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Monday 28 June 2010
Letters: State pension
Pension plans are not fair
I am wholly persuaded of the need to reduce the level of national debt, and pleased that the new government is setting about the task in a serious manner.
I am prepared to play my part, in spite of not being a public-sector worker in receipt of unfunded pension benefits, not having borrowed excessively to buy my house, not receiving child benefits, tax credits, or income supplements of any kind. But the proposals in the Budget are not fair, and I am discouraged.
Probably the most significant impact on me will be the raising of the state pension age (I will be 58 this year), which will mean that I won't receive a state pension until I am 66.
I hear Messrs Osborne and Cameron say that we are all in this together, and that the rich will be hit more than the poor (by the deficit-reduction measures), but those gentlemen and their colleagues will not feel the pain of the change in pension age as I will.
The state pension is an insignificant part of their retirement income and if they do indeed work beyond 65 that will be from choice and not, as in my case, because they cannot afford to retire earlier.
The change in pension age affects everyone, but disproportionately. The least well-off suffer the most; our masters the least. This betrays the lack of understanding that the government has of the financial situation of the common man, which makes me less willing to lend it my support.
The notion that "we're all living longer" may apply to this past generation but not to the present one (mine, the baby boomers), and certainly not to the one following it.
This is a typical bit of statistical nonsense. It is no more possible to predict the future of life expectancy than it is the stock market, no matter how much counting you do. (But then saying "I don't know" does not make you a wealthy consultant or a successful institute, does it?) Our parents grew up through depression and war, at a time when the streets were as empty of cars as the fields were of houses. As a result, they enjoyed a healthy diet and plenty of outdoor exercise. They drank moderately, when they drank at all, and were to suffer only at the hands of the tobacco industry.
My generation invented binge drinking and drug abuse. It is also working tirelessly to catch up with the US, where one in three adults is now obese. (The one in five children who is obese may be expected to die in his/her forties.) The successor generation followed our example and perfected it, drinking far more, and using harder drugs far more often.
The idea that we or they are going to live as long as this past generation, never mind longer, would be funny if it wasn't costing me my pension.
Sean O'Grady's article "Are the books really in as bad a mess as the coalition says?" (15 June), makes a valid point. The main reason pension costs are rising is simply because there are more pensioners and we are living longer. In the NHS, the average pension is less than £4,000 a year and NHS pensions overall are not a strain on the taxpayer.
The NHS pension scheme has already been reformed and midwives have increased their contributions, raised their retirement age, and agreed to accept any potential future cost increases through higher contributions or reduced benefits. Indeed, the reformed NHS scheme could form a model for future pension provision.
Pensions are a recruitment and retention tool, critical if we are to address the shortage of midwives; they are also a method of alleviating poverty in retirement and reliance on state benefits which is also good for the taxpayer.
In reality, most public-sector workers, and the NHS workforce in particular, will retire on modest pensions, achieved only by decades of service.
Director of Employment Relations and Development, The Royal College of Midwives, London, W1
We're being told constantly that the nation's employees are going to have to work longer to take the state pension at a later date. Several people I know have retired early through stress, burn-out and having had more and more duties put upon them due to staff recruitment being frozen.
Do successive governments realise what is happening in the real world? Will the coalition now address this major problem which is robbing industry, the Civil Service and agencies of the people needed to implement their policies?
D A Shearn
Midsomer Norton, Somerset
David Carpenter is quite wrong in saying that state pensioners are being disgracefully conned by the switch from RPI to CPI (letters, 23 June) for pension indexing and that pensions won't be linked to the retail index.
Actually, we are being given a very generous best of three worlds: the higher of RPI, CPI, or 2.5 per cent. So if we have a repeat of last year's negative RPI, we won't have a reduction as happened to my RPI-linked company pension (though not the state pension) but will have at least 2.5 per cent. If RPI soars, then we benefit from that.
Why are many people so incensed by having to work a measly one year extra for a state pension? What younger people don't realise is that when they become 65 a year in ageing seems more like four months.
Hastings, East Sussex
Farmers improve the environment
It saddens me that farmers aren't given credit for what they do to help the environment (letters, 22 June) and their detractors forever hark back to the past.
I was brought up and still live in a rural area where things are pretty much the same as they were. But what has altered are the number and size of roads, the doubling in size of the local villages and the city (once a town) expanding its boundaries, with all the accompaniments of decking, paved drives and the development of industrial units on, what was once, fertile ground.
Now, our farm is not much different to all the others in the area, but without our single farm payment we, probably, couldn't survive and yet our land supports birds on the red and amber RSPB lists, including cuckoo, barn owl and grey partridge among others, according to an RSPB farmland bird survey. Our meadows, woods and field margins proliferate with flowers, small mammals and insects.
So what do you want us to do? Do away with the single farm payment and make us farm more intensively than we do now (we do have a business to run, after all)? Or, why not back us for the measures we have to comply with, the measures we make voluntarily (campaigning for farmed environment) and the measures we make because we, like most farmers, enjoy the countryside and wildlife we live among and care for?
Yet, that we still manage to produce food to a high standard from low market returns, is a credit to farmers and I am proud to be one.
We are all responsible, from farmers, to car-users, to people who walk their dogs through fields, forgetting that they too disturb and displace flora and fauna.
Surely it would be better if we all worked together, in a tolerant and respectful manner, instead of making the unhelpful, divisive comments that I have seen reported in your paper by single-issue groups and others recently.
We decide who is to be barred
The role of the Independent Safeguarding Authority is not to oversee the Vetting and Barring Scheme (leading article, 16 June). Our responsibility is to decide who should be statutorily barred from working with children and vulnerable adults.
We do that by considering information from the police and from employers who have had reason to dismiss people from employment or discontinue their volunteering because they consider them to have harmed or to be at serious risk of harming vulnerable people. Employers make 500 such reports each month.
Malicious allegations or unsubstantiated gossip play no part in our considerations. Before any decision to bar a person is taken, all the available information is sent to the individual and they are invited to comment on it either directly or through their trades union or lawyers. Full regard is paid to their representations before arriving at a conclusion.
We seek to bring objectivity, impartiality and careful risk assessment to our work. Only in that way can we make decisions which protect children and vulnerable adults and respect the rights of people who have been referred.
Sir Roger Singleton
Chair, Independent Safeguarding Authority, Darlington, Co Durham
Young foster carers needed
In Surrey, the average age of foster carers is 53 so I totally agree with Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey that a national fostering recruitment drive is past overdue to tackle the potentially huge impact of imminent retirements ("Threat of cuts could cause crisis in foster care facilities", 16 June).
Although older people can bring experience and skills from other jobs to the role of caring for vulnerable children, we must do everything possible to prevent those in their 20s, 30s and 40s from seeing fostering as a job somebody else, or older, will do. For that reason, it is vital we look beyond conventional recruitment methods.
In Surrey, we are targeting childminders, sending foster carers into schools to give talks to parents and exploring the possibility of doing the same at Scout meetings and have seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of carers recruited since last April, but we still need more.
Dr Andrew Povey
Leader of the Council, Kingston upon Thames
Homeless suffer wrong reporting
I was interested by your article on the inaccurate numbers of homeless in the UK (16 June). Here, in the London borough of Lewisham, the official number of rough sleepers stands at two and has done so since 2008, yet over a 10-week period in both 2009 and 2010 when we open our temporary winter night-shelter we accommodated 49 and 59 individual rough sleepers respectively.
If a problem does not appear to exist it does not get given the resources to solve it. But the flawed counting does allow the government to make grand statements such as the one from its most recent report No One Left Out: communities ending rough sleeping - An annual progress report: November 2008 - November 2009, published on 27 November 2009
Its summary states: "The government's new rough-sleeping strategy No One Left Out: communities ending rough sleeping was launched on 18 November 2008. Building on the success in reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough by two-thirds over the past 10 years, the strategy sets out a new ambitious objective of ending rough sleeping in England by 2012."
Rolling back to the beginning
Summer, 1968: having just left school and being quite influenced by the new politics/music, I was selling the International Times newspaper on the streets of central London, dodging police determined to bust us vendors (Big Issue sellers have it so easy now).
One day I went to IT's offices to pick up more papers and there on a desk were a few copies of an American magazine called Rolling Stone, which immediately elicited my interest ("How Rolling Stone was able to bring down a general", 25 June).
I was told they'd been sent on spec and the IT people weren't sure what to do with them. I was convinced I could sell them too, and took all they had. I sold them all and next day went back and asked for more. They eventually got more in and the rest, as they say, is history.
Many observers of the World Cup have commented that the South American teams are doing well in South Africa. The reason is obvious. As students of physics know, the Coriolis effect causes things to spin in the opposite direction south of the Equator. The Jabulani ball is simply following the laws of nature.
Chichester, West Sussex
Given the continuing demonisation of BP by some on Capitol Hill, and by sections of the American media, I wonder what has changed in the intervening years since the 1984` Bhopal disaster, when those institutions were noticeably quieter. Different neighbourhoods, I guess.
Perspectives on Royal influence:
Charles was doing his duty to us
Constitutionally defined or not, the role of the entire Royal Family as ambassadors for Britain has always been to use their influence, behind closed doors, to further Britain's interests, economic and political.
That the Prince chooses to use such connections also to improve our quality of life here is enormously to his credit, and our benefit. The positive contribution of his Foundation for the Built Environment, and of the Prince's other charitable activities in food and agriculture, community development and youth enterprise is a widely welcomed consequence of this "influence".
This is less about interference in the democratic planning process, in which behind-the-scenes "meddling" is endemic, than simply the indignant reaction of a vocal and entrenched profession determined to defend its inexcusable autonomy from outside "interference".
In a truly democratic society, new build would reflect the wishes of the majority, and surveys show 75 to 80 per cent of people consistently prefer traditional design. Their views, long championed by the Prince, are ignored by an industry which prefers to remain unaccountable for aesthetics.
If, as some estimates suggest, nearly half of the urban environment of 2050 is yet to be built and, if the world is serious about meeting the challenges of climate change, all of this should be zero carbon. We should build, not for a throwaway 50- to 60-year life-span but for centuries.
Modernist planning and architecture — in contrast to traditional and classical disciplines honed over millennia — lack the aesthetic coherence and quality which make this credible. An aesthetic free-for-all has no enduring value.
These issues are no longer academic; they are life-threatening. Thank God someone in a position of influence is taking a stand.
Abuse of power cuts both ways
Prince Charles would not be forced to abuse his position if property developers did not abuse their position. Since when has large-scale property development – a misnomer – had anything to do with democracy? From Dubai to New York, it is mostly about the very wealthy, the elite, telling the rest of the world what architecture will be.
Take Lord Foster. Most of his buildings, which I happen to like, are massive ads for powerful corporations. In fact, Lord Foster is at the leading edge of corporate architecture, which has nothing to do with democracy. Surely one of his architecture teachers mentioned that when he was a student?
Brave new architecture can be wonderful, but yet more expensive condominiums in a country increasingly divided between rich and poor is a poor statement on economic democracy. How about your paper spends less time criticising people who are defending sensible, smaller-scale development and more time criticising corporations and their servants (architects) who develop the world with nothing but profit in mind?
In the mould of Prince Albert
"Interference" by Prince Charles? What about developers, architects, constructors and builders have not a qualm about lobbying, bribing, and seeking influence in every way every prince, sheikh, king, foreign secretary and prime ministerial mistress they possibly can when they want their plans approved and paid for.
And would we call Prince Albert "interfering"? We owe him much, and Prince Charles, admirably, is in his mould.
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