Letters: The Government’s mission to punish the poor

These letters appear in the Wednesday 26th February edition of the Independent

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Thank you to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (24 February) for her eloquent protest about the impact on children of the Government’s “ideological mission to punish and degrade the poor”. We should be outraged that families in the UK are having to use food banks.

I have worked with ministers in Whitehall, so I appreciate how complex it can be to balance public finances with welfare costs. But the Coalition’s actions are, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says, purely ideological. The money is available (implementing a tax of 0.05 per cent on financial transactions would quickly raise enough to replenish the Local Welfare Assistance Fund, at the very least), but they care more for cosseted bankers than for children in need. Most of the Cabinet have no experience of state schools or NHS treatment or of genuinely striving to make ends meet.

When they lose power, their shameful legacy will be the proliferation of food banks for many and increased wealth for a few.

Jeremy Oliver, London SW12

 

What is the anti-charity logic of all those repeatedly telling us no one should have to rely on food banks?

It appears to go like this. If anyone can’t or won’t pay for food (either because they can’t or won’t get a job), then government must give them other people’s money to buy some. If some recipients spend that money on things that aren’t food, then government must just give them more of other people’s money.

The same reasoning can then be applied to clothing, housing, heating, and so on – until millions of taxpayers wonder why we’re bringing in foreigners to do “the jobs we don’t want to do” while paying healthy, working-age people to do nothing.

To defend this logic, it is necessary to denounce as “insulting” any references to buying cheaper clothes, downsizing to a smaller (taxpayer-funded) flat or donning a cardigan when cold. Dare to notice tattoos, cigarettes or wide-screen televisions and you’ll be attacked as “judgmental”.

In fact, even to point out any of the above is to invite a furious rant accusing you of dividing “the most vulnerable” into “the deserving and undeserving poor”. No wonder benefits reform has been such a struggle.

Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

 

I suspect that if M R Battersby (letter, 25 February) had been one of those made unemployed by this government’s ideology, he would expect a civilised country to ensure that he and his family were provided for, until he was in a position to do so himself. As a tax and National Insurance payer he would have a right to expect that.

I think he is falling for Tory propaganda which leads people to believe that all those on benefits do not wish to work, whereas I believe it is only a small proportion who do not.

We should be generating the wealth to keep people employed by creating jobs to work on the country’s infrastructure, such as building adequate flood defences. We should not be making people unemployed in areas such as the NHS only to pay far more in agency fees, and compensation for the resulting inadequate care.

D Wallace, Bradford

 

Fathers demand right to stay at home?

Terence Blacker (24 February) discusses the postmodern marriage, suggesting things have been improved by a change in gender roles. Mr Blacker cites a survey which found that more than one fifth of fathers would rather care for their children full-time than return to work. 

If this is the case, where are these fathers? Why are they not marching in the streets, petitioning government and loudly demanding equal parental rights in the same way second-wave feminists demanded gender equality? If fathers are serious about equal parenting then they should take action immediately. 

Of course, they would also have to persuade mothers to loosen their grip on what has, traditionally, been women’s main source of power, in favour of a much less certain outcome. I wish them luck.

Sarah Crooks, Derby

 

Tax land, not  homes and jobs

The case for a land value tax was well made by Ben Chu (25 February). However, it should be made clear that the annual levy would not be based on the market value (suggesting capital value) of the site but on the annual rental value.

Advocates of land value tax emphasise that in addition to replacing stamp duty, council tax and business rates, taxes on wages, production, sales and savings could be reduced and eventually abolished.

The immediate benefits would be that everyone had more money to spend and the resulting increase in demand for goods and services would provide opportunities for new business start-ups and job creation. Additional benefits that are rarely mentioned are that, unlike other taxes, a land value tax cannot be avoided and cannot be passed on in higher rents and prices, and that marginal sites would be zero-rated to provide an added incentive for new businesses to become established.

Michael J Hawes, Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire

 

Cut off aid to  anti-gay Uganda

So, after threatening to introduce its anti-gay legislation for over two years, Uganda has finally done so.

While we are obliged to respect other countries’ cultural and traditional norms, the line has to be drawn when those standards conflict with almost universally accepted human rights, and are abhorrent to us here in Britain. And when such a country is a recipient of our financial support through the Department for International Development, as in the case of Uganda, it should be imperative that our aid be made dependent on changes to what we perceive as unacceptable ethical standards.

I look forward to The Independent informing us shortly that the UK’s DfID will be following Sweden’s proposed example and ceasing all aid to Uganda unless and until this abhorrent legislation is rescinded.

Dr Michael B Johnson, Brighton

 

If Scotland votes to leave

What happens to the Scottish peers in the event of a “Yes” vote for independence? Strangely the House of Lords website does not provide the facility to search on the criterion “Scottish”, but the newly created Baron Livingston of Parkhead, in the city of Glasgow, is now Minister of Trade and Investment. Other Scots peers include Lord Irvine, former  Lord Chancellor, and  David Steel.

Surely even the most ardent supporter of the undemocratic House of Lords could not accept lords of a foreign land enjoying life-long political power over the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, and £300 per day attendance money, tax free. Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian question retains its relevance.

Peter Slessenger, Reading

 

I’m getting a little tired of people saying that Scottish independence is a purely Scottish affair. After all, the vote has ramifications for the whole world. For instance, if the vote is Yes, then the glow of self-satisfaction from Alex Salmond’s massive, smug face will surely contribute to the reduction of the polar ice shelf.

Steve Wetherell, Corby

 

Making independent schools affordable

In her price on independent schools (25 February) Rosie Millard makes the all-too-common mistake of picking the biggest number she can find and crafting a lively narrative around it.

The majority of pupils who attend independent school, at least in Scotland, are day pupils who live locally. Annual fees, for those who do pay full fees, are well below £10,000 – not the £30K figure quoted, which is more than any full boarding experience in Scotland would cost.

On top of that, the charity law in Scotland requires means-tested financial assistance for pupils who wish to access the education of independent schools but require fee assistance. The sum of that assistance is well above £30m annually, with bursaries ranging up to 100 per cent.

All of which is why the landscape, seen from here, is a lot more diverse and welcoming than Rosie Millard sees.

John Edward, Director  Scottish Council of Independent Schools, Edinburgh

 

Safe haven for Christians

Robert Fisk is right to regret the tragic exodus of Christians from the Middle East (24 February). In Egypt, Iraq and other Arab countries, their places of worship are being attacked, their homes and businesses burnt down and their lives threatened.

Christians in Israel, however, are prospering and increasing in number. They enjoy complete freedom to practise their religion and its rituals, like all ethnic and religious minorities in Israel.

Murray Fink, Manchester

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