Letters: Single mothers and taxes

Resist the urge to punish single mothers
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The Independent Online

We all, like Mary Dejevsky ("My problem with teenage mothers", 2 October) occasionally feel annoyed at the use of our taxes, but I suspect that she believes more is being spent on a social group that she clearly feels is undeserving than is actually the case. Contrary to popular myth only 2 per cent of all single mothers out of a total of 1.5 million single parents are under 18. The average age of a single parent is 36.

What is the cause for Ms Dejevsky's antagonism towards the existence of "male visitors who park their shiny 4x4s outside". Is it the environmental impact of these 4x4s? Or does she suspect that teenage mothers are selling their bodies to the male visitors to make ends meet? Or does she think – as Gordon Brown seems to – that we should be going back to the bad old days of punishing young women for getting pregnant, and that they should be in sack-cloth and ashes rather continuing to socialise with men, or even daring to have a sex life?

This attitude is echoed in the statement that taxpayer's money is being used to "make these girls' lives more agreeable than I think it should be". Why should these girls' life be less agreeable because they are young mothers?

However it will be less agreeable for sure, as they struggle with bureaucracy to get money from an elephantine and dehumanised benefit system, or eventually to get child-friendly working hours, or to get childcare, which is so expensive and in such short supply, if they decide to try to continue their education. Those who talk to real people living real lives on the margins of society are more likely to feel empathy than antagonism, or even anger at how punitive the attitude to single parents can be.

Zayda Kebede

London NW1

Nobel Prize too soon for Obama

The reasons given by the Nobel Committee for its choice of Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize mention the UN, international co-operation and nuclear disarmament. This is definitely a step in the right direction, considering Alfred Nobel and his expressions on a "brotherhood among nations" where it would be safe to abolish national armaments. I wish Obama well and admire his diplomacy for nuclear disarmament.

But when Nobel called upon the Parliament of Norway to give his prize to "champions of peace" he had in mind those who work for a fundamental change of the world where nations could safely abolish national military forces. Obama is light years of improvement after Bush, but still I do not see him having any intention of abolishing his own or other military forces.

Fredrik S Heffermehl


Yes, I am a fan of Barack Obama and, yes, I believe that he will "do good" for the world in the coming months and years. But surely a prize should be awarded only after the achievements have been made?

Next year or the year after he would certainly be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. But not this year: it undermines the whole value of the award.

And besides, Barack Obama is currently engaged in a bloody war in Afghanistan. Had the committee forgotten this? Many others will not have missed this point and will focus in on the disparity (double-values) that giving this award at this moment highlights. That will hinder Mr Obama's efforts.

Alan Searle

Cologne, Germany

Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year after taking office. Having taken on the role as peace envoy to the Middle East over two years ago, will Tony Blair be wondering why he wasn't awarded it?

Sarah Pegg

Seaford, East Sussex

Still the same old Tory party

The Tories and their friends in the media are deliberately playing up the significance of the national debt for ideological reasons ("Britain's not bust. So don't use it as an excuse to impose cuts', 8 October). They see it as a golden opportunity to justify their planned dismantlement of the public sector – and to blame it all on Labour.

What we have heard from the Tories this week about cuts is just a tip of the iceberg if they were to gain power. How grotesque will it be when the likes of Osborne, who is financially secure thanks to family wealth, turfs thousands of public-sector workers out of their jobs and tells millions of others they can't have a pay rise and that their pensions are to be curtailed.

And all because of the greed and incompetence of Osborne's and Cameron's friends in the City whom they have been courting for party donations over the past few years. When will the electorate wake up from a media-induced, blue-tinged coma and realise that the Tory party hasn't changed one bit? Its so-called Cameroonian transformation is nothing but a charade and electoral ploy.

Norman Evans

East Horsley, Surrey

When John Major was negotiating the UK opt-out from the Social Chapter , I recall that he claimed that the fact that UK employees would have lesser employment rights than their European counterparts would make them easier to dismiss, and so more attractive to employers when new jobs were created.

As we now seem to be reaping the "reward" of Mr Major's far-sightedness, could someone ask Mr Cameron whether that is still Conservative policy?

Peter Slessenger


Perhaps we should defer to the Tories on how to deal with binge-drinking by teenagers (letters, 9 October): there are enough former Bullingdon Club members in the Tory hierarchy whose personal experiences could provide the next Labour government with a valuable insight.

Eddie Dougall

Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Vichy France under Marshal Pétain replaced Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité with Travail, Famille, Patrie. David Cameron's "Family, Community, Country" sounds uncomfortably similar. Should we be worried?

Michael Broadbent

Bishop Auckland, Co Durham

The rights to new green technology

Your article in the Business section "China set to pilot carbon trading" (1 October) set me thinking. Whether through nuclear, wind, solar or any other approach, it is clear that new technology will be the key to tackling climate change. It is also clear that the development and implementation of those technologies will require enormous financial investment, most of which will come from the private sector, which will be keen to exploit the demand for such innovations.

One issue concerns intellectual property and its role in the development and dissemination of new, low-carbon technologies: unless the proportion of the necessary investment shifts drastically towards the public purse, IP protection will be essential for the development of such technologies. Companies will not invest without it. The issue is whether this protection inhibits technology dissemination and implementation, especially in the developing world, where it is needed most.

As yet, there are no definitive studies, but there is plenty of anecdote and assertion, some of which assumes that IP acts as a barrier to achieving our common climate change goals, and that it works to the detriment of developing economies in particular.

This institute exists to conduct well-founded research into thorny issues such as this. We are working on it, but we have yet to establish exactly how the IP system is working here. If we make the wrong decisions at Copenhagen the consequences for our economic well being and our environment are potentially disastrous.

Dr P A Leonard

Director, The IP Institute London WC1

Atheism taken in moderation

Emily Rose (letter, 9 October) asks what a non-fundamentalist atheist believes. Perhaps that human life is fascinatingly manifold and people fundamentally impossible to categorise. Contrast her own deadening claim: "Atheists fundamentally represent the open mind, religious people the closed."

Fr Patrick Morrow

London SE5

Non-fundamentalist atheists (and I'm sure some of your readers are among them) disagree with the Dawkins view that religion is a virus or that Christian ethos schools constitute an act of child abuse. Neither do they believe that religion is an evil that should be restricted to the private sphere.

Atheists can be as dogmatic, as intransigent and as intolerant as the most fundamentalist of religious believers. Atheists also have their sacred books, their temples and their evangelists.

Paul Woolley

Director, Theos, the public theology think tank London SW1

Cheap fuel is the last thing we need

While I agree it is appalling that energy companies are making huge profits and providing a poor service I do not agree the solution is to demand a price cut ("The great energy rip-off", 7 October).

The price of fossil fuels may have come down recently but the price the environment is paying for our greedy use of them is not. There are many people who struggle to pay energy bills, but for the vast majority of us higher prices are the only way we will curb our wasteful habits and encourage investment in energy efficiency.

Blaise Kelly


Wednesday's front-page story inaccurately represented EDF Energy's fixed price tariffs. After EDF Energy's fixed-price product "Price Freeze 2009" ended on 30 September, customers moved on to lower prices (not higher, as stated) with "Price Guarantee 2010" from 1 October 2009. Further, customers on our "Price Protection 2009" fixed-price product will also switch to cheaper prices with Price Guarantee 2010 from 1 November 2009.

EDF Energy is committed to providing practical and effective ways to use energy more efficiently and save money.

Martin Lawrence

Managing Director Energy Sourcing and Customer Supply

EDF Energy, London SW1

I'm sure you were trying to be helpful with your assurance that, "Changing energy supplier is easy. All you need is your existing bill and access to the internet."

So how long will it be before the savings on energy will have offset the expense of a computer and internet connection? You seem to have missed the irony that the 17 million of us without computers are those more likely to need protection from sharks in the energy supply sector.

John Stagg

Farnham Surrey

That's learned us a grammar lesson

When an exasperated Yorkshire mother threatens her child, "I'll learn you!", she is not displaying ignorance ("Errors and Omissions", 3 October): she is speaking the language of her ancestors, still current since the time of Miles Coverdale.

She may indeed have heard it in her parish church if the Prayer Book version of the Psalms is still in use – for example Psalm 25: 4, 8.

Though the finite transitive verb did not survive into King James' Bible, its past participle "learned" is still with us.

The Rev G T Eddy

Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire

Unwelcome visitor

The mystery of the vanishing cuckoo (report, 9 October) may be sad news to those who eagerly await this herald of spring, but I'll bet the meadow pipit is thrilled to bits at this decline of an unwanted lodger.

John Stagg

Farnham, Surrey

Cake to remember

John Walsh's article (Food & Drink, 8 October) was a most interesting piece of times remembered. I read the article waiting to see if one of my favourite foods from that era would be mentioned, sadly it was not. Who remembers "Kunzle Cakes"?

Morris Globe


Religious bias

Can you explain why your article on the disappearance and alleged murder of Tulay Goren (9 October) refers to a "Muslim honour-killing" and describes Tulay as "a 15-year-old Muslim girl", yet, four pages later, in a story about the theft of millions of dollars from Brooke Astor by her son, their Christianity isn't mentioned once?

Steve Tiller

London N1

Shifting suburbs

Someone has shifted suburbia even further out than Betjeman did. Abinger Hammer (pictured in "A postcard from Suburbia, circa 1965", 8 October) was a rural village then and still is. For much of the time since 1900 there have been plenty of wealthy commuters living there, but it isn't even a suburb of nearby Dorking, let alone London.

Stuart Shurlock

(exiled Surrey native)

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Happy return

Deborah Ross is back! (Interview, Independent magazine, 3 October.) Tremendous. Funny – and shrewd. Please keep her on the job.

Alison Sheppard

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire