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Thursday 1 December 2011
Letters: Picking a fight over pensions
There are four elements in the pension issue: the inescapable arithmetic that shows future funding of some public-sector schemes to be unaffordable; the fact that other public-sector schemes are fully funded; the plight of hundreds of thousands of workers in the private sector whose pension schemes are risible; and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
Had the Government tackled this as a whole by clamping down on corporate excess, legislating to ensure a better deal for private-sector workers through upward convergence, and acknowledging differences between public-sector schemes, the Hutton report might have stood a chance. Everyone would then have truly "been in it together".
By failing to do that while demonising "non-productive" public sector workers, they have shown that either they are incompetent or the far right is winning the argument.
Rebecca Corn (letter, 30 November) says that it is public-sector pensions which are under attack. Perhaps so, but those of us in the private sector have had our pensions under attack since 1997, when Gordon Brown first announced the abolition of ACT relief on dividends.
He used that money in part to increase the number of people employed in the public sector – so not only did he cause the huge deficits which helped precipitate the closing of so many final-salary schemes in the private sector, but he also indirectly increased the liabilities of the public-sector pensions as well.
At the time, the public sector workers were unconcerned that the pension provision of the rest of us was being eroded, but now that they themselves are being "attacked" they are suddenly outraged. They are 14 years too late.
Some of the most compelling arguments justifying public-sector strikes in defence of pensions can be found on the website of Inland Revenue. The sections concerned define tax rebates to personal pension funds.
The Government subsidises personal pensions through rebates of income tax either at 20 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent. A £100 contribution to a pension fund costs a 20 per cent taxpayer £80. It costs a 40 per cent taxpayer £60 and a 50 per cent taxpayer only £50. In other words, the more you earn, the greater the subsidy paid by the Government. Totally unfair.
It is beyond the scope of this letter to spell out the thousands of pounds' worth of tax breaks available to those rich enough to afford them. Even in these austere times the Government introduced Junior ISAs on 1 November – yet another tax break for the rich. How many families can afford to give their children £3,600 each per year to put in a JISA?
No wonder public sector workers have decided that striking is a justified response to the attack both on their pensions and on their standard of living.
This week's strikers earn twice, if not three or four times, as much as the vast majority. They should consider the retail and catering staff, call-centre agents and the millions in low-paid generic jobs.
Millions cannot even afford to live, let alone consider a pension. I think that many less fortunate individuals have a right to be resentful that more successful people have the audacity to strike.
Robert Duncan Martin
A country in crisis cannot afford imperial dreams
We have been informed that the UK will need to borrow an additional £111bn over the next five years beyond previous forecasts. That our GDP will "flatline" for the next two years – if we are lucky.
If we are unlucky we will enter into an ever-deepening downward spiral, where higher unemployment reduces tax revenues but increases welfare payments, which in turn will demand more borrowing, which will demand more cutbacks leading to yet higher unemployment, and so on ad infinitum. Presumably such a self-reinforcing downward spiral will eventually culminate in bread queues and street rioting.
At the same time we continue to spend up to £12bn to build two aircraft carriers to protect an overseas empire we no longer possess and we are borrowing £10bn each year (0.7 per cent of our GDP) to give it away in overseas aid.
Isn't it time we woke up to our situation? We are a nation living beyond its means, with massive unemployment, that has lost its competitive position and much of its exporting industry. We must address these fundamental economic issues, which have the potential to threaten the fabric of our society, and put our nostalgic dreams of a profligate imperial past behind us.
Speak for yourself, David Cameron. But do not insult the rest of us when you tell the CBI that controlling Britain's debt was proving harder than "anyone" envisaged (report, 22 November).
Were you and your colleagues really so naïve, particularly when you yourself decided to ring-fence much government expenditure, accepted increased levies from the EU, have not followed through your initial spin that all departments must cut costs by 25 per cent over four years, and have allowed the local authority and quango gravy trains of "middle-class non-jobs" to continue.
There was a chance, in 2010, to have hit the ground running by implementing the really radical plans that the UK needs, but, sadly, 18 months have been largely lost, with Michael Gove about the only exception emphasising the rule.
St Andrews, Fife
Girls know all about airbrushing
Steve Connor ("I'm ready for my touch-up...", 29 November) reports on academic proposals for a scaled kite mark on airbrushed images, to increase awareness of the practice among consumers.
But the issue isn't about awareness. As advertising's think tank, Credos, we recently commissioned research into this area, and found that 85 per cent of young women aged 10-21 are fully aware that airbrushing is used in advertising. Moreover, 40 per cent of young women have used airbrushing techniques to make a photo of themselves look more attractive (or asked someone else to do so), proving that they are aware not only of its use, but also of how it works.
Instead, what we should be focusing on is the emerging trend in society celebrating more natural images, which young women tell us they prefer – and which the advertising industry has already started to recognise.
Young drivers in peril at night
Simon Read may not agree with the ideas of the Association of British Insurers on night-time driving restrictions for novice drivers ("You're safe to drive or not, regardless of your age", 26 November), but the current unacceptable level of young driver casualties on UK roads calls for some radical thinking. We have campaigned for a long time on this issue.
I fully support tightening the learner driver regime and last week outlined measures including a minimum learning period and graduated driving licences. The sad fact is, most crashes involving young drivers do happen at night – we need to tackle this.
I agree with Simon Read on the use of telematics, and insurers are increasingly using them to reward safer driving. With measures like this, together with tougher legislation from the Government, we can make a difference to the safety of young drivers and reduce the cost of their insurance.
Director General, Association of British Insurers
If this is the NHS at its best...
Harriet Walker (Notebook, 25 November) breaks her leg in three places but the accident and emergency department of the NHS hospital "misses" one of the fractures. She has to wait two days for an operation to pin the broken limb. A "sociopathic nurse" leaves her drugged and crying in the dark, and tells her to call her own mother. For sympathy presumably.
Your columnist then witnesses the same nurse telling a fellow patient she was sick of her and would prefer to be "down the pub".
And then Harriet Walker has the brass cheek to thank God she doesn't live in America, and says she is "impressed, relieved and reduced to tears... by the sturdy resilience of the NHS".
If she lived in the United States and was treated like that, the hospital would be on the end of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for negligence and lack of care.
Doesn't Harriet Walker now have a duty to identify that nurse to the hospital, as that person clearly shouldn't be working in the profession? And she should also identify the hospital to your readers so we can avoid it – yes, like the plague.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Why the banks hate the euro
We read that "the market" has been reluctant to buy all the German bonds recently issued for sale. The banks and other large financial institutions, who are the main buyers in the primary market for government bonds, are in a position to exercise major influence.
Before the euro existed the banks made substantial income from exchanging francs for deutchmarks and all the other foreign exchange transactions which used to be necessary for trade and travel around Europe. No doubt the banks would like to regain this lucrative source of income. Is it possible that we have here the explanation for the current threats to the stability of the euro?
It is clear from Bill Cash's letter (29 November) that he is unaware of the irony in the present position of the Conservative eurosceptics. He would like an early referendum so that certain, as yet unspecified, powers can be repatriated from Brussels to London. Developments taking place at this precise moment would indicate that Britain will achieve this ambition quite spontaneously by being relegated to the outer fringes of the European Union. Perhaps being thrown out of the club does not have the same appeal as walking out in high dudgeon.
Chris van Hoorn
Send Iranian TV back to Tehran
Today, I watched Press TV, the Iranian government channel, on my Sky Box as a reporter stated that the public service strikes in the UK were inspired by protests in Arab countries. A teletext at the bottom of the screen described the destruction of the British embassy as "student protests". Would it be possible to send this TV channel packing back to Tehran, along with the Iranian embassy and then have a parliamentary inquiry into the activity of their reporters?
Eat up your nice soup
Hmm, I'd like to see P J Hill "drink" cock-a-leekie or cullen skink (letter, 29 November). What about minestrone or miso, or countless other soups from all parts of the world with lots of solids in them? He'd choke to death, poor fellow.
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