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Friday 2 September 2011
Letters: Perspectives on the aftermath of the August riots
Insurance costs breed ghettos of the future
It's not just the draconian sentences passed by the courts after the recent riots that will further alienate and insulate significant parts of our cities and towns. My son has just moved from Hammersmith to Stepney to be nearer his work. When he contacted his car insurance company about his change of address he was told he would have to pay an extra £950 a year on top of his already hefty premium because there had been riots in that part of east London.
It's easy to understand the logic of this policy, which is probably already being applied to house and contents insurance as well, but it will almost certainly have damaging though no doubt unintended social consequences. Car ownership, which helps to provide a sense of social inclusion, will become prohibitively expensive in the areas where there were riots, as a result of which more people will drive while uninsured, and, most important of all, those with economic power who have the means to choose where to live will be deterred from moving there.
The lessons are clear. If you want the poor to get poorer and more isolated, and the merely disaffected to become actively destructive, the market will do the job very effectively for you. If you want a less unequal society in which there is a sense of interconnectedness and belonging, and opportunity for real social mobililty, the market has to be reined in so that its operation is secondary, not superior, to those goals. As with the banks also, that is what government is for.
Jeremy Walker, London WC1
No-go estates don't shock us any more
I was pleased to read your report "Cameron rejects claim politicians' behaviour was to blame for riots", 31 August – because it examined the cause of the riots. My charity SPID (Specially Produced Innovatively Directed) champions arts projects for council-estate teenagers. For us the problem is not how to deal with today's rioters, it's the generation upon generation of rioters in the pipeline.
We have grown accustomed to phenomena that police seemed surprised by, such as seven-year-olds smashing public property. Police simply will not venture on to some of the estates where we work, and we are far less shocked than they seem to be, because we have seen this coming.
SPID's futuristic youth film Affected, about greed-possessed zombies, predicted the looting with alarming accuracy. Our Team Spirit drama, about a team of teenagers' challenge to gang culture, toured West London council estates against a backdrop of frighteningly atmospheric violence.
Something has to give when impoverished children are told to consume and consume. In our view the advertising that saturates young people's childhood is a major concern. We need to change society fundamentally if we are to avoid disaffecting our young people.
Helena Thompson, Artistic Director, SPID Theatre Company, London W10
Faith can be a good start for politics
Christina Patterson argues that faith groups should not be brought into politics (Opinion, 31 August). But not everybody who wants faith to play a part in politics is naive, or a fundamentalist literalist. The truth is that – as the history of the Labour Party shows very clearly – faith can be a great starting point for politics. Faith is a source of crucial values: responsibility, solidarity, patience, compassion, truthfulness. They are all values which modern politics urgently needs more of.
The Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History campaigns drew their energy from the churches. We have some very effective faith-based employment projects.
It's fair enough to poke fun at the religious right in the USA. But it would be a mistake to try and banish belief in God from the public sphere. We mustn't exclude from our discourse thinking which has faith as its starting point and which has a great deal of value to contribute.
Stephen Timms MP (East Ham, Labour)
House of Commons
Christina Patterson's piece apparently demonstrates exactly the same failing as she sees in others – that of knowing very little about "faith groups".
In fact, she knows so little about faith groups that she is forced to grub around in the murky backwaters of Tea Party politics for examples of thinking and behaviour which are risible or offensive enough to warrant the exclusion of all Christian voices from public life. Post hoc, this bizarrely provides grounds for a complaint against free schools and a justification for exclusion of religious perspectives from public life per se.
The implication that lurking somewhere beneath even the gentlest expressions of Christian charity is a misanthropic agenda to control people is quite simply scare-mongering, and an attempt to curtail the democratic right of religious people to argue for a vision of the common good. Nor does it help to resolve the very real questions around the inclusion of faith-based voluntary agencies in service provision in the "Big Society". If it needs saying again, Christina Patterson's blanket exclusion of faith perspectives on public life would exclude Martin Luther King, Kier Hardie, Donald Soper, Oscar Romero and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as well as Michelle Bachmann. Life just isn't that simple.
Elizabeth Hunter, Director, Theos
John Wainwright (letter, 31 August) complains that requiring registrars to perform ceremonies for gays discriminates against Christians and their beliefs.
Christians generally hold that a church wedding is preferable to a civil ceremony, and, at least in the Anglican and Catholic Churches, usually the priest can act as registrar. The civil ceremony provides for those who exclude themselves from churches (such as atheists) or whom the churches exclude (gays and divorcees).
It therefore seems odd to maintain that someone employed to perform civil ceremonies can use religious objections to choose who they act for.
Sean Barker, Bristol
End apartheid for travellers
I have long been perplexed by the counter-intuitive idea of a "permanent traveller site". Your editorial (1 September) regarding the Dale Farm controversy does nothing to resolve the contradiction inherent in this oxymoron, despite its sensitive and pragmatic tone. What people object to about so-called traveller sites is that they are permanent (not transient) and are removed from mainstream communities, places where the laws and obligations that the mainstream community are expected to adhere to do not appear to hold.
What we have, dotted through the British countryside, are apartheid-like communities dedicated to a group that is entitled to special protections under European human rights law. By their very nature these communities are exclusive to those who define themselves not by ethnicity (for most are of Anglo-Irish stock) but by a lifestyle choice. We are told that this lifestyle choice engenders some of the lowest standards of social well being (educational levels, health, life expectancy, drug and alcohol abuse etc) in the country.
It is tragic, especially for those trapped in these communities, that the denouement in Dale Farm has such potential for conflict. "Compromise" is the key word of your editorial. The only compromise that resolves the inherent contradiction is for settled communities to embrace traveller families into the mainstream of their communities, and for the families themselves to forgo their rights to a lifestyle that is both separate and inferior to that which the rest of us enjoy.
The state must not subsidise or facilitate "separate and unequal" communities. No special dispensations should be provided except those that encourage traveller families to join the mainstream. As individuals and families they are as entitled to all the rights and benefits as the rest of us: no more, no less.
We claim to be an inclusive, multi-cultural country. There can be no place for apartheid in the UK.
Chris Forse, Stratford upon Avon
The mob outside Hillsborough
It was with great sadness that I read the letter from Barry Devonside ("As I searched for my dead son, the police were getting their story straight", 31 August) concerning his experience of the disaster at Hillsborough in 1989. I find it almost impossible to imagine the horror of the day, and believe it to be axiomatic that those who died were completely innocent.
However I find his assertion, "that was the start of the campaign to blacken the name of ... the supporters, most of whom were normal decent people who simply went to a football match", to be an example of oft-repeated disingenuousness.
My wife and one of our neighbours had the misfortune to be travelling past the ground in a double-decker bus just before the scheduled kick-off, and found themselves halted by a frightening mass of angry fans, some of whom began to rock the bus from side to side, to the extent that my wife and her friend were in genuine fear that it would be overturned.
I have no interest in football, nor have I ever been to a football game, and so have no way of knowing whether such extreme mob behaviour was typical of football fans of the time. I do, however, wonder whether this and similar actions may have led the police to take decisions which were, in retrospect, horribly wrong, and whether it is time that the mob outside the ground took at least some of the blame for subsequent events.
Terry Whitham, Sheffield
When it's fair to pay women less
Joan Smith is perfectly right that only a misogynist would seek to justify unequal pay on the grounds that men are universally better than women ("What if women paid less tax?", 1 September). Genuinely unequal pay based on gender is unjustifiable.
Where the quoted figures on equal pay become muddled however, is where women are paid less because they have taken career breaks to raise children. This may be an unpopular view, but it seems perfectly fair to me that pay scales can offer rewards for the expertise and experience that comes from unbroken service in a job.
Thus it is not unfair that a man who has worked for five uninterrupted years in a post should be further up the pay scale than a woman returning to an equivalent post with, say, only two years' experience. There will be cases where couples decide that a man will take a career break to raise children. In that circumstance it would be only fair for him to earn less on his return to work than a woman who had done the same job for longer.
As for Joan's suggestion that women pay 20 per cent less on a variety of taxes, that really would be unfair and discriminatory. I would be the first to take legal action under equality legislation.
Tim Matthews, Luton, Bedfordshire
No excuses for obesity
Having spent my adult life ignoring the views of parsons and priests about how I should live my life, I am not likely to take the views of so-called bioethicists very seriously and I suggest that governments should not do so either (Letter, 29 August).
There is one very practical reason why governments should be concerned about an increase in obesity. That reason is the impact on future NHS budgets. Reducing the need for medical intervention is always going to be a better option than introducing some form of rationing to prevent health costs growing out of control.
Instead of blaming governments or the food industry, we should be placing much of the responsibility on individuals. After years of dithering we only had government action on smoking in public when it had come to be seen as anti-social. Being grossly overweight isn't a disability, it is a self-inflicted injury. Let's start saying so.
Our packaged and canned food is already well labelled with fat, carbohydrate, salt and fibre content clearly displayed as grams per hundred grams of food or as grams per serving. Let's stop making excuses for people who cannot be bothered to read it by suggesting that it is too complicated and that we need a "traffic light" system.
A diet high in vegetables and fruit is a diet low in fat, but it takes time to prepare and cook. Let's stop pretending that what puts people off eating like this is cost or availability or living busy lives. What puts them off is that it is less convenient than opening a packet – that is, laziness.
Dr Les May, Rochdale, Lancashire
Open culture at Tate
I am writing to respond to three articles that appeared in The Independent last week about Tate.
The suggestion that Tate has engaged consultants to use unorthodox psychological methods to achieve change or make staffing reductions is simply untrue. The people referred to are members of Tate staff who were employed as project managers to support change programmes within the Gallery. Neither has been employed in a consultancy capacity.
Furthermore, at Tate we are committed to trying to create a more open culture and one which provides everyone with an environment in which their contribution is valued and respected. In October 2010 we implemented a Dignity and Respect at Work Policy and also undertook an employee survey to canvas staff views about their experience of working at Tate.
The survey revealed overwhelmingly positive feedback about the commitment and loyalty of staff with 90 per cent of staff indicating that they were proud to work at Tate. This survey also revealed areas for improvement, and, while issues of dignity and respect in the workplace were shown to be in line with those at other similar organisations, any instance of bullying or harassment is unacceptable at Tate. We are being proactive in addressing this and Trustees have supported this approach.
Alex Beard, Deputy Director, Tate, London SW1
Shameful call to shun orchestra
I read with contempt the letter signed by musicians dismayed that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will be part of the Proms (30 August). Since when did we stoop so low that it has now become acceptable to use education and the arts as a platform for protest?
It is gravely upsetting that we can no longer separate musical talent from politics. What will be next? Will we find ourselves heckling the Divan Orchestra, which brings Arab and Israeli musicians together to help foster Israel-Arab relations?
The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, should be applauded for rejecting this shameful call for a boycott. Just as musical talent in no way represents the government of Israel, we need to ensure that this type of abuse has no place in Britain.
Laura Ellman, London N12
The reason why so many support the Palestinians is that a viable diplomatic remedy is denied them because the US is invariably ready to block any vote that would allow the implementation of UN resolutions in favour of a Palestinian state.
The so-called Palestinian Papers prove that no realistic concession is ever enough for an Israeli government. Israel is allowed a nuclear arsenal and guaranteed American support, yet pleads for its own security instead of pacifying the Palestinians in the only meaningful way it can – by accepting the pan-Arab peace offer on the table to this day.
Israel can continue its present policies for as long as its supporters at home and abroad allow it but, after it has grabbed all the lands it seeks and perhaps even expelled all Arabs living in the new, enlarged Israel, can it guarantee that all its neighbours remain as weak and divided as they are now and all its friends as powerful and unassailable as they are now?
Satanay Dorken, London, N10
Cycling in Vienna
My balcony overlooks a busy traffic junction in the centre of Vienna. While reading the letters in The Independent complaining about cycling miscreants, I watched the police issuing on-the-spot fines to everyone ignoring a red light. No motorists transgressed, but 43 cyclists were accosted. I predict that this zero tolerance of cycling delinquency will have a dramatic effect – to monitor the outcome Boris Johnson is welcome to join me for Kaffee und Kuchen.
Dr John Doherty, Vienna
Having cycle-commuted since the start of my working life, in the early 1980s, and had my fair share of "accidents" and "incidents", I have come to the conclusion that riding along the pavement, no hands, sporting a black hoodie, will get me more noticed than my current fluorescent clothing, lights and reflectors. My conclusion was reached today when a red van in South Croydon pulled out into my path – but then I was interrupting their telephone conversation.
S Scarsbrook, Redhill, Surrey
Any other name
Richard Edmondson writes that his wife, Alex Crawford, gets angry if styled as a "female reporter" (29 August). My brother Patrick does not refer to himself in print as "Pat", for obvious reasons. Maybe Ms Crawford should consider the significance of using a cross-gender shortening of her first name, and be a little more understanding of others.
David Stewart, London NW8
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