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Monday 2 August 2010
Letters: Retirement cut
Retirement cut good all round
Harriet Walker is quite right to say that it's "unfair to hoof people out of the door based on an outdated stereotype" ("Young vs. old: this could turn nasty", 30 July) but to say "that's just how it goes" is amazingly short-sighted.
Forcing people out of employment when they want to work, save for their pensions and pay taxes is ridiculous. It's based on the incorrect belief that there is a finite number of jobs in a "one-in one-out" market. But as your leading article points out, the number of jobs in an economy is not fixed, and over the next decade the national finances will stack up only if we all work a bit longer.
There is not a shred of evidence that younger workers will suffer because of this change in policy. First, new graduates and experienced older workers are not likely to be competing for the same jobs. Second, demographic changes over the next 10 years will result in fewer younger people entering the workforce and chasing promotions anyway.
And finally, most workers in their 60s choose to change jobs, downsize or go part-time, leaving plenty of openings for their younger counterparts. Scrapping forced retirement will benefit workers, employers, the economy and public finances; it's a no-brainer.
Charity Director, Age UK,
That the Government intends to scrap compulsory retirement at 65 is very welcome. It ends clear discrimination on the basis of age and reflects the changing demographic of an ageing society.
But that leads us to the fundamental question: what is retirement (with a pension) for? Is it a reward for past service? Is it a much anticipated long holiday for which one has saved? Or is it a way of nudging those deemed "past it" out of the mainstream of life?
When Lloyd George's 1908 Pensions Act, was introduced he was clear that the old-age pension was to "lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor". Its value was set deliberately low, to encourage workers also to make their own provision for old age, and its conditions were, by present-day standards, restrictive.
So instead of a periodic review of pension provision, with all the emotion this stirs up, wouldn't it be simpler to agree a fixed formula? Of each year gained in life expectancy, a portion is added to the age of entitlement to a pension and a portion is retained by us to enjoy in retirement. All we need to negotiate is the size of the portions.
But those with the hardest jobs and lowest socio-economic status have the shortest expectancy of longevity and health in old age. In an equitable world, they should retire earlier. The mine-workers' pension fund, for example, is in better shape than most. Mine-workers do not live as long as others in retirement.
For most people, retirement is more of a curse than a blessing. Income is slashed, self-worth takes a tumble, poor health frequently follows hard on the heels of feeling cast to the margins of society.
Provided we have fair means to provide for those who are unluckier than the average in ageing well, by simple extension of existing arrangements for early retirement through ill-health, working for longer is good for us and good for the economy.
Professor Tom Kirkwood
Director, Institute for Ageing & Health,
I get tired of pointing out to boomer-bashers like Harriet Walker that I and many other baby-boomers never supported any of the regressive changes that have created so many problems for the young. On the contrary, we always wanted future generations to have the same advantages as ourselves. Many of these backward steps were not in political manifestos but were brought in unexpectedly by politicians post-election, so we never voted for them. She should stop tarring us all with the same brush.
Likewise, we baby-boomers are not responsible for the severe job shortage that penalises not only the young but the old. We oldies are equally in need of jobs to be financially secure, to be useful to society and to increase tax revenues. To blame baby-boomers for taking other people's jobs is rather like blaming immigrants.
The politicians are again at fault for not making full employment and job creation a higher priority. Now they are going even farther and prioritising job cuts, which can only make the situation worse for all age groups.
Once upon a time, there was no compulsory retirement age for judges. Some judges became incompetent in old age but refused to retire, continued to take cases, caused embarrassment at best and possible miscarriage of justice at worst, and brought the judiciary into disrepute and ridicule. So, eventually, judges were made to retire at 70.
Remember, "as a person gets older, he finds it increasingly difficult to comprehend verbal or visual data, especially when these are in any way new or unfamiliar" (Dr A T Welford, Skill and Age, 1951). The onset of the decline varies in each individual, but sooner or later it happens to most of us.
If there is to be no compulsory retirement, then judges (and others) who won't retire when they're no longer competent will have to be sacked for poor performance, which is not only difficult and time-consuming but a demeaning end to a working life. Far better, surely, that there's a time when we have to go, perhaps a little early but at least with dignity intact.
Light is cast on songbird drop
I keep reading stories that British songbirds, including the cuckoo, are in decline. An American newspaper once reported on an "English journal" having predicted this in 1897 (Los Angelese Times, 14 September, 1897):
"An English journal has become alarmed at the relation of electricity to songbirds? With the exception of the finches, all the English songbirds may be said to be insectivorous, and their diet consists chiefly of vast numbers of very small insects which they collect from the grass and herbs before the dew is dry.
"As the electric light is finding its way for street illumination into the country parts of England, these poor winged atoms are slain by thousands at each light every warm summer evening, battering themselves against the globes until the ground beneath is strewn with them.
"The fear is expressed, that when England is lighted from one end to the other with electricity the songbirds will die out from the failure of their food supply."
All insectivores are now in decline worldwide. Are they being starved too by "the electric light"? Could this hypothesis have been overlooked for 113 years?
Realistic look at need for pension
It appears that we have a Pensions Minister who does not actually like pensions (report, 29 July; letters 31 July). We are told that people are not saving enough for their old age. Mr Webb obviously does not live in the real world. Most ordinary people would find it impossible to save the hundreds of thousands of pounds necessary to provide them with a sufficient monthly income.
Pensions are the best way of doing this and the cheapest. Some people might otherwise save huge sums and then die the day after retirement. Since pension contributions are worked out on an actuarial basis, the benefits are obvious. Most sensible people will save a sufficient sum to provide them with enough to have a few holidays, buy a new car, etc, and a lump sum on retirement helps this.
I suppose pensions are vaguely socialistic and thus anathema to Tories. It is just another of the lunatic ideas which appear daily from this Government.
We are also told that there is a shortfall in the local government pension fund. Have we forgotten about the pension holidays which local authorities gave themselves?
If cheques end, expect chaos
No bank can refuse a lawful written instruction by a depositor to transfer funds from one uniquely identified account to another party (letters, 22, 27, 29, 30 July).
A cheque book is merely a lot of serially numbered pro-formas in a standard format designed for the convenience of the banks. They cannot reasonably charge for, or delay, transfers if, after withdrawal of pre-printed cheque books, their clients are forced to use other implements to express their wishes.
They should beware of the costs incurred when card, paper of all sizes, colours and textures, and clay tablets, are used to replace the present system, and the politicians of the day who allow the banks to stop issuing cheques should consider public opinion.
Cheques also present a physical forensic trail in these days of identity theft, whereas electronic transfers can present formidable forensic problems.
For us as Fairtraders, the end of cheques would be very awkward. Thousands of us sell fairly traded goods in churches, church halls, fêtes, and at talks across the UK. Many of the items are food and cost less than £10 but several stallholders include jewellery and items of clothing for sale. Orders are also taken from catalogues, often for quite expensive items. At Christmas, quite large numbers of cards as well as presents may be requested.
Turnover is not huge, but most purchasers will not carry the required amount of cash with them if they are attracted to the more exotic items. Those who place orders also expect to pay by cheque on receipt of items.
What do your correspondents suggest we use instead of cheques?
Climate-change science apolitical
It is remarkable that Dominic Lawson has the insight and intelligence to spot a gaping hole in our efforts to tackle climate change, our failure to discourage meat consumption and yet he also seems hopelessly incapable of distinguishing between science and politics (Comment, 21 July).
Like so many commentators, he simply cannot accept or understand that the evidence for "man-made climate change" (his quote marks) comes from scientists, and is apolitical. What we do about it is the political question.
His article demonstrates that right-wing commentators have a role to play in developing viable strategies to cut greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, if they want to be taken seriously, they need to lose their childish paranoia about green policies, and understand that scientific evidence is not something to be believed or disbelieved according to personal prejudices.
Dr Richard Milne
Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences,
The University of Edinburgh
Skills training seems stalled
Can UK manufacturing emulate the phoenix? An exemplar of the business strategy fundamental to achieving a rebalancing of the UK economy was detailed in your article on the speciality steel factories of Corus (20 July).
The message to the minister is clear. The sectors of the UK manufacturing industry that are second to none are those that design, develop and manufacture the higher-value products. Witness the increasing interest of global manufacturing businesses in acquiring UK companies reported in your article on these developments (same issue).
But, as the article on Corus details, these industries require "experienced workers, apprentices and graduates". In addition, they will require people to lead the increase of its operations. What has the National Skills Academy accomplished in provisioning these scarce but critical human resources? When are we going to be informed about the plans for its future activities?
Much has been said by the Government about the need to reduce the dependence of the UK economy on the financial sector but the silence on the required national industrial policy designed to accomplish this strategic aim is deafening.
Michael T Sweeney
Emeritus Professor of Operations Management,
Cranfield School of Management, Bedford
Phillip Shaw's experience of the express bus service from Nottingham to Chesterfield may be true (letters, 28 July) but the conclusions he draws are false. From Monday last, the operators doubled the frequency of the service to Chesterfield and increased that to Derby from four to six an hour. Used by paying or subsidised passengers, full buses lead to more buses and, hopefully, fewer cars.
I acknowledge drivers who stop when I use a zebra crossing (letters, 27, 28, 29 July) in the same way I do if someone holds a door open or says "After you". It's nothing to do with rights and legal obligations, it's to do with common courtesy, a concept unfashionable in a society where strident rudeness increasingly appears to be accepted as the norm.
Facts on flies
There is no need for Alan Gilford (letters, 26 July) to be puzzled. There are several blue species of damselfly and a couple of red species native to Britain and it would be normal to have seen one or more of these at the placess he refers to, even 40 years ago. Michael McCarthy's article referred to similarly coloured but quite distinct species arriving from across the Channel.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Perspectives on Pakistan
Who exports the terrorism?
There is very little that the erstwhile Labour minister Denis MacShane and I would agree on, but his comments regarding PM Cameron's "foolish insults" of the Pakistanis do ring true (report, 31 July).
India is an important trading partner for us, but it is the policies of Cameron's predecessor that have "exported terrorism". The 7 July bombers were "made in Britain". In a vast country such as Pakistan, with 180 million people and poor infrastructure, it is virtually impossible for the state to police every aspect of life.
The Pakistanis could justifiably argue that Britain has "exported terrorism" to its neigbourhood on its western border, and India has "exported terrorism" to its eastern border. The Kashmir issue is the festering sore that will not go away for India, and it is not Pakistanis who riot against India's 500,000 troops in the Kashmir valley.
It is not incidents of Pakistanis being abused, raped and murdered that cause young Kashmiris to revolt. Surely this denial of the very obvious by the Indians is on a par with apartheid or the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a cause of conflict?
In Afghanistan, it is obvious to all but the wilfully blind that our troops are not fighting "Taliban", they increasingly appear to be fighting a popular resistance to foreign invasion and occupation. The Afghan state long ago disconnected with its people, being seen as foreign stooges.
The Pakistani state has also clearly disconnected with large parts of its population as it becomes identified with foreign invaders who kill large numbers of Pakistanis in their homes. Pakistan has lost more than 50,000 people in these Bush/Blair wars.
The Pak-Afghan border is so mountainous that no effective border exists. Would the people of occupied Oxford not expect the people of Reading to help them in similar straits? The chances are that there are numerous family ties between the two, so why is that region any different? Are they any less human?
It is in that final question that the real rub lies. In all the posturing and megaphone diplomacy, the disconnect between what is happening on the ground and what our political leaders are saying is so stark that it leads many to the conclusion that there is an underlying agenda.
Perhaps an agenda for oil? Perhaps an existential attack on the religion of Islam? Perhaps this perceived existential threat and the widespread unremarked killing of "Muslims" is feeding the resistance and also the terrorism?
Miliband angered Pakistanis here
David Miliband has liitle to teach the Prime Minister about how to conduct British foreign policy. As Labour foreign secretary, he was known for his appeasement of Israeli civil and war crimes against the Palestinians and his readiness to act as a poodle for the Jewish lobby in Washington.
In these ways, he would have angered the Pakistanis in Britain a great deal more than anything that David Cameron may have said about Pakistan while in India.
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