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Friday 3 June 2011
Letters: The prospect of renting for life
My friends and I are part of the generation who live in rented accommodation. Many of us have to face up to the reality that we will not be able to afford to buy a house, now or in the future, if house prices stay at a similar level to what they are now, and wages stay at roughly the same level, which has been typical of recent times ("Britain to become a nation of renters", 31 May).
The old calculation that you could work out a mortgage on two and a half times your income, sadly does not hold water in this country for my generation.
Many of my friends have accepted this, and realise that while they will not be able to afford to buy their own house, it does not mean that they despise living in rented accommodation.
But 90 per cent or so of rented accommodation is in the private sector, and the price of renting property is extremely high for a lot of people my age.
Towards the end of the last Labour administration, there was an understanding that more social housing was needed, and it was under the leadership of Gordon Brown that local authorities would be funded from the centre to build social housing.
If there is to be a shift towards the continental model, where most people rent their housing, there needs to be a commitment by national and local government alike to build modern social housing to meet present and future housing needs.
Housing must be at an affordable level, given the rising cost of utilities and food, and rents must be set at a level that reflect current wage levels and the cost of living.
The juxtaposition of Sean O'Grady's assertion ("No God-given right to a home", 31 May) that home ownership is an "entitlement" the average worker should no longer expect because, "Pay rises are not keeping up with inflation, and our ability to service a hefty home loan is correspondingly weaker", alongside the news that the earnings of Britain's top executives rose by a third last year, presents a stark illustration of where our economy is heading, and just how far "orthodox" economic theory has departed from political reality.
As a new rentier class siphons off more income from a captive rental sector with no access to social housing, the trend in rising inequality in train since the late 1970s is accelerating.
The neoliberal dogmatists driving policy view these developments not just with equanimity but enthusiasm, as the "productive" members of society are more fully rewarded for their efforts. In this version of Ayn Rand's utopian vision, Atlas has not so much shrugged as stuck two fingers up.
But when home ownership, higher education (and adequate healthcare?) become the preserve of the Porsche-owning classes, the economic system ceases to retain political legitimacy.
As the top 1 per cent take an ever-increasing slice of earnings and pay less tax than mere mortals, the arithmetic that underpins civil society by ensuring that the proceeds of capitalism benefit all breaks down, and the economic paradigm underpinning the current system – a rationalisation of the self-interest of a tiny elite – begins to collapse.
Revolution may not be round the corner just yet, but Sean O'Grady's dismissive response to rising inequality has a whiff of "Let them eat cake" about it.
Is it the truth that dare not speak its name? Your front page and your economics editor talk about the "millions of young adults who will never be able to afford their own homes". Politicians speak about "affordable housing" as if they can be made cheaper.
Can't someone come out with the truth that houses are too expensive and must come down in price. Someone who takes on a mortgage should expect to repay it; it is not there to leverage a one-way bet.
Let's get back to reality. If there is little buying at the bottom end (first-time buyers) then ultimately there is no one to sell to. Deaths, divorces and trading down will create sellers for whom there are no buyers.
Increased interest rates are inevitable and wages are static and so rents cannot go up. I am no economist but that looks like a lot of downward pressure on prices to me.
It is not a lost generation of house-buyers but a sensible generation who are not going to be conned by existing house-owners who want to steal their future
For a long time now, every flat in my block which has changed hands has been bought to let. This illustrates the major issue of buy-to-let barely mentioned in your report and the accompanying comment.
The sheer volume of buy-to-let is forcibly creating its own market. Prices are being driven up and a large section of the housing stock has been removed from people who would have bought it for their own accommodation.
The purchasers-to-let are obliging these people to be their tenants who will regularly hand over a large proportion of their income to them, possibly for life. Is it over-excited to call this business activity parasitical?
It would be easy enough to stop the boom in buy-to-let by an interest rate differential and targeted taxation. But I suppose that would run contrary to the ideology of encouraging "enterprise".
Your headline is too pessimistic for those aspiring to be homeowners. Five years ago, my daughter thought she would never be able to own her own home. She is now in the process of buying her first house with her partner.
She has done this, as many previous generations have done, by saving, working hard to increase her income and buying in a less expensive area.
Homeless may lose safety net
We are deeply concerned that homeless people will be left without a safety net under the Government's radical reforms to the health service. Homeless people suffer from high rates of poor health, but ensuring that they receive the right care benefits them, and saves tax-payers money.
The NHS proposals fail to ensure that the needs of homeless people will be considered. People who don't have a home are often transient and they can be invisible to the very GPs who are about to become responsible for commissioning health services.
At a time when thousands of homeless people already face cutbacks to the lifeline services that help them get a home, regain their health and rebuild their lives, these health reforms threaten to make this situation worse. The reforms offer opportunities to improve the health of the poorest by enabling housing and health services to work in a new way, but these must not be missed.
We are calling on the Government and NHS Future Forum to establish greater accountability for new health bodies including GP commissioners to address the needs of homeless and vulnerable people so they are not forgotten in the health reforms.
chief executive, the National Housing Federation
chief executive, St Mungo's
chief executive, Homeless Link, London WC1
South Georgia report correct
Far from being inaccurate, the wording used in the South Georgia report (27 May) to describe the cause of the sea surface temperature rise is entirely appropriate (letter, 30 May).
To quote the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, "It is likely that anthropogenic forcing has contributed to the observed warming of the upper several hundred metres of the global ocean during the latter half of the 20th century".
In the context of this IPCC report, "likely" means a greater than 66 per cent probability of being correct, so this statement may be incorrect as often a a third of the time. In fact, the situation is even more uncertain than this, since temperature rises on a local level are even harder to attribute to anthropogenic causes than on a global scale.
Simon Nash's statement that "All the harmful temperature changes happening and predicted are due to man-made climate change" is a good example of the dangerous polarisation of the debate between two simplistic (and inaccurate) extremes.
If there is any scientific consensus, then it is to be found in the latest IPCC report, where barely a paragraph can be read without the uncertainty in our knowledge being emphasised.
As the world presses on regardless to its final catastrophe ("Melting of the Arctic", 30 May), what we must do urgently is to reduce the number of people coming into the world.
Our population increases by nearly a quarter of a million a day, and we are already, in the face of peak oil and peak several other things, faced with having to increase food production by something like 70 per cent over the next few decades.
More than 200 million women would use family planning if it was available to them: 45 million women annually seek abortion, of which 20 million are unsafe abortions, resulting in some 40,000 deaths and more than two million permanent disabilities, but international aid in this respect is minimal.
The Tory right and the Treasury are trying to cut foreign aid, and in the States the Republicans are trying to eliminate it altogether.
Honour for David Kelly
No matter whether there is a new official inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly CMG, there will always be doubt as to the circumstances of his death. However there can be no doubt as to the debt that the people of this country owe this brave man.
But, instead of being honoured for exposing the Blair government's justifications for the UK's participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and its tragic aftermath as a fraud, Dr Kelly was hounded to his death. He was betrayed by the media, suffered public humiliation at the hands of a parliamentary committee and faced dismissal by his employer, which would left him without a pension.
Dr Alan Turing OBE, the hero of Bletchley Park, was, like Dr Kelly hounded to his death. There is a campaign to grant Dr Turing a posthumous knighthood. A similar campaign should be started for Dr Kelly.
Dr Turing was hounded to death because he was gay, Dr Kelly because he was a whistle-blower. Posthumous honours for these two great men would be a start to bring closure to these tragic cases of British injustice.
George D Lewis
Hope for end to 'war on drugs'
Reading Mary Ann Sieghart's fine article "A war we should fight no longer" (30 May) I remembered a quote from the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said, "We know what to do, but we don't know how to get re-elected once we have done it".
One hopes that the publication of the Global Commission on Drug Policy report will create more than a ripple in the prohibition force. For the good of my mates who keep getting incarcerated for cannabis, for the good of the suffering Mexicans, for the good of the Afghans, and indeed for all of us, let this report fall on open ears.
Forest Ranch, California, USA
Mobile phones found to be safe
There is still a huge amount of interest in whether exposure to mobile phones has harmful health effects (Report, 31 May).
The Institution of Engineering and Technology's (IET) Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group concludes that the balance of scientific evidence does not indicate that normal exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields has harmful health effects.
Over the years, the conclusion of most scientific bodies, including the IET, has remained substantially the same, that there is no strong evidence of this. The absence of robust evidence of harmful health effects is reassuring and is consistent with findings over the past 20 years.
Dr Tony Whitehead
Director of Policy, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2
Tie-down homes to defy tornadoes
To prevent cars being blown all over the place in tornadoes in Central America it might be worth considering welding eyes to the corners of cars and clamping these to concrete hardstands with spring hooks when warnings are sounded. If it saved some lives on the periphery of the storms it would be worth doing.
The same consideration could be given to houses, with the introduction of diagonal wire bracing and steel fixings. At present, American homes stapled together with pneumatic staplers remind one of the homes of the Three Little Pigs.
Mine's a slice
The principle of raising prices to combat alcoholism could usefully be applied to food. Raising the minimum price of food could solve the problem of obesity which costs the NHS so much time and money. Perhaps a standard price per calorie?
R E Hooper
Stratford upon Avon
For Heaven's sake. What does Rob Sharp mean (Arts, 1 June) when he writes of the installation artist Mike Nelson, "He's into these ontological feedback loops"? I hope the poor man soon recovers.
Morton by Bourne, lincolnshire
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