax.

If he was still alive, he would have died of shame at the recent deplorable behaviour of senior banking staff.

Brian Wright, Colchester, Essex

Check your maths again

If 1 per cent on Peter Salter's tax bill really costs him £335, then he must already be paying tax of £33,350 on his £40,000 income. In that case, he would do much better to claim a refund, of about £26,000 for the current year, rather than worrying about theoretical future increases.

Harvey Cole, Winchester, Hampshire

Job creation must be real

Ed Miliband (report, 4 January) is right to wish to focus on the number of jobless youngsters in the UK. Yet I trust that whatever measure Labour comes up involves the creation of proper jobs paying at least the minimum wage, rather than the setting up of yet more make-work schemes such as New Deal.

That offered little in the way of training, and, over the past year, didn't even give participants any payment on top of someone's Job Seekers' Allowance. So people were, in effect, working for their benefit, being the cheapest of cheap labour sources.

By creating jobs themselves, the Government can do away with the middle-man, private firms which made a fortune finding placements for the jobless.

Incidentally, Labour must realise that unemployment is also a problem for the older worker, and ensure that jobs created cover all age categories.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, South Humberside

Tessa Jowell (report, Comment, 4 January) seems to conceive of the Labour Party as a kind of bespoke political shop, which formulates consumer-friendly policies on the basis of extensive market research, ignoring the fact that the public is a fickle customer. She either does not recognise, or chooses not to see, that the policies of the present government are entirely ideologically driven.

Whatever you wish to call it, neo-Thatcherism, perhaps, Labour is ruthlessly pursuing the agenda of an unambiguously right-wing party.

Because most of their victims – the poor, the elderly, the ill, the homeless – have neither political voice nor ecomomic power, it behoves Labour at least to try to imagine how it might politically motivate these people, and the many others who find the present government ideologically unsympathetic.

It would hardly be irresponsible to formulate and promote policies arrived at from even a more centrist, let alone almost left-wing intellectual position. If this government continues unopposed, it won't be too long before it damages the country beyond repair.

Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Ms Jowell's assertion that to win back power the Labour Party must stick to the centre ground is surely a capitulation. The working class have not stopped voting for her party; they have largely stopped voting, because they see little point. Consult the electoral registers used to record who has voted in areas of class C2 to E occupation in many areas and you will discover most entries are unmarked.

The present batch of professional politicians, middle-class, often privately educated and seemingly so unattached to any ideology that they will make U- turns, forget pledges and take sides with their political enemies at the drop of a career possibility, do not inspire or motivate people to vote.

Ms Jowell seems to be advocating that the party turn itself into a cross between the Women's Institute and Scouts, winning hearts and minds to gain votes. The centre ground is no more than shifting sands. The Labour Party has roots and these should be nurtured and encouraged with policies that will bring the chance of a better life for all and not just those who can afford it.

Helen McClintock, Havant, Hampshire

The teaching of religion

Peter Kerridge's letter (4 January) strikes a chord with a research exercise I did for the government's Education department between 1997 and 2008. That 10-year data-collection survey of separate representative national samples of primary and secondary schools into their subject teaching-times illustrated that not just RE but all the so-called "foundation subjects" (the non-tested ones) had dwindled to near-invisibility in their allocation of teaching-times.

All "foundation subjects" shared the common component of having decreased in teaching time since 1997 with the introduction of the so-called "standards agenda" and the crazy race to increase pupil scores in mathematics and English at the expense of every other subject.

Professor Bill Boyle, Chair of Educational Assessment, University of Manchester

I would agree with Peter Kerridge about the importance of RE in the curriculum if it were taught in all schools to the syllabus he describes, different faiths being described dispassionately without making value judgements about which was "right".

This would not happen; in this country, the majority would favour Christianity of various sorts, with sizable minorities of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. My suggestion is that RE should be taught as a branch of history, and by historians.

Carol Plackett, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

A word twist to put down women

Before the rejoicings become too widely spread about the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (report, 31 December), may I point out a small but significant mistranslation? In Romans 16, i, we read of "Phoebe our sister", "a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea". Yet if we look up the original Greek, we find that Phoebe is not a servant, but a deaconess. (The Greek words are "ousan diakonon".)

In this way, through a ruse of the translators, women's role was to remain for centuries that of polishing pews and arranging flowers, rather than serving in church.

Christopher Walker, London W14

File-sharing a boon for artistes

In your article about the rise in illegal downloads ("Britons 'downloaded 1.2bn illegal tracks this year'", 17 December) you quote Geoff Taylor as saying, "we must decide whether we can afford as a society to abandon ethical values we stand by elsewhere, that stealing is wrong". But he forgets that the "ethical values" he speaks of involve making a profit out of the hard work and creativity of others.

The artists whose talent a successful song relies on receive a disproportionately small amount from the CDs they sell. In fact, they make most of their money from touring and performing. For them, music sales are just a stepping-stone to publicise themselves to potential fans.

The Green Party has always supported the ethical values of freedom of information and accessibility to technology just as the internet community has, most notably with its objection to the Digital Economy Act and recent defence of WikiLeaks.

We are the only major political party that is in favour of legalising peer-to-peer file-sharing for non-commercial uses, and I believe that this would be a great help to many aspiring artistes, who wouldn't be forced into signing poor contracts with music companies but instead would achieve success through being talented.

The music industry must learn to adapt or be prepared to become a victim of modern technology.

Rustam Majainah, London N19

No real benefit in herbal ban

As a qualified medical herbalist, it is obvious to me that neither the public nor their reputable practitioners and trustworthy suppliers will be the ones to benefit from the new EU laws (Letters, 5 January) banning health products. There will be only a few who benefit from these unjust and discriminative restrictions.

Herbal medicines have been used safely for thousands of years. Can you really say that a drug medicine on the market for only a few years is safer than a herb such as camomile which has been used for hundreds of years?

I urge the public to get their information and herbs from their herbalist, or better still, have them prescribed. Our suppliers can trace each batch of herbs: we know exactly where they are from and that they are the actual product they say they are. The new EU rules also want to ban our suppliers; in any case, most would not be able to afford the £80,000 per product licence fee they're asking.

We are at risk of losing many of the common herbs, including yarrow, used for menstrual bleeding. This is because these herbs fall under the "commercially advertised" radar, with only the big names of research receiving exposure.

Patina Blakeney, Broadstairs, Kent

Land-value tax is the way forward

To help solve the housing crisis you suggest a land-value tax in your leading article (3 January). This would not only reduce the profits from speculation in housing it would make land more available and bring into productive use thousands of empty properties and vacant land.

But land-value tax should not be an additional tax but a replacement for council tax, VAT and taxes on wages and capital.

Land value is created by the community and, by raising public revenue in this way, it provides an essential component in a progressive tax policy that encourages economic development and ensures sustainable growth.

It will indeed take more than words to make property affordable, and unless land-value tax is given serious thought, I fear that housing will be denied to thousands of young people for many years.

Michael J Hawes, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Old, bold and fit as fleas

There is one factor not covered in Mary Dejevsky's article (Comment, 31 December), and it comes to mind every time my group of ageing Probus chaps meet, many of whom are aware of being long past their sell-by date.

This cohort, born in the 1920s, all lived though the period from 1940 to 1955 when food rationing in this country was the most stringent in Europe.

During these 15 years, from our early teens to our thirties, we chased around on our bikes, thin as rakes and as fit as fleas, not realising that this would be by far the most exciting time of our lives. One other factor; everyone could dance, and you didn't get a girlfriend if you couldn't.

This is now standing us in good stead; had we been able to carry on starving ourselves like this for the remainder of our lives, we would all live to be 100, annoying and pompous as ever. I doubt that the cohort born in the middle 1930s will live as long, for as younger children they were cosseted with orange juice and love. And most of them are fat and unable to dance.

Gordon King, Highnam, Gloucestershire

Dreadful way of slaughter

I am not entering into the discussion on ritual slaughter (Letters, 30 December), but of the rights and wrongs of having an animal put down by this method of slaughter. First, who on earth would do this to her animal? How terrified it must have been whilst its head is being held with the knife cutting through flesh, muscle, veins etc, all while, in her own words, "realising its fate".

Second, having run a sanctuary for many years, I have had to have many horses, ponies and donkeys put to sleep, mostly by injection. What I don't understand is who injected her second pony which, in her own words, "lay for hours while the poison acted, knowing he was doomed". Why was it left for hours ? Any vet that allowed the slow death of one of my animals would be reported.

In all my years, each time the vet administered the injection, the animal would sink to the ground and was dead immediately. I was always with my animals and can say that not one of them was aware of what was happening and the end was quick and stress-free. I am totally disgusted by the whole content of the letter.

Lyn Sawkins, South West Horse and Donkey Rescue, Holsworthy, Devon

Doctor Who hit may be a Miss

Ben Walsh (Arts & Books, 4 January) makes the case for the next Doctor Who actor to be an actress; the fact that the character is male should be no barrier in this day and age; Doctor Who is not the only case to which this principle can be applied.

There's another well-known and prestigious role which has been portrayed by many different actors over the years; why can't the next James Bond be a woman? And what about the classic serials? No woman has ever been cast as Mr Darcy or Heathcliff.

Gender equality must be applied both ways, of course, so we should also address the situation which has so far prevented a man from playing Cathy, or Jane Eyre, while the recent revival of Upstairs Downstairs has missed a clear opportunity to cast Jamie Oliver as Mrs Hudson. And surely, to address the clear discrimination against half of the country's pet-owners, it is long past time that Gromit was played by a cat?

Dr Joe McGinnis, Ingleby Barwick, Cleveland


Your correspondence on PR and AV (3 January) reminds me of the time the script writers deployed it in an episode of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. The men, unable to decide what colour to paint their hut, used the system to vote on a choice of colours; no one voted for the colour yellow but, forced to make two choices, and with the votes for all the other colours divided, that is what they ended up with. The scene ends with prophetic words. Dennis: "So nobody gets what they want?" Barry: 'That's democracy, innit". Sound familiar?

Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent

The last word

In Anthony Bramley-Harker's whimsical list of alternative beats for Independent journalists (Letters, 3 January), he refers to my family as "dysfunctional" and to me as "delectable". We're not dysfunctional. And, sadly, I think delectable might be the wrong word, too.

Jane Viner, Docklow, Herefordshire