Letters: Poverty and progress

We can learn from the poor
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The Independent Online

John Lanchester ("Will we ever learn just to be content", 10 December) is right to emphasise that how well-off we perceive ourselves to be depends on the comparisons we make between ourselves and other people.

If we were to compare our lives with those of people in times past, we would see that we are better off in material ways than ordinary people have ever been. Even the rich had less comfortable lives than most of us; what modern person would like to live in a draughty castle with no running water and only seasonal foods?

When I lived in a developing country, I could see very clearly the forces of comparison at work. People who lived on the edges of the developing areas were definitely poor. Living in shanty towns with a high level of crime, wearing ragged second-hand clothes, constantly looking for work, dreaming of a better life.

But when I went on a helicopter trip into a remote area, I saw a completely different way of life and was immediately struck by how happy people seemed to be. They lived as their ancestors had lived and no one was better off than anyone else. Stealing didn't exist because, if you have more than your neighbour, obviously he is welcome to share it. Their homes were built with traditional skills using wood cut from the forest, and the only clothes they wore were also made of local natural materials. They were subsistence farmers and life was constant work, but full of laughter and companionship. They had plenty to eat and were content with what they had because they did not see shops bulging with goods they had never heard of.

It is ironic that people such as this appear in the official statistics as people living in absolute poverty, when in fact we have much to learn from them.

Chris Sanderson


John Lanchester presents a telling critique of the limitations of the capitalist system. We have somehow to come up with a new system of economics and morality to face a sustainable future. But he is pessimistic in assuming that everyone is of the "more, more, more" mindset. In fact there are plenty of thinking and sensitive people around the world who are aware of the present dilemma, who need a focal point about which to gather.

We are at a crucial point in history where many things that we take for granted seem to have run their course: political parties, religions, the capitalist system, to name but the most prominent. We need some credible philosophical guidance to take us forward; let's hope it's soon forthcoming!

Rod Willmott


How good to see someone at last saying so clearly that the current economic paradigm of continuous growth is unsustainable and that it is time for the developed world to say "enough." I have no idea if John Lanchester subscribes to any religion, but his essay has caught up with St Paul's wisdom that "Godliness with contentment is great gain."

My only reservation is that the time for the West to say "enough" occurred long ago, and what is now needed is to say "less," if only because only by so doing is there any hope that the developing world will begin to adopt the policies necessary if we are to minimise the troubles that climate change will increasingly bring.

The real problem is that we are so locked into the vicious circle of envy, greed and growth that abstention by more than a few individuals in such a virtuous act will give rise to hardship, not only to western industry, but also to many of the most vulnerable in the third world.

R J Snell

Chippenham, Wiltshire

David Cameron states that GDP is an incomplete way of measuring people's well-being and the progress of a country. "Incomplete" is not all. For indigenous peoples living in rich countries, an increase in GDP has often been accompanied by a catastrophic decline in living standards.

Before the 1960s, the Innu Indians of Labrador and Quebec lived largely by hunting and gathering, and contributed almost nothing to Canada's GDP. In the Sixties the nomadic Innu were pressured into settling in fixed communities, and have suffered catastrophically, despite the fact that millions of dollars of Canada's increasing wealth have been pumped into the region.

Canada is 10th in the World Bank's GDP rankings. Yet the Innu, including children, have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Following the theft of their ancestral lands and ill-treatment by outsiders, domestic violence and gas sniffing are endemic. Longevity and health have plummeted and imprisonment has rocketed.

The internationally recognised measurement of "progress" often masks the fact that progress can kill.

Stephen Corry

Director, Survival International, London EC1

Businesses need graduates

Julie Burchill (16 December) cites Deloitte's plans to recruit school leavers as evidence that "businesses (have) become convinced that university degrees are worthless".

On the contrary, while we are opening up a new route into our firm for 100 school-leavers next year, we will also recruit over 1,100 graduates – our biggest ever intake.

Attracting bright graduates is, and will continue to be, critical to the continued success of our firm.

John Kerr

Managing partner, Talent,

Deloitte, London EC4

Julie Burchill writes: "I didn't go to university but almost everyone I know did, and with no exceptions whatsoever I honestly cannot see what the point was". Perhaps she should widen her circle of acquaintances to include some scientists, engineers and doctors?

David Wilson


Following Sean Barker (letters, 15 December), training gives the (closed) answers required to do a job; education gives the (open) questions required to understand which jobs and human activities are beneficial.

A country's growth (and the job satisfaction of its workforce) requires both education and training, clearly defined. The blurring of the distinction between them at university level damages the delivery of each, and results in a poorly trained workforce, engaged in jobs of limited economic and social value.

Alexander Rizenko


Lessons must be learnt – again

It was Tony Blair who said that there were lessons to be learnt; he said it so often that it lost all meaning. The legacy however, has become infectious and hardly a day passes without someone of distinction noting, with total gravity, that there are lessons to be learnt. What?

When it snows, traffic stops; when it freezes, roads block; when it really snows, schools close, food runs short, Scotland gets cut off, the world ends until it thaws, then some nincompoop puts his or her head above the parapets of Westminster and tells the unsuspecting nation that there are lessons to be learnt.

Infectious indeed, for the Metropolitan Police have caught this Tonyism. I am old enough to remember Red Lion Square in 1968 with police horses, knitting needles and marbles; of the killers in Broadwater Farm Estate and the courageous PC Blakelock; of Trafalgar Square and the Poll Tax Riots. How many lessons are needed? Or does each new officer, each new Chief Constable, each new Commissioner have to experience these lessons first-hand before learning?

Christopher Shillinglaw

Blythburgh, Suffolk

Costly, wasteful CRB checks

The time it takes to obtain a Criminal Records Bureau check varies enormously (letters, 14 December). My sister-in-law waited over three months for hers to arrive, while mine was applied for on 1 December and was in my hand by 6 December. The stupidity of the system is that I already had a CRB check that was less than 12 months old. But because I applied for a new role within the same employer I had to get a fresh check done, at considerable expense to my employer.

It appears beyond the wit of Capita et al to create a system that can check Court records every week for any convictions and then send out a letter to the employer telling them that the current CRB certificate has been invalidated. It would be easy to do, as convictions are recorded on a computer.

But then they wouldn't get all those fees for repeated checking of the same person, so I guess it is not in their interest to be efficient. Perhaps Mr Osborne could look into potential savings by reforming the CRB system?

Jonathan Dumbell

Torquay, Devon

As a volunteer driver for a Community Transport Scheme I am required to have a CRB check in order to protect vulnerable clients. As I am a pensioner myself (and therefore vulnerable?), should not the clients be required to be CRB-checked to afford me the same protection?

Peter Draper

Meldreth, Hertfordshire

Critical for cricket

Lot 2 in The Independent's Charity Auction includes "a guided tour of Lord's and the use of a box during a county match". Before I make a bid, could I please be reassured that pads, gloves and a helmet would also be provided?

Peter Elliott

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Perspectives on the Liberal Democrats

Clegg is brave and courageous

The Lib Dems did not win the election, but as a Liberal Democrat voter at the last election, I was happy that they decided to go into coalition for the sake of the country. Upon arriving as members of the government, Nick Clegg and others stepped out of the idealistic world that so many Liberal Democrats appear to live in, and stepped into the realistic world and saw what had to be done and had the courage to say so. It is outrageous that they are being vilified for supporting a rise in tuition fees. They have looked at all the alternatives and decided that this is the best option to fund the universities into the future and to secure university places for the poorest in our society.

There were no tuition fees in the past because few young people in the Sixties and Seventies actually went to university. When the Labour Party decided to aim for 50 per cent of young people to go to university the current situation became inevitable. Many young people today think it is their right to go there, and many with D and E grades at A-level will scout around looking for any university that will take them. This cannot be right.

In addition, it devalues those who have skills that are not academic, by making them think that if they don't go to university they are worthless.

The brave and courageous stance that Nick Clegg and others have taken on this issue would make me, a Lib Dem-leaning, often floating voter, vote for them again. I hope others are brave enough to say that they "agree with Nick".

Gladys Cummings

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Don't judge the party on a single issue

Mr and Mrs Bridgman (letters, 15 December), as unhappy Lib Dem voters, ask for advice on how to vote next time. As a fellow such voter, may I suggest firstly that they remember that politics is not a single issue, and secondly that, when the next election comes, they judge the Lib Dems on the totality of what they have – or have not – achieved.

Geoff Deville

New Malden, Surrey

An ode to a politician

"Count not his broken pledges as a crime; He meant them – how he meant them – at the time."

Originally written of Lloyd George, I believe, so Nick Clegg is clearly upholding a long Liberal tradition.

Michael Watson