Letters: Voluntary work

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Bring on the volunteers

Your leading article (8 November) is absolutely right to say "The danger could be that paid jobs will be cut, only to reappear as unpaid jobs in the voluntary sector". This is the consequence of a recession brought about by a profligate regime that created "jobs" which could have been undertaken by volunteers. The previous government's policy of centralisation, and a culture of legislating for every conceivable risk, resulted in low-quality jobs being created that would have been better performed by volunteers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's contribution to this debate is unhelpful; he claims to understand the aspirations of the unemployed. Perhaps he doesn't realise that there is no such category as the typical unemployed for whom he can speak.

What he and you fail to acknowledge is that, regardless of reported threats to suspend welfare payments to "draft dodgers", this will end up being effectively voluntary. No government can allow pictures of people being dragged from their homes to do voluntary work. So it will end up being the best recruiting ground for prospective employers. Anyone looking to hire will scour the voluntary brigades to find people who have shown their real commitment to finding work.

Support this please, and don't succumb to further nannying by well-meaning but misguided curates.

Christopher Mackenzie

London W1

As you note in your leading article "Voluntary work has merit, but is no substitute for a paid job", the work in question would be a requirement for the long-term unemployed, thus hardly voluntary. This raises the concern that cash-strapped businesses and organisations will understandably see this as an opportunity to replace some of their paid positions with government-funded, conscripted ones.

Something similar happened when Mrs Thatcher's government introduced the Youth Opportunities Programme, then later the Youth Training Scheme on which I "earned" £27 per week in 1985. The effect of this was a virtual end to proper apprenticeships. A quarter of a century from now, which extinct species of employment will we be looking back at nostalgically?

Sean Cordell


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's excellent article "The Government has declared war on the welfare state" (8 November) expresses the fears that many people in society feel but have limited outlet to express. I, too, have felt totally dismayed by the apparent sleepwalking into deprivation and poverty that seems to be happening.

The ideological attack on the poorest in society by this government of multi-millionaires who have never had to chose between heating or eating is not – as they keep insisting it is – what the electorate wanted. Remember that 64 per cent of the electorate voted for parties who, prior to the election, were espousing stimulation and support for the economy rather than regression and a smaller government.

We need to fight back before we find ourselves back in the Victorian days, when the rich had all the power and wealth and treated the poor as both contemptible and dispensable.

S Harper


When I worked in a social-security office 30 years ago, national-insurance benefits were considered a right that workers had earned by paying their contributions. Now benefits are to become a pittance given to forced labourers. As chain gangs of the indigent appear throughout the United Kingdom, the rich bankers who got us into this mess and their millionaire chums in the Cabinet will continue to gorge on caviar. Aux armes, citoyens!

Peter Martin

Strathconon, Ross-shire

The plans drawn up by Iain Duncan Smith to make people work for their Job Seeker's Allowance is essentially a form of community service; people are being punished and humiliated for being unemployed. This unemployment was created by the crazy Friedmanite economic policies pursued at first by Thatcher then by New Labour, which sacrificed the UK's manufacturing sector. The Tories have already said they will sack 500,000 public-sector workers with another 500,000 jobs to go in the private sector as a knock-on effect.

Yet at the same time as the Tories repeat the mantra "we are all in this together" Lloyds TSB, a publicly owned banking group, has hired Antonio Horta-Osorio on an annual salary which could be in excess of £8m. All this while the pay of low-paid public-service workers and benefits for the sick are being cut.

The unemployed are paying the price for the £1tn given to the banks by Gordon Brown. The Tories rejected the idea of a Robin Hood tax for the banks and have not enacted legislation to prevent another banking crisis, instead bowing to pressure from the bankers.

Many Nobel Prize winners have warned that another crash is imminent. It will not be the Fred Godwins, Adam Applegarths or Antonio Horta-Osorios of this world who will pay the price.

Alan Hinnrichs


I am shocked and dismayed to hear the country's highest churchman denounce government plans to help the long-term unemployed back into work. I can think of few better ways to get back into the habit of work and impress potential employers than to spend four weeks on community projects. Dignity is restored to unemployed people and their neighbourhood benefits from the work they do.

The Christian church has long recognised the virtues of work and the vices promoted by idleness and it is truly a shock to hear Rowan Williams deploy the reflex response of the left in describing potential beneficiaries of the scheme as "vulnerable", when vulnerability is precisely what this scheme seeks to conquer, and is actually code for dependency in most cases.

Andrew Schofield

London SE17

The Archbishop should turn to the UN Declaration of Human Rights for support for his objections to the plans for forced labour. It is clearly a breach of those rights to treat the unemployed in the same way as criminals.

Unless they are paid the minimum wage of £177-£190 for 30 hours' work, the Archbishop could call on Article 4 ("Slavery... shall be prohibited in all... forms"); Article 23 (2) ("Everyone... has the right to equal pay for equal work") and Article 23 (3) ("Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration"). People cannot be asked to work only for the rate of benefit.

Derek J Cole

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

I don't know how much the Archbishop knows about mental-health issues, but it is well known that physical activity lowers the risk of depression. People who mix socially with others also have better mental health.

So if unemployed people get out and meet others to do some manual unpaid work it could give their lives more meaning, give them something to get up for, and benefit the community too – the community that contributes to their benefits.

Linda Dickins

(Retired mental-health nurse), Wimborne, Dorset

Whatever happened to the crackdown on the rich avoiding taxation that this Government promised us? The subject of tax-dodging seems to have disappeared off the ConDems radar screen. Is it simply that "benefits culture" makes an easy target while lip service is paid to the massive avoidance practised by rich supporters of the party?

When Phillip Green has completed his MoD money-saving exercise why not redeploy him to pursue tax avoiders and evaders?

Clifford Evans

Fishguard, Pembrokeshire

Would it not be refreshing to hear a simple truth from Government ministers? The truth that, with around half a million vacancies and with two and a half million unemployed – arguably more – there is no way that the vast majority of the unemployed can be blamed for their jobless state because "they fail to take advantage of government support for them to find work", to quote Danny Alexander.

Doing unpaid manual labour will not magically conjure up the required additional two million jobs.

Peter Cave

London W1

Nonsense to test 'intelligence'

Steve Hill (letters, 8 November) says there can't be more than half of us below average intelligence because IQ tests are arranged around a median score normalised to 100. That is a non sequitur that seems to be neatly answering the question from Chris Noël about whether average intelligence is enough to understand what an average is.

IQ scores are forced to have their average equal to the median and set to 100. This removes their ability to detect the "Rooney factor" and they tell you where you are compared with everyone else in the test, not how clever you are. So we weren't discussing IQ scores.

There cannot, surely, be a sensible way to define, much less measure, intelligence (as opposed to the ability to do various tests and puzzles). How on earth do you decide who is the more intelligent: the mathematical genius, the philosopher, the brilliant visual artist, the surgeon? It's apples and oranges – and the comparison seems pointless and any IQ score arbitrary.

David Gould

Andover, Hampshire

The term "average" is a colloquial one (letters, 8 November), and has no precise meaning, but most would accept that it refers to the arithmetic mean – the total of all scores divided by the number of scores.

But knowing the mean tells us little unless we know a bit more about the distribution of the scores around the mean. For example, an average age of 35 years tells us little if it is derived from a population of three people, one five years old and the other two 50 years old.

We need two more measures of central tendency – the median (halfway up the list of scores) and the mode (the most frequently occurring one).

The mode in the example is 50 and the median is 50, which helps quite a lot, but still leaves the five-year-old as an aberration. That is because we do not have a normal distribution, the so-called bell-shaped curve, where the mean, the mode and the median are the same. Scores drawn from very large samples tend towards a normal distribution, but in most cases we need to know the standard deviation from a normal distribution. Hence much of the confusion about IQ scores.

Peter Curran


I can understand Julie Burchill's wish to have said something memorable (3 November) but unfortunately it was Elizabeth Bowen who said of Aldous Huxley: "The stupid person's idea of the clever person."

Stephen Wyatt

London SE17

Who are we to lecture on rights?

Every trade delegation that goes to China is expected to bang on about the lack of human rights. The Secretary General of the UN has been criticised for his failure to do this.

Do the same conditions apply in respect of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or any other of our Middle Eastern "friends"? India is a democracy, while China is not, yet millions of Indians are effectively denied an education; shouldn't this be considered a human right?

Women had more human rights in Afghanistan when it had a Communist government, and this may have been true, too, of women in Iraq under Saddam Hussein (not to mention the Christian community).

Perhaps we in the West should just shut up and concentrate on improving the quality of our own democracies?

Ann Dowling


Police failure to solve crime

Over the last weekend in October, our central London offices were burgled. Eight Apple Macs were stolen. Within hours of the discovery, thanks to pre-installed remote-access software, our IT guru was able to email the investigating officer with the news that three of the machines were already in use in Acton, west London, the IP address of the site and the identity of the broadband supplier to the site. Result? No. To date no action has taken place, no one arrested and no equipment recovered.

I can only assume the officer is still filling in the 270-plus forms required before she can leave her desk, or that she has no transport.

Peter Johnston

Sherston, Wiltshire

ET may never phone home

The reasons for the absence of a detectable signal from extra-terrestrials so far include: that there is survival value in remaining undetected; we are alone; the technical difficulties involved in interstellar/galactic travel and communication are insuperable ("Is there anybody out there", 3 November).

We should resign ourselves to the possibility that organic life-forms may never have direct contact because of the limitations of biology. First and only contact may well be between Von Neumann machines (autonomous self-replicating AIs) in unimaginably remote times and places – long after both originating species have become extinct.

Steve Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Dancing is for real men

I was delighted to read that Gavin Henson is returning to rugby (report, 29 October), albeit with Saracens rather than the Ospreys.

But I was surprised that – in an enlightened paper such as The Independent – your correspondent Chris Hewett referred to ballroom dancing as "prancing". Men can enjoy both you know. Perhaps you could club together to buy Mr Hewett a few dancing lessons for Christmas or, if that would be too big a challenge to his self-image, at least give him the DVD of Billy Elliot.

Stephen Roberts

Empingham, Rutland

How will it end for Hitchens?

Howard Jacobson ("Constant worry is the least of my concerns", 6 November) says that I claimed that there was more chance of my being killed by an eagle falling out of the sky than of being killed by a terrorist.

This is certainly unlikely – but not as unlikely as being killed by an eagle dropping a tortoise on my head, the comparison I actually made. This is supposed to have happened to Aeschylus, but has been rare in subsequent centuries. Also, I don't generally fly in business class, but in the back like everyone else.

Peter HItchens

London W8

EU: tell the truth

Is it surprising that the number of Euro-sceptics is increasing (letters, 8 November) when the real financial cost of our membership continues to be deliberately hidden; the EU accounts remain unaudited (and therefore highly suspicious); and genuine questions raised about these and so many other issues, from human rights to sovereignty, have been ignored by successive governments? An open and honest debate followed by a referendum is all that is required to satisfy most sceptics – not broken electoral promises and media spin.

Steve Parker

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Kirk counselled

The original 1960s Star Trek may have rejected religion as irrelevant in the 23rd century (letters, 4 November), but when the series was revamped in the 1980s, it incorporated our modern obsession with counselling by having a therapist as one of the officers instead of a chaplain. What a shame the immortal order was never given to "Cheer me up, Scotty".

Emily Rose


Perspectives on the strike at the BBC

Face facts: there's not enough cash

Staff at the BBC who are complaining about their pensions have to understand that it is not fair, and never was, that their pensions should be higher than is justified by the pension fund they have saved up.

The reality of pensions is that you build up a fund, and you get a pension by way of an annuity based on the value of that fund – currently an annuity will pay a rate of around 4-5 per cent annually depending on your age. So to get a pension of £15k pa you need to have saved a pension fund of £300k-£400k. If you haven't saved that, you simply cannot expect to demand that the shortfall should be made up by a top-up every year from other taxpayers, from the public purse. There is simply no moral justification for it.

Rachel Michaels


Big names are brave to stick by principles

In "This is no way for BBC reporters to behave" (8 November) Stephen Glover chides BBC "names" for having the courage of their convictions, not only to strike in the NUJ's defence of pensions, but also to prefer not to watch programmes which had been produced with the help of strike breakers. And furthermore these people are rich as well, the rotters!

Further, in arguing that BBC journalists shouldn't take part in industrial action because they have to be impartial about reporting cuts, Mr Glover reverts to the moral high ground which he purports to question. He constructs a false argument, which, applied to himself, would mean that he himself could no longer be relied upon to comment impartially on media matters as he has sided with one of the two factions in a media dispute.

Stewart Perkins,

Market Drayton, Shropshire

New faces are a breath of fresh air

I would like to thank the BBC for the quality of the coverage put out during the NUJ strike. My one regret is that the strike has to end.

I say this in all sincerity. Having some lesser-seen faces presenting the news made it fresh, relevant and without barriers. Usually, the self-important, ego-filled talking heads seem to think that journalism consists of insulting people and pushing their own opinions forward. Their replacements have offered a breath of fresh air.

So, if I might be so bold, if the BBC has to save money, could it not get rid of a lot of the over-priced journalists, promote the current second-tier people and start an apprenticeship scheme to get some fresh blood in?

Paul Harper

London E15