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Wednesday 23 June 2010
Letters: The Budget
Budget for a new austerity
Mr Osborne's Budget speech was full of battle-speak, seemingly aimed at galvanising us all into contributing to the fight ahead. Indeed, if one were looking at the Budget from the perspective of the thrifty post-war housewife, then the measures announced might seem a prudent strategy for balancing the household books. Squeeze as much "housekeeping" money (in the form of taxation) as possible from the breadwinner of the family without causing upset; cut back at the bottom on all non-essentials; where forced to spend, wring out the value from every penny and let nothing go to waste.
High earners have already seen an increase in the top-rate of tax to 50 per cent and changes affecting pension contributions. Bringing capital gains tax back more into line with income tax was a logical and not unexpected next step. The CGT increase is certainly less than was feared and the fact that the personal allowance remains unchanged a pleasant surprise. In truth, many with property and assets that will be subject to the new higher rate of tax have spent the last 12 months disposing of assets at the lower rate.
Those used to the "spend and then save" approach will be hardest hit by this Budget. They will not only have to pay the cost of credit, but also the additional VAT on purchases. My grand-mother, however, and others of her era would have no trouble with Mr Osborne's approach. This is a Budget of "make do and mend" in an era of austerity.
Yet the prevailing wind of hope and new beginnings that existed at that time still seem a very long way off for most of us. In the meantime, is seems that Mr Osborne would like us all to "dig for victory".
As an exercise in stealing the Whigs' (or perhaps more accurately Labour's) clothes the Budget could scarcely be bettered. Protecting pensioners and the low-paid while putting the biggest burdens on the broadest backs is effectively a social democratic approach. It is also one which will almost certainly find favour with the great mass of the public.
The ghost of Thatcher appears to be dead, and those not totally Neanderthal in their thinking will be pleased, given the context, with what has been done.
So the national disgrace of pensions continues.
After decades of state pensions being left increasingly adrift, following the last Conservative wheeze to link pensions to inflation, Mr Osborne decided to reinstate the link to earnings. At a time when earnings, apart from bankers, are at a virtual standstill or being frozen by Mr Osborne.
True there will be a minimum annual increase of 2.5 per cent guaranteed, but inflation runs at 5 per cent, and VAT goes up by 2.5 per cent. Fair? I don't think so.
Bruce Anderson (21 June) mentions in passing that when George Osborne met the Chinese vice-premier recently in Beijing they discovered a common appreciation of Jane Austen. But he quite ignores its implications for the Budget.
Osborne should know better than most that the author reserves her special approbation for those of her characters who practice "economy" and "retrench-ment" when the need arises.
He could learn from the example of Marianne and strike a just balance between sense (the deficit needs to be tackled) and sensibility (the pain inflicted on different groups should reflect their capacity to bear it). In his case that would also mean to follow the trajectory of Darcy, shedding the pride and the prejudice that goes along with membership of the Bullingdon Club, to take up a position of genuine empathy alongside ordinary people.
So the new government is set for financial self-mutilation to protect our credit rating from self-appointed "experts" in the rating agencies? The same guys who couldn't see the banking crisis coming are now telling us they're fit to judge the entire economy.
Strangely enough, ten years ago it didn't take a financial genius to see that an economy fuelled by easy credit and cheap imports wasn't "strong". So why do people still believe these "experts"'? The simple answer is because they can't afford not to. Just as with any bank-run, who wants to be the last one left behind?
What's needed is to turn the Government's "fundamental spending review" into a proper, independent audit of long-term national investment. A business which borrows money to finance the office party is not the same as one which borrows to invest in new plant. Wise investment for the future – energy, transport, education, health, social stability, national security, tourism – is not the same as spending money to create yet another unsustainable consumer boom.
Lewes, East Sussex
Triumph of 'The Orange Book'
David Woods implores Nick Clegg to pull out of the coalition (letter, 21 June). But why would he want to? The coalition ideology is in line with The Orange Book, which featured contributions from Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, David Laws, Chris Huhne and Vince Cable.
The Orange Book put forward pro-market policies of privatisation, a reduced public sector and PFI.
This debt crisis is the perfect excuse for the authors of this book to exercise their neo-liberal ideals. In a document called Setting Business Free, Liberal Democrat right stated that party policy should always "start with a bias in favour of the free market".
Stephen Jackson, in his letter of 16 June ("Cuts nobody voted for") makes a valid point: the Lib Dem Coalition leadership's enthusiastic adoption of policies they had opposed weeks previously really is "appalling". Some Lib Dem votes came from "squeezed" Labour supporters in the belief that they were voting against Tory policies – only to find they were supporting them!
I doubt that those Labour voters will vote tactically again. For my part, after 29 years' absence, I've rejoined Labour, it being the only British opponent of the Conservatives.
Why is anybody going to vote Liberal Democrat at the next election?
NHS unfair on disabled people
It is indeed shocking that Mencap's new report into NHS treatment of people with learning disabilities reveals that they are still receiving poorer healthcare than the rest of the population ("Doctors admit disabled patients receive poor care", 22 June). It is three years since Mencap's Death by Indifference report first revealed the extent of this discrimination, which was confirmed by subsequent independent inquiries – yet the problem persists.
If there is something positive to be taken from this report, it is that so many doctors and nurses recognise the failings – often caused by staff not being trained fully in how to work with people who may find verbal communication difficult – and are crying out for better training and guidelines.
There have been some steps forward in the last few years. At United Response, we have been asked by some primary care trusts to provide training to medical students and junior doctors in how to work and communicate with people with learning disabilities. By reaching doctors early in their career, we hope the treatment delivered will improve greatly.
However, it is clear that such forward-thinking attitudes are still not universal in the NHS, and there are too many areas where healthcare inequalities persist, despite the Disability Discrimination Act making this illegal. Health care is a basic right, and people with learning disabilities – like everyone else in this country – deserve the excellent service the NHS can deliver at its best.
Chief Executive, United Response, London SW19
I am well aware of the appallingly indifferent attitudes of many nursing and medical staff. I have worked with people with learning disabilities for a number of years and supported several in attempts at receiving the help they require from the so-called caring professions, but the attitude of the professionals stunned me when I read your report.
It infuriates me when, yet again, the professionals cite a need for further training. All they need to do is extend the same courtesies they should give to any patient – listen to them (or their carer) and treat them with respect and dignity. I would not have thought that this was too much to ask, but, from my experience, it clearly is.
There is no list of set needs for a person with learning disabilities, just as there are no set needs for someone without them; all people should be treated as equals, and nurses and doctors should go back to basics.
Hayward's gaffe, Obama's luck
I find the diatribe hurled against Tony Hayward for his latest PR gaffe ironic, and hypocritical.
Clearly, Hayward has been clueless regarding the PR battle in which BP finds itself. It doesn't take a public relations genius to know that after the "get my life back" comment when people have died and the Gulf region is in the midst of a financial and ecological disaster, the perception of a millionaire oil man taking time off to attend a sailing race in which his son is participating is manna from heaven for those whose job it is to deflect criticism directed at President Obama, whose handling of this disaster has sent his approval rating into the tank.
Since the beginning of the oil crisis, President Obama has taken time to host a Rose Garden reception to honour Earth Day; vacation in Asheville, North Carolina; play numerous rounds of golf; host the New York Yankees baseball team at a White House event; fly to Missouri for lunch at Peggy Sue's Diner; attend many fund-raisers for his fellow Democrats; fly to the state of Maryland to view Secret Service binoculars; host the Navy football team; and in a lavish White House function, my President found time to present Paul McCartney with the Gershwin award while swaying back and forth to "Hey Jude", and giving Sir Paul the opportunity to bash former President George W Bush.
This mess will be very costly to BP, as it should be, but the objective should be to solve the problems, determine the causes and do what is necessary to prevent it from happening again.
Stella L Jatras
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA
As a British citizen and BP shareholder living in the USA I can comment on the image Tony Hayward has created for himself in the press here. He acts in an arrogant, dismissive way that shows no convincing charm, sympathy or shame. He clearly lacks gravitas and simply has no appealing qualities. I am thoroughly embarrassed by him. Lord Browne has clearly left a seriously flawed legacy at BP.
Ronald J Bradley
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Who wants a water meter?
I feel that Nigel Hawkes has not looked far enough behind the numbers (19 June) in bemoaning the profile of those who opt to have a water meter installed in their property.
If Hawkes is right that the majority are installed by older couples, who do not use much water, now living in large houses after their children have left, then what does he think will happen to these houses when the old couples can no longer occupy them as a result of death or infirmity?
As the next generation move in to raise their families they will find meters ready and waiting to help them better regulate and hopefully reduce their water usage – and all achieved without a murmur of the resistance which would undoubtedly have been heard from other parts of the media had politicians attempted to force meters on to an unwilling population.
A good illustration of the exercise of the art of the possible.
Blair a believer in Gaza offer
It must be so nice to be Tony ("Blair takes heart from Israeli offer to relax Gaza blockade", 21 June). A straightforward sort of guy, he told us, he implicitly believed that Saddam Hussein had WMD. He sincerely believed he did no evil by causing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis to die, and believes it even to this day.
And now, it would seem, he believes that the Israeli leader is telling the truth when he "promises" to relax the blockade. Give him a pat on the back, the dear boy! Because the promise, says Donald Macintyre, appeared to be a "concession" to Blair.
Was it a concession? Or was it rather a reward that even after all these years in his useless post, Blair didn't ask for more?
A report by the Work Foundation entitled A 2020 Low-Carbon Economy ("Red Tape stifles low-carbon industries", 21 June) states: "Current public policy and financial support for the low-carbon economy is complex and highly nuanced". There could be no more succinct summary of Gordon Brown's legacy. It is applicable to almost everything his government did.
Given the recent comments about the £80,000-plus per week that Wayne Rooney earns for not scoring any goals, I would like to make Mr Capello an offer. I will gladly take a mere £40,000 per week not to score any goals for England. Where do I sign?
Perspectives on energy
Threat to a magic landscape
A message to visitors to the Glastonbury Festival this year.
As most of you leave the M5 at Junction 23, you start to see the whole vista of the Vale of Avalon opening up before you. Just take a minute to turn your gaze through 180 degrees and the magnificent scenery extends across the Somerset Levels to include the dominance of Brent Knoll, against a backdrop of the Mendip Hills down to the Bristol Channel, with the Welsh coast in the distance.
Enjoy! It is quite likely that when you return next year this vista will be dominated by up to 14 wind turbines, planned to be erected by two national developers aided by substantial subsidies .
The site planned at East and West Huntspill is less than three miles from the Bristol Channel which would be the most perfect place for turbines. The majority of "levellers" – be they newcomers or established Somerset stock – do not wish to lose this magic landscape and all its links to a historic, mythical tranquillity .
East Huntspill, Somerset
Tinkering with technology
John R Catch (Letter, 22 June) is partly right, but only when he says that the urgent need is to reduce energy consumption. The way we live is simply unsustainable, and unfortunately switching to a hydrogen-based economy cannot solve all our problems.
One example: we travel far too much, whether in commuting to work, driving to out-of-town shopping centres or going on holiday. Computers and email make most office attendance unnecessary, and most meetings can be replaced by video-conferencing; out-of-town shopping centres are wasteful of land and other resources, produce traffic congestion and pollution and are killing our city centres; and flying abroad for holidays is just as wasteful.
What we need to do is to recognise, albeit belatedly, that the way we live is unsustainable because it is using up the world's resources and destroying the environment; the target of increased economic growth is only making things worse. By tinkering at the edges with highly speculative and untested technological "solutions", we will only fool ourselves. Much more fundamental changes are needed.
Too much strain on the planet
Esther Barton (letter, 15 June) is correct to see current government policies as tending to encourage greater population growth. The Government may see fit to reconsider the structure of child benefits, but achieving a stable population, without which we shall have difficulty in meeting biodiversity targets or solving the housing shortage, is the responsibility of individuals.
We must all recognise that if you have three children or more, you are adding to the continued increase in world population. Only when there is widespread acceptance of this fact, and individuals take it into account when planning their family size, will the environmental pressures from a growing population be eased.
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