Military millions vanish in smoke
Every day, disquiet and confusion over the British role in the military intervention in Libya is increasing. The policy of the ConDems is based on the claim that Britain is virtually bankrupt and there is not enough money even for essential health services and education.
When we are faced with massive cuts to the NHS, local government, and education budgets, the cost of expensive missiles and bombing missions is a serious concern.
We are just a few days into this conflict, and considering that the reported cost of a missile ranges from £300,000 to £650,000, Britain's bill looks set to be tens of millions of pounds, probably hundreds of millions of pounds.
How can we afford this expensive military adventure? If the government claims that we can somehow afford this, why couldn't the spending cuts be done more slowly over a longer period? Or perhaps the real intention is to distract domestic focus away from present economic difficulties.
Bulent Gokay, Professor of International Relations, Keele University, Staffordshire
Am I right to assume that the UK government has sufficient money in the kitty to fund yet another adventure in the Middle East and, if so, can I also conclude that the financial crisis we are constantly being lectured about isn't quite as grim as we've been led to believe?
John Krispinussen, Chippenham, Wiltshire
So the Libyan air force has been destroyed. Presumably, whether Gaddafi stays or whether he is ousted, it will have to be replaced. This is encouraging news for British Aerospace and the British economy in general.
John Tilbury, Deal, Kent
Caught in the middle with you
Michael Grenfell makes a relevant point (letters, 27 March). The Independent often appears to attack both sides of an argument, hence its stance on the UN-backed attacks on Libya. This may seem self-contradictory. But the clue is in the the title. The Independent makes us think twice. Are we right? Are we wrong?
It's the only national newspaper which, despite projecting an apparent liberal centre-left stance, considers all the issues around any political subject. Without this dichotomy, The Independent would be just another proselytising mouthpiece for whatever political hue one prefers. Long may it continue to flaunt its "hypocrisy".
Michael O'Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
While the Conservative Party's cheerleaders in the media obsess over a reduction of 1p a litre on fuel, George Osborne slipped out the news that the Government intends to reverse Labour's 50 per cent tax band for those earning over £150,000 a year.
Returning the tax rate to 40 per cent would amount to a tax cut of £85,000 a year for those on £1m a year, and £485,000 for a banker on £5m a year. No wonder 51 per cent of the Conservative Party's income during 2010 was donated by bankers and hedge-fund managers.
George Osborne stated that the cut would be made when it was "affordable", afforded of course by cutting benefits for those who have been unemployed for a year, slashing grants to universities and replacing them with tripled tuition fees, breaking the pension link to the RPI in favour of the lower CPI, closing Sure Start nurseries and so on.
Christopher Clayton, Waverton, Cheshire
Imagine how delighted I was to hear that George Osborne is to share the wealth. I couldn't wait to share the news with my sister that, in just over a year, she will be better off by the magnificent sum of 87p a week (£45 per annum).
She is a care worker, paid £9,100 per annum, and has just been informed by her local authority that she faces a rent increase of £24 a month because George Osborne wants to bring rent for social housing more in line with the private sector. My sister now works extra shifts to pay the rent increase.
Still, at least George is going to tackle the severe lack of affordable housing in this country, where a million people are on the council/social housing waiting-list, with the Government-backed shared-equity scheme to help 10,000 first-time buyers to purchase properties.
The scheme, intended to help the very few and not the many, is going to be paid for by the levy on the banks. That's the same levy on the banks that is going to pay for the drop in corporation tax to other businesses.
George Osborne has gone to an awful lot of trouble to make it seem as if the banks are paying more tax, when they are not. What's more, it is estimated that the UK loses up to £120bn per annum in tax avoidance yet George's "clampdown" will net only £1bn this year. This seems perverse.
Julie Partridge, London SE10
The Chancellor is keen to promote himself as the car-owner's friend, in contrast to the previous Labour government, who supposedly had a war on the motorist. But Labour did do away with the fuel-price escalator, while reducing the road-fund licence for most private vehicles. The cost of motoring fell in real terms, in contrast to bus and rail fares which continued to increase.
The 1p a litre reduction is irrelevant as anything more than a political gesture. It amounts to less than 1 per cent of the pump price, which varies from petrol station to petrol station. What's more, the effect on prices as a result of the earlier VAT rise was more than this new cut.
I would have rather have seen bus companies get their fuel subsidies restored or help with domestic fuel prices than this sop to car-drivers.
Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby
George Osborne appeared to be rather more excited than he should have been about the 1p cut in the cost of a litre of petrol. With a litre of unleaded about 130p, this amounts to a 0.75 per cent cut, or, in the parlance of the supermarkets, "Buy 130, get one free". With the usual price variation, this cut will get lost in the noise.
Since Osborne has already increased VAT, which applies to petrol, and with the record petrol price therefore boosting the revenue via VAT, the waiving of the next fuel duty rise is also less of a give-away than perhaps Mr Osborne would like us to think.
Jonathan Aird, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
The best way the Chancellor can help first-time buyers is by keeping well out of the housing market and leaving it alone to allow house prices to fall to their natural level, which will be a level where first-time buyers can afford to buy. That's the level house prices have always fallen to after a boom.
Rob Michaels, Bournemouth
"Osborne [Chancellor] bets on growth", (headline, 24 March)? Surely up there with "Dog bites man"?
Chris Beeley, Nottingham
His figures just do not add up
Dominic Lawson's use of statistics ("The public spending 'massacre' is a lie", 22 March) doesn't bear scrutiny. In 1997, Labour inherited a debt to GDP ratio of 41.9 per cent, reducing it to 35.7 per cent by 2007; so much for profligacy. And improvements to a threadbare public realm, including the NHS and community infrastructure, were achieved. The debt to GDP ratio increased to 61.2 per cent only in 2011 after the greatest economic crash since the 1930s. Is Lawson claiming that public debt doubled – the equivalent of at least £400bn – in three years because of reckless investment in public services? If so, I think the rest of us missed it. Bailing out the banks and a decrease of GDP by 6 per cent were the reasons.
The UK has a national debt stretching back centuries. Average annual debt to GDP since 1692 is 101.7 per cent. The average ratio for 18 years of Conservative government was 37.8 per cent compared to 36.4 per cent for 13 years of Labour. The UK's public debt is also middling in the G20 and G7, contradicting Coalition claims that the UK is facing bankruptcy. The rush for fast, deep cuts in public spending is ideological, already derailing recovery and hitting the most vulnerable hardest.
Kevin Gulliver, Human City Institute, Birmingham
Census took me home at last
As a British citizen of Palestinian origin, stating my country of birth often poses a problem, and this came to a head when completing the Census 2011 form.
My birthplace, Beit Jala, lies in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Until 1948 it was Palestine; when I was born in 1951 it was under Jordanian rule and I received a Jordanian birth certificate; it was occupied by Israel in 1967, and is now referred to by the UK Government as the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The census form allows only 17 characters for the answer, so that officially sanctioned name does not fit. I wasn't sure if "OPT" was a recognised abbreviation, so I called the census helpline.
After much internal consultation, and reference to guidance notes, I was told that "We all know it's occupied" and that I should simply write "Palestine", which I have done, with considerable pride and satisfaction.
It's gratifying that at least Census 2011 is clear about the reality, even while the UK Government dithers. My British passport states my town of birth but mentions no country, presumably a diplomatic cop-out to avoid controversy. Let's hope that the UK Government gets off the fence and properly recognises Palestine as a country.
Johnny Rizq, London W3
One of your correspondents suggests that translation is to blame for the high cost of the census (Letters, 23 March). She greatly overestimates what translators charge: even allowing for the most generous rates, and assuming that translations are actually requested into all the languages listed rather than being available on demand, I estimate that translation would account for less than 2 per cent of the total cost.
Monitoring the numbers who need a translated version should also generate more accurate data about how many would benefit from English tuition; both left and right want to see members of minority communities being able to communicate in English, but funding was savaged by the last government and has not been restored by the present one.
Janet Fraser, Fellow, Institute of Translation and Interpreting, Twickenham, Middlesex
Ugly threat to girls is rising
Research in 2007 estimated that more than 20,000 girls in the UK are at risk of female genital mutilation, with the number likely to have risen since. The practice, which in the words of a victim is "the most horrific thing any woman can go through", can cause serious health problems, from bleeding and infections to infertility, complications at childbirth or even death.
The Manor Gardens FGM Forum consists of over 30 frontline health, voluntary and safeguarding organisations fighting to eradicate the practice in London. In March, we wrote to Theresa May, the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, expressing grave concerns over the lack of an action plan to protect girls and young women. The Government has just published the first multi-agency guidelines to enable professionals to recognise the risk and respond appropriately. But, due to the funding cuts, the guidelines are destined to stay unread by over-stretched safeguarding professionals.
GPs, best-placed to recognise when a child has been subjected to mutilation, will be sent the guidelines in an electronic learning resource, that, presumably, they will access in their spare time. Teachers, at the frontline of protecting children, may or may not be trained, depending on the individual schools. There is no money to circulate sufficient hard copies to all frontline professionals.
The Government is being short-sighted in cutting funds for frontline services and not investing in the effective implementation of the guidelines. In the absence of preventive work from schools, health and voluntary organisations, the Government will have to spend significantly more in specialist health services and maternity care.
Hekate Papadaki, Manor Gardens FGM Initiative, London N7
Fair restraints for tough youths
I write in response to Penelope Gibb (letter, 23 March). I spent six years working at a young offender institution and had to use control and restraint on many occasions. I can guarantee that control and restraint is the last resort.
All staff were trained in crisis intervention and would often spend hours talking to the offenders before using restraint. People seem to forget that many of these boys are hard, streetwise and fearless, and I have seen them push staff beyond all limits. After a restraint, the investigation is rigorous and if any officer involved is suspected of acting outside the tight rules, he or she is immediately suspended pending an inquiry.
Privately operated young offender institutions also have targets set by the Government and can be fined if too many restraints occur. I was once informed by my line manager that no restraints could be performed for two weeks because the establishment had gone above its targets.
Rich Channelle, Bristol
It's not speed that kills
David Slinger (letters, 24 March) writes "The 70mph limit in this country was a hard-won victory for common sense on behalf of countless potential victims of high-speed accidents". What nonsense.
In 1965, an old-fashioned socialist without a driving licence decreed that henceforth the toffs in their limousines would not be allowed to drive any faster than the plebs in their Volkswagens (maximum speed 70mph).
Back in 1965, the average motorist wasn't unduly inconvenienced by the 70mph limit. Most cars had a top speed of less than 85mph and most roads, like most cars, were not suitable for high-speed driving. Then as now most deaths came at relatively low speeds. And to be caught speeding you had to be followed by a police car for a certain distance.
As an OAP, I still find driving along a quiet motorway at 70mph in good conditions dreadfully boring. Driving needs to be an active experience. Drifting on autopilot with your mind on other matters is an accident waiting to happen.
As speed limits have become ever more draconian, we are being turned into a nation of criminals, whether caught or not.
Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire
Who believes a party manifesto?
Andrew Whyte (letter, 23 March) makes a good point that political manifestos are a "legalised con trick" and never indicative of a political party's actual intentions, and I would ask if anyone has ever voted on the basis of one? If a political manifesto were to be regarded as a political affidavit, a legal statement of intent, rather like a company's flotation prospectus, a disillusioned voter might be able to take legal action, as an investor can against a company whose prospectus contains information that is manifestly false.
In such a case, a political party would have failed in its duty of care to its supporters. Then it would not be long before political manifestos disappeared.
Gary Clark, London EC4
Paying for school that bars us
The problem about having God in publicly funded classrooms is that he tends to stop anyone else coming in who doesn't follow him ("Does God belong in the classroom?", 24 March).
Here in Liverpool, 50 per cent of our secondary schools are "faith schools", and all have admissions policies which prioritise first the children of parents professing their specific faith, then children of parents professing other faiths. Only a handful even bother to tag on "others" at the bottom of the list.
This might be reasonable if the schools were funded exclusively by the faithful, but the rest of us have to pay for them too. We just can't send our kids to them.
Peter McKenna, Liverpool
Here's to whelks
Contrary to Mr Milner's assumption (letter, 23 March); it takes a high degree of competence to run a whelk stall. Whelk-stall managers are an endangered species; let's cherish the few who are left.
Eddie Johnson, Long Melford, Suffolk