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Saturday 26 June 2010
Letters: The Emergency Budget
Budget back to harsh 1930s
I have grave concerns about the Budget proposals to take £140bn out of our public services. If implemented, these proposals threaten a return to the harsh years of the 1930s.
There is a real danger that our public services will be fatally damaged by the government's slash-and-cut regime. This reduction in public services will impact harshly on our economy, which relies on an educated, healthy and mobile populace.
There are alternative ways for the Government to make the needed savings. The Chancellor could look at tax relief on pensions for those earning more than £150,000 per annum (this costs £4bn a year), tax avoidance by the richest people in our society (costing £35bn a year) and profiteering from the public sector, which costs £25bn a year, with private financiers charging credit-card interest rates. These affect schools and hospitals now paying £10bn a year above the bank base rate.
He could also look at the drugs bill for the NHS, which has increased by 80 per cent and has risen by £4bn in real terms at a time when companies are making record profits and dividend returns. This profiteering drugs bill must be reduced.
It is crucial for the health and future of our society that we remember where the blame for our economic problems lies. It lies with the bankers, the profiteers and the speculators. These are the people who have crashed our economy and created the present deficit. The public purse has bailed them out and now the public purse is to turn on the people who filled it.
Britain needs a fair and equitable government. The present government's proposals to slash and burn our public services are just not acceptable.
Hamish McRae, in his article, "The mountain that we all have to climb just got a little bit steeper" (23 June), claims that the projected rise in our national debt is "the sort of increase that has never happened before in peacetime". We have been at war since 2001 in Afghanistan and were at war in Iraq from 2003. These have cost just over £20bn so far.
He says the Government won't actually cut public sector departments' budgets by 25 per cent, but only 20 per cent which he seems to think is OK because "after the spending binge of the previous government, there is surely plenty of fat to trim".
First, we are in this mess because of unregulated bankers gambling with other people's money on the Stock Exchange. Second, after 18 years of Tory underinvestment we were left with crumbling schools and hospitals staffed by public-sector workers on poverty pay. And third, a 20 per cent or a 25 per cent cut in spending will inevitably lead to job losses and poor services.
Finally, I disagree that this is all inevitable. Mr McRae says, "What has to be done has to be done. This is not about politics, it is about mathematics". The Tories have never liked or understood the public sector and are relishing this opportunity to slash it to pieces.
Rather than raising VAT, Mr Osborne could have introduced the Tobin Tax (a transaction tax on bankers). It is estimated that this could raise between £20bn and £30bn instead of the £2bn his bankers' tax will raise.
On 22 June, your Economics Editor wrote, "Our national debt will peak at about 75 per cent of GDP, better than most of Europe, and where it was in the 1960s. At the end of the Second World War, it stood at 262 per cent of GDP, and we went ahead and built a welfare state". This is all about political will.
The Chancellor delivered a radical but necessary Budget, addressing vital issues of national financial stability. Mr Osborne announced changes to the benefits system, rightly recognising the problems of welfare dependency and the waste of national talent.
He stated that the current Budget deficit cannot be addressed without significant welfare reform, and it is hoped that the promised incentives will encourage many more to contribute to the national economy rather than to take from it.
But there is an interdependent link between the welfare system, the economy, and education. The last of these was not addressed in the Budget, but it is an essential ingredient in addressing the problem of chronic unemployment.
If the Government were to invest more in schools in order to address the fundamental issues of literacy, numeracy, and the provision of skills relevant to the potential of individual students, the ultimate result would be a significant reduction in unemployment, and a consequent easing on the benefits system. The effects of such a policy would not be seen for some years, and as such is unlikely to appeal to political partisans, but it is an essential and optimistic step which I hope the Government will consider once the economic situation becomes more favourable.
The high costs of student debt
We can expect rises in higher education fees, and the Chancellor has spoken of selling off the Student Loans Company. I am a single parent who has brought up three children without any benefits. Happily, all three have gone through, or are going through, university. Each faces significant student debts for years.
There has been little if any correspondence about the actual cost of borrowing for higher education. As things stand, the Student Loan Company's interest rates are above inflation for undergraduate studies, and these are just reviewed once each year.
In addition, post-graduate students have to access financial support from commercial banks. My son's graduate loan from Barclays will cost him a hefty 9.9 per cent in interest annually, and this becomes repayable three months from when he completes his master's this autumn.
Couple those repayments with his undergraduate loan, repayments for which kick in at an income level of just £15,000, in the context of the extremely difficult graduate jobs market, and you have a recipe for ruin.
I'm sure many would argue that my children had the choice whether to study to this level. But their circumstances echo many of their peers, the silent-ish middle-class majority. Surely we need to ensure that the next generation of taxpayers is both educated and informed. But just how are they supposed to make their way with such an excessive financial handicap in early adulthood which prioritises profits for private-sector banks over anything else?
French police not to blame
To say that French police avoid breath-testing to preserve the restaurant trade is a calumny (letters, 22 June). France is different in many respects from the UK and it is debateable whether a meaningful comparison is possible. In road accidents, the country is ranked eighth out of the 27 EU countries, a quarter of its road accident fatalities being alcohol-related. In about half of drink-driving accidents, the driver's blood-alcohol level is double the legal limit, making the 50/80mg debate irrelevant at least half the time.
France is a relatively big country and the accident rate varies enormously from region to region. Fully two-thirds of accidents are in open country where the narrow, ill-lit, badly signposted, plane tree-lined roads become a veritable trap for the unwary. Apart from the huge mileage of roads to police, there are relatively few places where the police can make spot-checks safely, but where they are able, they do.
More than 90 per cent of alcohol-related fatalities are males. About a quarter of fatalities are young males between 18 and 24, with motorcycle accidents, together with those without driving licences or insurance, contributing a significant proportion of these.
Young people go regularly to boîtes de nuit, clubs which open at midnight till five am. These are often in rural areas to avoid disturbance to sleeping residents; the drink, fatigue and dark country roads form a lethal combination.
Just as in the UK, drinking and partying is part of the culture, but in most places public transport is either non-existent or the schedule totally inappropriate to the circumstances; the price of taxis is exhorbitant. In both countries the solution lies in making it easy for people not to have to take the car.
I was bemused by Chris Davies's reply to my letter (21 June). His claim that he has no record of receiving my letter cannot be true, because I had his reply, after I sent my letter to The Independent. His reply is informative and comprehensive. I was going to write a thank-you letter and apologise for bracketing him with other MEPs who have not responded. But his attempted put-down lacks credibility. Is he really inviting constituents to ring his office to recite an A4 page of questions; if so, how long would they have to hang on for a reply?
Alan J Percy
Word to the wise
I begin my day with the Concise Crossword and, like Andrew Warner (letters, 24 June), I've built up a mental picture of the compiler, but a totally different one. The compiler, in my imagination, is an older lady (fabrics and cooking come up a lot, and the slang words are a touch dated) with a science (possibly chemistry) background and an interest in gardens, birds and music. The Japanese items are simply a device used when she needs words ending in "I". Of course, I could be wrong.
Perspectives on agriculture
Not only cows being milked
I was surprised to see a photo of our own dairy cows, above, beside Mike McCarthy's article, "How long before we see indoor units of up to 40,000 cows?" (25 June).
Like most dairy cattle in this country, our Jersey cows are managed on traditional lines. They enjoy grazing outdoors during summer and are housed during winter, when it's cold and the grass doesn't grow. We are proud of our cows and the way they are kept, with animal welfare as the top priority.
This is readily evidenced from the positive comments of the many visitors we have at our farm each year. But we hope that the new government will address supply-chain issues and put in place a supermarket ombudsman, giving us dairy farmers a fairer share of the retail price for their milk. The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has called for improved contracts for dairy farmers, specifically ones who offer greater transparency on milk price, and the EU Commission's High Level Group on Milk has echoed this.
An NFU investigation revealed that millions of pounds in revenue are not being passed back to dairy farmers, despite big rises in wholesale prices for commodities such as cheese and cream. This imbalance must be addressed for us to sustain our future and keep Britain's rich legacy of dairy farming, at all scales, alive and viable.
Rowley Farm, Slough, Berkshire
A plastic, living nightmare
The economies of scale being proposed for zero farming are dis-economies of the qualities of our lives (report, 25 June).
We do not have to destroy our countryside and make the lives of fine, sentient animals a plastic, living nightmare to feed ourselves. We must proceed in a more natural way. And we must stand up against those who force the market towards this anti-nature.
This includes the big supermarkets that do so much to create this minuscule-margin environment on our farms, an NFU that seems captured by environmentally destructive mega-agriculture and a government approach that seems to be more concerned about promoting destructive corporate penetration into our food and countryside than listening to overwhelming public opinion in favour of organics and sanity.
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