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Letters: Politics of poverty

Relentless attacks on the poor

What a welcome I gave to Owen Jones's article on benefit claimants (18 May). During my 20 years as a district councillor, and over 30 as a parish councillor, I have watched in despair as successive governments, of both colours, have pushed the poor deeper and deeper into poverty and trapped them ruthlessly there. I have watched with anger and disgust as the poor have been branded as feckless, lazy parasites. So what a relief to have somebody telling us the reality. Thank you, Owen Jones.

And he didn't even touch on the lose-lose situation of childcare. If mothers stay at home and to look after their children, then they're scroungers, and if they manage to go to work (with no time off for school holidays, of course) then they're bad parents who let their kids roam the streets and make trouble.

Of course there is the occasional deliberate fraudster, as there is at every level of society (Ponzi schemes anyone?), but in my experience they are few. Thank you for that article.

Rosemary Smith

Mistley, Essex

The Government closes Remploy factories which enable thousands of disabled workers to earn a living independently. Half a million disabled are set to lose their benefits under government "reforms". Four hundred thousand children with special educational needs are set to have support taken away from them.

We are told by ministers that these measures are needed to tackle both the deficit and the benefits culture. Whenever challenged, those advocating benefits cuts point to extreme cases of fraud and throw in a few words about "scroungers" to portray the majority of claimants as behaving in such a manner. In the meantime, they cut taxes for millionaires and multinationals.

Britain's disabled are being subjected to an appalling ideologically driven attack, at a time when the economic situation makes life harder for those who already have the hardest lives.

The benefits system is not soft; claimants have to meet strict criteria, attend taxing and often distressing assessments and at the end receive meagre payments, if they're lucky. No right-minded person chooses to live off benefits.

How can a Government dominated by able-bodied, super-rich, public school educated, middle-aged men ever hope to empathise with those who have to struggle in life?

Jack H G Darrant

London SW2

The Government has turned its hatred to those on benefits and it is sickening.

I was born with transposition of the great arteries (the blood flows the wrong way around my heart, basically) this means that my heart is working harder than it should and recently it has started to fail. However, at my Atos assessment the nurse even questioned my specialist and the existence of such a condition.

What annoys me the most is, I want a job. I want to work but there are no jobs out there. If an able-bodied man cannot find a job, how is a disabled person supposed to be able to find one? Find me a job and I'll take it, even if it kills me.

Matthew Niven



Open the gates of privileged education

I read with interest your correspondence about that hardy old chestnut, the abolition of British independent schools. As ever, the extraordinary diversity of institutions within the sector is ignored.

For Laurie Penny (12 May) all independent schools are the same and the picture selection (almost always of Eton) reflects this. They are all vastly over-subscribed – "cherry-picked pupils" according to Ben Warren (letter, 16 May) – accommodated in luxury buildings and taught by an elite of Oxbridge dons on secondment.

While those of us running independent schools are grateful for the free marketing provided by the likes of Mr Gove and Ms Penny, the reality is rather different. Most independent schools are not selective, almost all have to be very careful with their budgets and cannot afford the glamorous architecture or salaries associated with many of the new academies, and we fish in the same pond for teachers, with the majority of our staff having had some experience in the maintained sector.

The relentless focus on smaller class sizes, individual pastoral care, a wide range of co-curricular activities and academic aspiration noted by Oliver Jackson (letter, 16 May) marks out many of the ex-direct grant grammar schools that form the core of the Forum for Independent Day Schools.

We may not have the glamour of an Eton or a Westminster but we are very keen to share our advantages with less privileged students in our local communities; we take our charitable obligations very seriously, with numerous bursaries for children who would otherwise be on free school meals in the maintained sector.

One model for the future is to provide state sponsored access to our schools for many more pupils from impoverished backgrounds than we can afford to fund. If the Government really is serious about social mobility this would provide a much cheaper and more efficient means to open the gates of privilege than anything currently proposed by the Department for Education.

A J Thould

Head Master, King Edward VI School, Southampton,

Chair, Forum for Independent Day Schools


Free expression in Bahrain

It would be a mistake to think of the Gulf Union as a reaction to current events rather than a continuation of a process of greater co-operation and integration among Member States that began formally in 1981 ("Deal with Saudis to shore up Bahrain's repressive regime", 14 May). The founding treaty of the Gulf Co-operation Council states that its objective is to "achieve co-ordination, integration and strengthen ties among Member States in all fields leading to unity".

On the allegation of stepping up the "crackdown", the article itself acknowledged that clashes are escalating and recent White House statements acknowledged that police officers have suffered serious injury. The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed, and no one is arrested for merely protesting. However, even the most liberal of democracies draws the line at violent assaults against police and use of molotov cocktails.

Nabeel Rajab has been charged with inciting illegal rallies and marches online by using social networking websites and posting defamatory and humiliating depictions of the public security forces. Charges just are just as legitimate in Bahrain as they are in the UK.

The argument that the union is just an attempt to avoid political reform is fallacious and does not stand when considering the number and scale of political reforms that have taken place since February of last year.

Lastly, regarding the arms shipments, we live in volatile region where 30 per cent of the world's oil is produced. Therefore, maintaining stability in this very strategically important part of the world is not only essential for Bahrain but also has a global impact.

Fahad A al-Binali

Information Affairs Authority

Isa Town, Kingdom of Bahrain


Can Emin draw, and does she care?

Why does Jeanette Winterson tie herself in such knots trying to make something out of Tracey Emin's latest blue drawings (Radar, 19 May)? I'm quite happy to confirm that Winterson can write, but I'm afraid it doesn't mean that Emin can draw – or even wants to.

I think Winterson misunderstands Emin's "art". Whether or not she could really draw if she wanted to is beside the point. She will never "develop" beyond "mysterious" scraps such as these; her ambition does not go in that direction. She is a postmodernist playing around with the idea of drawing, just as she plays around with the idea of disclosing "authentic" scenes from her personal life.

I'm also afraid that Winterson's piece serves to hide Emin's poverty of imagination and ambition behind the tattered banner of feminism. Emin hardly needs it. After all, she is an artist who continues to do very nicely out of the art world in spite – or because – of her self-imposed role as "marginalised" and "outside of anywhere".

Martin Murray

London SW2


A fate worse than a heart attack

Terence Blacker (18 May) argues against taking statins to cut the risk of heart attacks. My parents took the all the pills prescribed to them, with the eventual result that my mother is now in a home, requiring nearly full-time care and my father, in the same home, is in the Alzheimer's unit slumped in a chair.

If I discover (and understand) that I am suffering from Alzheimer's or a similar degenerative mental disease I will not undergo the living death of my father. I have every intention of being found with two empty bottles of malt whisky.

In this matter, we treat animals better in this country than humans. If there were a piece of paper that would allow a medically supervised suicide in these circumstances I would sign it instantly.

Mike Joseph

Chipperfield, Hertfordshire


World made safe for holiday snaps

As Facebook floats on the stock exchange for $100bn, for the want of a similar amount a European country (Greece) is allowed to go down the pan. So a website on which people post their holiday snaps is apparently worth more to the world economy than a country of 11 million people. Sensible system.

Mark Piggott

London N19


Pay offer

Michael Gove has called for the scrapping of national pay rates for teachers. Would it not be better for MPs to set the precedent for regional salary scales? It would add another dimension to democracy if we could negotiate our MP's salary to reflect regional market rates. As Member for the safe Conservative seat of Surrey Heath, Mr Gove should be firmly behind this proposal.

David Bartlett

Ilkley, West Yorkshire


Olympic overkill

I understand that the BBC will be devoting its entire output on BBC1 to the Olympics. Will those of us who have from the start deplored the waste of our money on bringing the Olympics here (not to mention the damage to the environment), and do not wish to watch it on principle, be entitled to a refund on our TV licences?

Pat Johnston

Fourstones, Northumberland


Spanish snub

The Spanish government instructed its queen to snub ours because, yet again, they're going ape over Gibraltar. Nobody expects a Spanish acquisition. But Her Majesty's Government should remember this party-pooping when the Spanish (or the EU on their behalf) come cap-in-hand during the next few weeks asking us to bail them out.

Paul Dunwell

Alton, Hampshire


Turing's pardon

Your correspondents (17 May) argue for a pardon for Alan Turing. Who is guilty? If Alan Turing broke an ill-founded law which killed him, forgiveness is for him to confer, not receive.

The Rev Richard James

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


See you there

I am looking forward to the Hayward Gallery's exhibition of "invisible" art and shall be happy to pay the entry charge of £8 – assuming they accept invisible credit cards at the door.

Richard Gridley

Wendover, Buckinghamshire