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Tuesday 19 June 2012
Letters: Tax and the economy
What crisis? The rich are doing fine
John Kampfner asks: "Which politician will be brave enough to tell voters the days of abundance are over?" and describes the need for a new paradigm (Opinion, 18 June). Can I suggest that with nearly $2trn secreted "offshore" in 2011 alone the new paradigm starts with closing all the offshore tax havens: the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Monaco, and ending the rights of Swiss citizens to travel freely in the EU.
If there is to be any semblance that "we are all in this together", equality of taxation has to be a priority. If the period of "abundance" is over then we can no longer afford the self-indulgences of the untaxed rich who choose to reside here free of their proper responsibility as citizens.
It is perhaps not astonishing that this aspect of "sustainability" seems to be entirely overlooked by the 50,000-strong "professional village" that has decamped to Rio+20.
While the banks will be thrilled to receive another £80bn bonus from the Government this year any belief that this will trickle down to the high street to stimulate the economy is a joke.
The core economic problem we face isn't just high-street lending and high-street spending, it's in the creation of new enterprise, new jobs and new opportunities. That means taking risks on business lending and making new business investments, and banks don't do risk or investment.
Once again the Chancellor and his advisers have misunderstood how to get the economy working for everyone but the London banks.
Chief executives and senior management in big business received an average increase in remuneration of 12 per cent last year. Are these the people that George Osborne had in mind when he cut the top rate of income tax in the Budget, to stop them leaving the country in droves because their salaries and perks were so inadequate? Looks like they had sorted their financial problems anyway.
So long as this unashamed greed continues, there is no hope of unity of purpose across the country to battle our current economic woes.
In the current financial climate is not the word "billion"' (and its contraction "bn") being bandied about so ubiquitously that the value it represents means very little to people? I suggest that The Independent sets an example, and bans the use of the word in its columns for at least a month: "£10 billion" would have to be expressed as "£10,000,000,000". We might then be shocked into a better appreciation of the huge sums involved.
Peter Ward Jones
Can we live with our birds of prey?
Michael McCarthy ("A badge of honour: the fight to save the whale" 13 June) highlights some of the successes of the conservation movement including the moratorium on whaling and the saving of the Mauritius kestrel and New Zealand's kakapo from extinction. These were important achievements and there are many more that conservationists can take great pride in, but we should be vigilant to the threats that wildlife continues to face both here and abroad.
It was recently revealed that not a single hen harrier bred in England this year despite there being suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs. This is believed to be due in large part to persecution carried out in the interests of grouse shooting estates.
We were promised the "greenest government ever" when the Coalition took office; surely we have a right to expect them to act decisively to prevent this kind of persecution and allow one of our most charismatic bird species to return to the moorlands?
Newcastle upon Tyne
I was disappointed that so many ostensibly sensible people missed the point in such spectacular style (Letter: "Safeguard our birds of prey", 13 June).
Birds of prey, like other top predators such as tigers, wolves and bears, occupy a very special place in the public psyche. The rescue and recovery of birds of prey after the impacts of pesticides were understood is one of the most important conservation successes.
The big issue is how to cope when top predators clash with legitimate concerns about human livelihood and welfare. Reacting with "horror" about "imprisoning buzzards" is unhelpful. People need answers which require research and practical solutions. Media rhetoric will cause more damage.
The idea that "our countryside is a place where people and wildlife can live side by side" sounds terrific – until you do it with tigers, wolves and bears, or feel your very livelihood is being threatened by a rapidly expanding buzzard population.
Chief Executive, The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Rossett, Wrexham
Reasons to learn a language
It seems to me the critical question to ask when insisting all school children learn a foreign language (as Michael Gove is considering doing) is what for?
If we want students to go to university and read literature in the original language or become translators then we have a perfectly good system. If we want young people to use languages, to enjoy them and particularly to speak them then I am afraid we absolutely do not have a system in place which will enable this to happen.
My experience (of not learning French at school and 30 years later having two children go through the same experience) is that the curriculum is not designed to make children able to communicate in a language – certainly not orally. It may well happen if a particular teacher in a particular situation chooses to focus on communication, but across the country this will not happen.
If children do not see a communicative reward they will not want to study. Clearly the minute the Government stopped language being compulsory at GCSE a generation of children gave a huge sigh of relief and got on with other subjects.
Making them study languages without addressing the motivation and the curriculum is hardly likely to suddenly make them want to learn a language. And of course while it is undoubtedly true that the younger they start the better, it is also true that the sooner you put them off the more difficult it is to ever get them back again.
Director, UIC London
Your recent correspondents (16 June) state that language training in primary schools has failed in the past because of a lack of qualified teachers. This is still true, for there are relatively few people who can currently teach, say, German, and the required training takes time.
But suppose we think of the problem not as "how many native English speakers can teach German?", but as "how many native German speakers might be eligible to teach in our primary schools?" This opens many opportunities: what might happen, for example, if Michael Gove were to fund a scheme whereby those studying to become primary school teachers in Germany – most of whom are likely to be proficient in English – are invited to spend a year in the UK teaching German to our primary school pupils?
It is easy to cast doubt on the feasibility of Michael Gove's laudable intention to place foreign language study firmly in the primary school curriculum because of an assumed shortage of qualified language teachers.
However, a good number of such teachers were shaken out of secondary schools when Estelle Morris, during her short and ill-starred period as Education Secretary, decided for the weakest of reasons (by her own admission later, to reduce truancy) that it should no longer be compulsory for 14- to 16-year-olds to study a foreign language. That was in 2002.
Quite a few of the numerous language teachers who fell victim to Morris's damaging blunder are therefore probably available to be coaxed back into teaching their subject, this time at primary level, even maybe out of retirement. It would certainly be worth trying to persuade them.
Professor David Head
Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Lincoln
Patronising perks for pensioners
Am I alone in thinking the present system of pensioners' perks rather insulting (letters, 13 June)?
Our household is entitled to a free television licence (we do not have a television), a free bus pass (with one bus a week within walking distance), free prescriptions (I have needed one in the past two years) and free eye tests.
If the state pension were reasonable we would happily pay for these ourselves and would have the choice of how we spend the money. We could decide to buy books, have a taxi to the theatre, pay for a gardener or go clubbing all night.
Next they will remove the VAT on bedroom slippers and provide free cocoa vouchers.
Place your bets like a grown-up
Terence Blacker (12 June) berates some shops who try to inveigle online customers into gambling. If you fall for this ploy and get into trouble with gambling debts, the responsibility is primarily yours. Nobody forces you to shop online, no one makes you place a bet. These are your own choices and unless you're a juvenile, you must take
Maybe it's time to stop making excuses, to stop blaming others, to act like adults and to treat other adults accordingly. When you use "society" as the scapegoat, you are insulting members of society, as well as stretching morality to breaking point.
I was very interested in the statement by the Rev David Perry (letter, 18 June) about the table of kindred and affinity for marriage in the Church of England. Last year I discovered during a family history search, a marriage in 1852 between a man and his niece, strictly forbidden of course, but dependent upon the declaration of the couple. Under the proposed legal changes to allow gay marriage, would it then be possible for a man to marry his nephew?
Margaret j Adderley
I have just listened to a discussion about people's weight on the BBC's Today programme. One of the contributors remarked: "We are all getting fatter." I regularly hear that "we all" have, or do, something. I object to this idea, as I have been between nine and 10 stone for most of the past 40 or so years.
Can I claim the prize for being the first to spot the next U-turn? I refer, of course, to the proposed withholding of working tax credits from strikers. Apart from being expensive and unnecessary it is also immoral and of dubious legality. Let's see what happens next ....
South Harrow, Middlesex
Now, see here
Michael Fishberg is worried about how one would spot a fake at the Hayward Gallery's exhibition of "invisible art" (letter, 15 June). No problem. If you see anything in it, it's fake.
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