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Saturday 18 June 2011
Letters: Public-sector pensions
Stop bashing the workers
What a grotesque, biased and unjust appraisal of the response of public-sector workers to an appalling onslaught from government on their jobs, pensions and retirement age (leading article, 16 June).
Your response, if I may paraphrase it, is: "Shut up and take the punishment. Private-sector workers have already lost their rights to a decent pension and a decent retirement age, so why shouldn't you too? And anyway we're in financial trouble."
Across Europe in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and here, working people are being made to pay a very heavy price for an economic downturn they had no part in causing. Private-sector workers have already seen their pay, pensions and retirement age suffer over the years in order to make companies "more efficient" i.e. more profitable for executives and shareholders. On that basis, and to even things up, you want public-sector workers to suffer in the same way.
It seems that news media and governments across Europe prefer to represent the rich and powerful interests of bankers, big business and of economic and political orthodoxy rather than represent workers and those who use public services. The Government, and your newspaper say we all have to take the pain and shut up. Why? When the bankers take their fair share of the pain and pay in full for the havoc they caused, then and only then should the rest of us have to take the pain.
The Government insists that public-sector pensions for teachers are unsustainable. If they are correct, then how should we sustain an MP's pension? It accrues at one-fortieth per year and concludes with a severance payment of about £60,000, of which £30,000 is tax-free.
A teacher's pension accrues at one-eightieth per year – just half, and their severance is, I suppose, a whip round from their colleagues. The hypocrisy stinks.
The fully funded private-sector schemes were the envy of Europe but spendthrift Chancellor Gordon Brown took £100bn from their funds and tens of thousands have now lost their final-salary schemes, and are pushed into the hands of insurance companies whose annuity rates are an insult.
The banks continue to increase the borrowing rates without any hindrance from regulators or Government. A typical spread has increased from 2 per cent to 12 per cent. My MP has told me that nothing can be done and he appears to be correct. Perhaps the millions in donations from bankers to the Conservative Party is part of the same stench.
And worst of all, the bankers' greed is corrupting the governance of many organisations. Council leaders, health-service bosses, chairmen of quangos and so on, all think that they deserve a telephone-number salary and, increasingly, they are getting one.
The leadership of the nation stinks to high heaven. The Government looks dynamic and busy with yet another reorganisation of national health, education, the police et al, and for us they care naught until they want a vote.
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire
Your leading article argues that there is a disparity in pension provision, and that it is producing two classes: those who can afford to retire and those who cannot. You say this gap is not just financially, but socially, unsustainable. This argument is used to support the view that public-sector workers should not complain too much about being asked to pay more, work longer, and receive less from their pensions.
The logic of your argument seems to be that it would be better if more people cannot afford to retire. We could all be equally miserable together.
Surely it would be of greater benefit if private-sector employees were provided with a better pension entitlement. Employees in the private sector must have noticed that as their pension schemes have been decimated over the past 15 years (not just during this recession), the pay and entitlements of senior executives have continued to rise at an astonishing rate.
Rather than trying to set public- and private-sector workers against each other, surely a "progressive" newspaper like The Independent should acknowledge that the real division is between an exceedingly and increasingly wealthy elite, and the rest of us.
Before you join the media feeding-frenzy in the attack against "overgenerous" pensions in the public sector, you would do well to mull over the exact financial implications of change.
In the NHS pension scheme, employees pay up to 8.5 per cent of their income into the scheme which is matched by a government contribution of 14 per cent. In 2008 agreement was reached between employees and staff representatives that this 14 per cent figure would never be increased; that is, in the future NHS employees may have to work longer, contribute more or accept lower benefits on retirement. Contrast this with the private sector where many schemes are non-contributory and employee contributions tend to be significantly lower.
What is beyond doubt is that the Treasury's own figures show that the NHS pension pot is actually in surplus. In 2008/09, for example, the NHS pension scheme received £7.7bn in contributions by its members while paying out £5.6bn in benefits. In effect NHS employees gave HMG an interest-free loan of £2.1bn in that year. It would certainly not be in the interests of the Government to make the NHS pension scheme unattractive enough to encourage employees to leave the scheme and effectively kill the golden goose.
Dr Peter Glover
No need to panic about antibiotics
Your article "Death Wish" (17 June) overplays the role of modern farm antibiotics in causing antibiotic-resistant infections in man. Most of the antibiotic-resistant infection in humans in the UK is linked to antibiotic use in humans – not livestock.
Certain modern products are used in animals, but remain a small proportion of overall usage. Cephalosporins are not "heavily used" in agriculture – they make up just 1.6 per cent of sales.
There is no evidence such use causes any significant infections with resistant bacteria in humans in the UK. Nor that are they responsible for "lethal strains" as claimed.
The new strain of MRSA in dairy cattle was isolated from samples from a human in Denmark in 1975 – so recent trends of antibiotic usage on UK farms cannot be blamed. It is also speculation to suggest the recent E.coli incident in Germany came from animals.
For the past five years the amount of veterinary antibiotics sold in the UK has remained consistent with the number of animals slaughtered for food.
Antibiotics are crucial for treating animal diseases and are strictly controlled through veterinary prescription to make sure they are used responsibly.
We regularly bring together experts on antibiotic resistance to advise on problems and will continue to keep this under review.
Chief Executive of the Government's Veterinary Medicines Directorate
Yet again you very effectively highlight a national scandal. It may be that many dairy farmers are squeezed by supermarkets and forced to use antibiotics excessively, but there are other farmers only too willing to increase their profits through self-interested behaviours that put our health at risk.
Greedy supermarket companies are obviously to blame, but the farming industry is collectively powerful enough to have taken action if it wanted to. Politicians will take little action because they know that responsible farming, mindful of public and animal health, would raise food prices and they are neurotic about the effect on voting. The answer is in our own hands. Do we wish to be increasingly at risk of killer diseases springing up everywhere, or would we pay more for our food and re-balance our other spending accordingly?
Sudan on the brink
President Obama is indeed taking a strong stand on the escalating violence in South Kordofan in Sudan ("Khartoum ignores Obama's plea for peace as troops drive south", 16 June)
Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury has talked of the potential for "another Darfur". Genocide and ethnic cleansing are now regularly – and rightly – mentioned. In contrast, our own Foreign Secretary has issued only a short statement which says he is "concerned" and that he condemns the violence.
But there is a real and present danger that the northern government will push its troops into the south in order to delay its imminent independence and to gain control of two oil-rich states. And this when tens of thousands of people are displaced. Humanitarian access is being denied to needy suffering people and bombing has resumed in Abyei despite the agreement reached in Ethiopia only a few days ago that hostilities would end.
Surely, these conditions demand urgent and assertive action by the UK and other EU states in the UN to secure effective international action against a catastrophe which is worsening by the day.
Chair, All Parliamentary Group on Sudan
House of Lords, London SW1
Pauline Littlewood bemoans the virtual disappearance of "effect" and "affect" from our language (letter, 17 June). Perhaps, as with "lie" and "lay", these two words have been misused and confused to such an extent that writers have simply given up trying to remember which is which.
Hailsham, East Sussex
Perspectives on Slutwalks
Protesters are not facing the facts
There seems to be some form of denial going on with respect to Slutwalking. Of course women are entitled to dress how they choose, but if men were not stimulated by scantily clad females, the pornography industry would not exist, and if all men respected women as much as some of your correspondents (and I) do, the crime of rape would not exist.
Those who are in favour of Slutwalking do not have the luxury of being able to control the moral standards of the observers, so it seems only sensible to avoid over-stimulating those men who put their personal gratification above women's rights.
Time for hormone therapy for men?
Delighted to see men defending their right to be regarded as responsible people who manage to control their sexual desires (Letters, 16 June). When women find that the effects of hormonal shifts are difficult to live with and affect our behaviour, we are offered HRT, tranquillisers and relaxation techniques. Could we have a similar Hormone Reduction Therapy programme for men feeling a similar pressure?
Sick of victims being blamed
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's "How does dressing like a 'slut' help protect women?" (13 June) made me really angry.
She said that the protesters were all dressed up in bras, thongs, Playboy outfits, etc. I was there in my usual attire consisting of a maxi skirt, T-shirt and flip flops, not revealing anything but my feet and arms.
I would probably fall into the group she labelled "trendy mum strutting alongside her popsie". My popsie was unfortunate enough to have been raped and failed by the legal system – the very people who are paid to protect us – and was wearing a tracksuit when she was raped.
I marched with all those women, young girls, and men to make a very clear point: we are not going to let rapists get away with it or allow the establishment to cover up for them. We are standing up for what is our right – protection for all survivors and prosecution for perpetrators. The blame game must end.
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