Letters: Single parents

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The Independent Online

Tax and benefit regime keeps single parents single

Sir: You report (11 April) on statistics that show 24 per cent of children live with one parent. The law is to blame for this increase in single-parent households. I teach part time in our local primary school and the experience of many currently single parents reflects my own. It is not financially viable to create another secure family unit once you are divorced.

My partner of four years has three children. I have five. We live together and our children spend a lot of time together and are incredibly close. My partner is a supportive step-parent and friend and my children benefit from his calm intelligence.

My partner's income is included in our household income. He rightly pays maintenance to his ex-wife and many other expenses for his children. This is not taken into account when the tax credit assessments are calculated. My partner's total income is taken into account when we are assessed for tax credits. If we did not live together I would receive working tax credits, tax credits, a reduction in council tax, free prescriptions, a weekly allowance for my 16-year-old to stay at school to complete her A-levels and all university fees paid.

My ex-husband pays no maintenance. The law allows him to divert his salary in myriad ways; his household income is not taken into account when the CSA calculate.

Both CSA and tax office agree the system is flawed. Indeed it has been suggested that my partner rent a room somewhere so he can have a different address. I speak to many single parents who cannot afford to live with their partner, let alone marry; the incentives to do so are just not there.



More effective laws against rape

Sir: Sarah Churchwell's sympathies are well-placed (Opinion, 11 April), but her argument has two fatal flaws.

"Rape law," she asserts, "uniquely in criminal cases, hinge[s] on the asserted state of mind of the alleged criminal ... the court must determine whether the defendant believes he has committed a crime."

Yet this is not all: if the court determines that his belief was unreasonable, he is guilty. Neither is the necessity for such determination unique: if I borrow my neighbour's car and defend myself against a charge of theft by asserting that I believed that I had his permission, the court must determine whether my belief was reasonable.

The need to ensure that rape is more effectively prosecuted - and thus, hopefully, also deterred - remains urgent; but perhaps it is the legal process, which can compare as an ordeal for the victim with the crime itself, which is most in need of reform.



Sir: Sarah Churchwell makes many interesting and welcome points regarding the outdated rape laws of the UK and USA.

However, in her whirlwind of arguments to support her views she disparages the advice of the Government's advisers who tell women to "avoid going alone to social events in order to protect themselves against rape", and says that they are simply absolving "us" of any collective responsibility for the safety of women.

But this misses the fundamental point of the advice that people are in fact safer in crowds as they present a much more difficult target than people alone. By dismissing the Government's advice she provides a real disservice to women.

Furthermore, she says that "in both the UK and US, the law continues to sympathise with the defendant and slander the victim". Yet this is directly at odds with the victim's right to anonymity, while the defendant receives no such protection. If found guilty of this despicable act then the convicted rapist should be punished and their identity revealed to all, but to be fair, while lobbying against these archaic laws, should not Ms Churchwell also include iniquities against the defendant as well?



Despair will not help the climate

Sir: Richard Garner states that "children will be put on the front line of the battle to save the planet under radical proposals to shake up the way that geography is taught in schools" (report, 2 February).

I have just returned from an international summit of environmental and health education researchers from 14 countries who met in Ascona, Switzerland. The urgency of climate change and the need for responsible educational reforms were much discussed at this meeting.

Although the proposal to bring climate change and other topical environmental issues into the geography curriculum is to be applauded, it is critical to do so in an educationally defensible manner that inspires hope.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, is quoted as saying "Children have a dual role as consumers and influencers". He sees them as a weapon to put pressure on their parents. To "put children on the front line of battle", to lay the problems of the world on their feet, to bombard them with information about a deteriorating world is unconscionable and dangerous.

A growing number of studies, such as those conducted by Dr Albert Zeyer, a physician and health educator at the University of Zurich, demonstrates that students today are fully aware of the looming environmental crises.

The result of decades of "gloom and doom" messages is a generation of disillusioned and depressed youth. If we are really to defend the planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to engage students in learning experiences that tackle controversial subjects in a manner that engenders resiliency, not despondency. The research is there and I urge the Government to make full use of it.



Sir: Being asked by the Government to voluntarily do my bit for climate puts me in mind of being a soldier in the good fight ("The green gap", leading article, 2 April).

I expect the generals to co-ordinate the attack and, to that end, impose discipline on the whole army. I don't expect my leaders to wander along the front line saying, "Any of you chaps feel like nipping over and having a go at the enemy, feel free; we'll stay here and watch", or to encourage the malingerers and cowards to sell off the supplies and ammunition for a quick profit.

Gordon Brown's paltry tax on gas guzzlers was met by the makers of the two-ton "Hummer" announcing the launch of a version for the UK market and a plan to sell 1,000 a year (having flown one in from South Africa). So far, not a complaint from the Government has been heard, and we are still waiting for the airport expansion proposals to be abandoned.

It is like this in every area of policy. Tony Blair has offered no leadership on climate change, and Gordon Brown is showing every sign of being worse. We need a truly Green leadership.



Sir: "A very green machine" you state in your first report on a car at the Eden Project's Sexy Green Car Show (3 April). To illustrate how green it is you then suggest how much further you can drive for your money with examples of London to Edinburgh and London to the South of France. Looks as if we will have to build more roads.



Direct debits are invading France

Sir: Dr Angus McDonald correctly says that the TIP system is prevalent in France (letter, 2 April). But make no mistake about it, here too direct debits are rearing their ugly heads.

After a lifetime of managing to avoid them, I have just had to accept a contract where I had no choice but to pay in this manner. The main problem with such an arrangement is that, as one or two of my friends have found out, even though this might be just a mistake, a ludicrously excessive sum could just vanish from one's account. If this results in an overdraft at a French bank, this may mean that the account is blocked for a month, in addition to all the usual exorbitant charges for stopping standing orders and cheques without provision.

My bank told me that I had seven calendar days to stop payment of a direct debit if I felt the demand either excessive or incorrect, at a price of course. I have no choice now but to check my current account balance regularly to avoid any unpleasant surprises.



A battle celebrated in ancient verse

Sir: Notwithstanding the statue of Brithnoth at the end of the town's Promenade Park (Letters, 11 April) the Battle of Maldon's real significance lies not in its military or strategic importance but in its literary connection.

Maldon was no more significant than the many skirmishes between Vikings and Anglo Saxons that dominated the end of the first millennium. However, because of the heroic Anglo-Saxon poem, of which a sizeable fragment survives, the battle is more evocative than most.

The real site of the battle has never been properly identified, so rather than a plaque it might be more appropriate for the newly installed Mayor of Maldon to read the Anglo-Saxon verse from the balcony of the town's Moot Hall each year.



No reason to defy Iranian captors

Sir: I can't believe the stupidity of the comparisons being made between the behaviour of the captured servicemen in Iran and previous heroic captives from Vietnam and the Second World War.

These earlier servicemen were not being offered the option of freedom in exchange for saying some ridiculous things in public, so they had far less to lose from holding out. Anyone confronted with the possibility of freedom in exchange for performing trivial acts of public humiliation would be irresponsible not to take it.

As to them earning money from their memoirs I am shocked at the double standards applied to the ranks compared to senior officers, whose memoirs frequently adorn the bookshop shelves. Anyone who has read any history will know how rare and precious first-hand accounts of the battlefield from the rank and file are, so surely we should be encouraging them to put pen to paper rather than vilifying them.



Sir: Soldiers have not always been as reticent as Elizabeth Pyne (letter, 11 April) would have us believe. My godfather, Pat Reid, made a bob or two with his popular accounts of imprisonment in Colditz Castle and even more from film and TV.

Bookshelves are loaded with military memoirs but there is little evidence that their authors refused payment. There is a clear need among the civilian population for first-hand accounts of military experience: it would be against the national interest to forbid such accounts when there are no security issues at stake.



Sir: I much enjoyed Adrian Hamilton's idea that Des Browne's behaviour is the "reverse of Nuremberg - only following the orders of one's subordinates" (Opinion, 12 April). But I fear that Mr Hamilton - evidently a scruffy civilian - is slightly confused about who's who in the upper echelons of the military.

He complains that "the Chief of the General Staff, an army man, was not consulted". Well, yes, he would be an army man - he's the head of the Army, and perhaps unlikely to be consulted in the case of the sailors and marines in Iran. Maybe Mr Hamilton was thinking of the Chief of the Defence Staff.

At the moment, that post happens to be filled by an airman, who rejoices in the marginally unlikely name of Sir Jock Stirrup. Ah, but was he consulted? Who knows?



Faith and reason

Sir: In Darren Hill's opinion (letter, 10 April), belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a "pre-Enlightenment mythology unsupported by evidence or reason". It is extraordinary that he can dismiss 2000 years of Christian history and faith in a sentence. It is even more extraordinary that he can imply that he, and those who share his views, are the only rational ones.



Intellectual rivals

Sir, Hamish McRae ("If the Irish can thrive, why can't the Scots?", 11 April) mentions the high world ranking of Edinburgh University as an argument in support of the economic viability of an independent Scotland. But perhaps the success of Edinburgh University is due to the rigours of competing in a UK-wide pool for research council funds, staff and students against universities like Oxford and Cambridge.



Peers in power

Sir: In "Schools to be given early warning if standards slip" (3 April), you run a picture and introduce us to a man I am not familiar with, this so-called "Andrew Adonis". Now, I know of a Lord Adonis, an unelected schools minister who owes his position to the mystery of however lords become lords. He is not the same as "fellow schools minister" Jim Knight, elected by his constituents in a fully democratic manner. We have a strange constitution in this country.



Sexual morality

Sir: I was puzzled to see those such as Norman Wells who are campaigning against sex education and contraception described as "morality campaigners" ("Promoting sexual abstinence can put children at risk, Ofsted warns", 12 April). In the face of overwhelming evidence that abstinence education doesn't work and with the health and happiness of our children at stake, what could be more immoral than to put your faith in dogma and oppose the sex and relationships education that is so needed in our schools?



Strange sign

Sir: With reference to letters concerning misleading signs, could I add a shop in Otley, Yorkshire: "Ted Pickles Lawnmowers", surely one of the most specialised businesses in the country?