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Friday 24 July 2009
Letters: Public transport
Getting off the bus a stop early? That'll be £20 extra
I teach English to young overseas students. They bring a large amount of money into the British coffers through study fees and room and board, as well as helping young people make friends across cultural borders. So, please, could someone explain the reasoning behind the nonsense I have just encountered?
Just before midnight, I took a young Mexican student to the coach station. He had a ticket to London Victoria and was then to cross on the tube to Heathrow on his way back to Mexico. When he had booked on the internet he had no idea what the route was.
Then, looking at the list of stops between Liverpool and London, the last two stops turned out to be Oxford and, what a stroke of luck, London Heathrow. Stroke of luck? Not a bit. He would have to pay an extra £20 to get off at the airport. Surely not, we queried; he wants to get off before, not after. Different deal, came the reply.
I had to leave the student to board the coach. He didn't have an extra £20 to pay to travel fewer miles. His face also showed his disbelief at the lack of logic. Am I to believe that a national bus company would really keep my young friend captive for the last leg of his journey? Apart from common sense and common courtesy dictating otherwise, could any company legally uphold this policy?
I am still waiting to find out what happened but fully expect to hear that this young visitor to our shores was indeed made to sit the journey in to Victoria bus station, then make a pointless journey back to Heathrow.
Please, could someone in the bus industry tell me how this episode serves to encourage either the use of public transport or, indeed, would make customers want to recommend this particular company?
Why we must fight in Afghanistan
However uncomfortable it may make many readers, the need for much increased military expenditure has nothing to do with "punching above our weight" or indeed "cosying up to the Yanks", but confronting a clear, present and growing danger (letters, 23 July).
We might dismiss as fantasies the notion that al-Qa'ida, the pre-eminent element in the global network of militants, their fellow-travellers within existing Islamic regimes, and their innumerable supporters and sympathisers might recreate the Caliphate and reconquer all land that has ever been Islamic (Spain, Sicily, the Balkans, most of India), but then we also thought Mein Kampf was a merely mad rant until 1933.
In the circumstances, we would be wise to win small wars with properly equipped professionals in appropriate numbers far from home lest we find ourselves conscripting our sons and daughters to fight much bigger wars much closer to home in 10 or 15 years, probably without American help.
R S Foster
If somewhat brusquely, Mike Hockney (letters, 22 July) summarises what many of us conclude from the brutal campaign in Afghanistan. If an army can travel only by helicopter, what is it achieving? How soon will the opposition, whatever one calls them, learn to use ground-to-air missiles to bring the helicopters down? Now "theatre", the term so inaptly used by the top brass and their politician supporters, is all that seems left.
I well recall as a schoolboy in England, the Second World War and its grim toll of casualties. The people grumbled and the bereaved wept but bore it.
Later, I lived in the United States throughout the Vietnam conflict and was well aware how public sensitivity to the returning body-bags and the horribly injured changed the willingness and ability of western nations to send their young men into distant wars of dodgy justification.
Year after year, the military promised victory if they had yet more troops and more equipment, egged on by the industrialists who manufactured the weapons and explosives. The returning soldiers themselves finally destroyed the generals' credibility. And it all came to dust.
Mike Hockney asserts that for a war to be winnable the government, the military, the people and the media have to be as one (letters, 22 July). In plain terms, this requires the media to become conduits for propaganda and collude with the government in lying to the people.
I am very glad that 24/7 news coverage and the internet mean this is no longer possible. It is time for the government to accept this new state of affairs and stop waging wars that a well-informed public can no longer support.
Report erodes parents' rights
Tim Hinchliffe wonders, insightfully, when the government, having vetted everyone including including potentially "the little old lady at the bus stop", will get around to vetting individual parents (letters, 21 July). Well, funny he should mention it; Ed Balls is already on the case.
Having appointed the jovially named Mr Badman, (whose belief seems to be that parents are suspect until proven innocent) to produce a report on parental rights and responsibilities, he now accepts the recommendations in full.
They include the recommendation that parents should have to apply for permission to de-register a child from a school which is failing them and that giving the local authority the unprecedented right to enter the parental home and to interview the child alone as a matter of course, without the invitation or permission of the parents.
Now, these measures apply only to parents with children over four, but calls have been made to extend the vetting to younger children.
Slowly but determindly, over the past few years policies have been introduced which reduce the amount of time children spend with parents, undermining parents' confidence in their parenting abilities and substituting the judgement of the state for parental judgement.
This report marks a watershed in the relationship between citizen and state. If its unsubstantiated allegations about the fitness of all parents are accepted and its proposals are implemented, the state will be effectively making itself ward of all children, with parents as state-authorised carers will parents finally wake up and say, "Enough"?
Old-age care costs are extortionate
I welcome the emerging debate about fairer funding for care of the elderly, (leading article, 15 July). But the Government's proposals, stressing the rapidly rising cost of care provision in the future, dodge an essential question. Why are care costs so extortionate in the first place?
The Green Paper optimistically gives £30,000 as the average cost of care for a 65-year-old for the rest of that person's life. At today's prices, that will just about buy either one year in a care home (only nine months if you have dementia or complex needs) or two hours a day of hourly-paid help for 18 months.
Although the private care industry absorbs millions of pounds of taxpayers' money from social services and PCTs, as well as from individuals and families, I understand that the present inspection process does not have a mandate to examine a provider's books, so no judgement about value for money in this section of our health and welfare can be made.
With increased demand, particularly from the growing number of the oldest old, profits may soar, but care staff are often poorly paid and self-funders reach deeper into their pockets year on year. Now the Government is seriously trying to grasp the nettle of who pays for care, it should at least consider an audit trail of accountability for charges and encourage more not-for-profit providers.
At present, many elderly people are reluctant to go into care homes, either because they do not wish to lose their independence or for financial reasons. If, as the government has suggested, there is a compulsory charge of (say) £20,000 to pay for care whether it is needed or not, the second of these factors may disappear.
And some of the families of the elderly may prefer to see their relatives go into care rather than take on the responsibility for looking after them themselves. If the cost of care has been paid for by such a charge (whether collected in advance or from the estate after death) the families may have even less inhibition about encouraging their elders to move into care homes.
Ryanair complaint a source of joy
What a wonderful headline on the front page, "Airlines cut flights in tax-hike protest" (22 July). Finally, something is being done to curb air pollution from aeroplane flights; or is it?
It is great to read that Ryanair is reducing the numbers of its flights from Stansted, and perhaps understandable that its boss is complaining about it. Yet surely the purpose of an "environmental tax" is to reduce the amount of pollution from the source being taxed, and this means the number of flights?
The hypocrisy of complaining about a £1 rise in tax per passenger by this airline which imposes charges on the most basic of services beggars belief.
David Prosser (Business, 22 July) is correct in challenging Ryanair's criticism of the proposed increase in air passenger taxation. I doubt that the tax, or even the credit crunch, is causing the fall in passenger numbers. It is more likely that people are at last realising air travel is not the glamorous pursuit suggested by the industry.
Even if the tax is causing the fall it has advantages. First, the reduction in flights curbs the expected increase in air and noise pollution, and the concreting over of the countryside for airports and associated parking, terminals and roads. Second, think of all the money that will be spent in our leisure and retail facilities rather than abroad, creating employing and bringing in UK taxation as well. Third, unlike VAT and income tax, it targets those with excess income to dispose of.
So Ryanair are reducing next winter's flights out of Stansted by 30 per cent. Michael O'Leary blames air passenger taxation. Hooray! That confirms that it's not a stealth tax after all, but is having a genuine green effect.
Thirty per cent less carbon dioxide from one airline will contribute to a long-term benefit for us all.
How wrong Ann Dowling is to tell us male dairy calves would stay with their mothers if they were spared for veal production (letters, 22 July). Male and female dairy calves, organic or not, are taken from their mothers within 24 hours, and the male ones not shot straight away are sent for veal, either here or mostly to the cruel veal-crates abroad.
Pete Barrett suggests that allowing more extreme religious beliefs on Thought for the Day would force cancellation in a week (letters, 20 July). Any rationalist could, of course, produce evidence that only the faithful are anti-semitic, homophobic, and pursue terrorism. No room for doubt there. But, given the inability of many of your atheist correspondents to allow any statement of religious belief to pass without mockery, I fear removing the programme would hardly bring an end to intolerance.
Richard Burton did not come from the Rhondda Valley but from Pontrhydyfen (Life, 22 July). As it happens, Pontrhydfen also lies in a valley and it was once a mining community, but apart from that it is hard to think of two places more different. If the man born Richard Jenkins had really been brought up in the Rhondda Valley he would not have met Philip Burton.
Gone, in a puff
Every week now, 52 pubs close, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (report, 21 July). And the rate at which they are closing is accelerating, because of the smoking ban. We are now witnessing the death of the good old British pub, and it is all down to the ban on tobacco.
Capa was no fake
I see no shame in Robert Capa's photos. Will you condemn Ken Loach for "faking" Cathy Come Home? Or Shakespeare, for writing King Lear? Those pictures were the truth, as Capa had experienced it. He was a good reporter, of a kind who will always be needed.
He had the write stuff
I see that Graham Greene gave up subediting to "forge a career as a successful novelist" (report, 21 July). Lucky he didn't decide to forge a career as an unsuccessful novelist.
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