Letters: Voluntary work

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The Independent Online

Sick of blame for victims

Like Ms Alibhai-Brown (8 November), I am growing increasingly angry with the Government and its axing of our public services, demonisation of the unemployed and blaming of the victims in our society for their lot.

And I am furious that they use me, a middle-class taxpayer, to justify their policies. I for one am happy to pay my taxes for those less fortunate, thank you very much!

I have a brother who is long-term unemployed and would love to have a job, but he can't get one. His confidence and self-esteem are so low that he is quite literally unable to go out door knocking – as some suggest – to get a job. He is the victim here.

The Government has no mandate to do what it is doing; a revolution is required and more and more of those I speak to agree. The people aren't torpid; they're rabid, and all they need is something, or someone, to coalesce around.

Charlotte Lewis

London E5

If the Government want us to believe that its spending cuts are necessary because of the economic situation, then why does it not announce a timetable for restoring the funding once the deficit is brought down to more normal levels? If it did this, we might be less likely to think that it is taking this opportunity to decrease the public sector for ideological rather than economic reasons.

Sarah Wise


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right: the Coalition seems to be illogically blaming the public sector for the current monetary crisis, the result of reckless, greedy and selfish behaviour by the large banks, the markets, and some multinational companies.

So why are ministers asking for advice from the sector which caused the problem? Either they were too incompetent to see it coming, or knew it was and ignored it, knowing they would get taxpayers to bail them out under threat that if they didn't they would wreck the system. Is this not demanding money with menaces?

We seem to be in a situation where the main parties depend on massive funding from the private sector to gain and keep power, and who then have to dance like marionettes to the tune of their bosses.

John Atkins

Swainby, North Yorkshire

BBC reputation on the line

Well said Stephen Glover. I was quite frankly shocked to see those photos of Paul Mason with his placard. I have admired the Newsnight work of Mason and Crick, but in taking such an overtly political stand they are not only undermining our belief in their journalistic integrity, but are also playing into the hands of politicians (of all parties) who for years have attempted to impugn the BBC's impartiality or to hobble its investigative journalism.

Just read Jeremy Lewis's account (in Shades of Greene) of Hugh Carlton Greene's difficulties with Harold Wilson, not to mention the Blair government's disgraceful treatment of Andrew Gilligan and the BBC. I speak as an admirer and supporter of the BBC who worries about attempts at political interference.

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

Having read Stephen Glover's diatribe against two prominent BBC journalists (8 November) – Michael Crick and Paul Mason – who also happen to be trade unionists and who obeyed the decision of their union (arrived at after a ballot and further consultation of members) to take strike action, one has to wonder if he really believes in pluralism and democracy. He seemed to suggest that membership of the National Union of Journalists should preclude Crick and Mason from working as, respectively, a political and an economic correspondent for the BBC.

Such a view might well have won favour in Pinochet's Chile, but is surely out of place in 21st-century Britain.

Peter Tajasque

London SW19

'Volunteer' idea is deeply flawed

Arguments about whether able-bodied jobless people should be asked to "earn" their benefits by performing community work may prove to be academic because – if my own experience is anything to go by – the proposed scheme will never get off the drawing board.

Back in the summer, having retired and having ample time on my hands, I applied to do some voluntary work visiting elderly people in their homes. Because elderly people can be vulnerable, a Criminal Records Bureau check was needed before I could start. Three months down the line, I am still waiting for clearance to come through.

Presumably many of the community tasks which benefit-claimants might be asked to perform will involve some contact with "vulnerable" people, so it is likely that these "voluntary workers" will be required to have a CRB check.

Thus the only growth industry in town is likely to be the CRB-check industry, particularly as clearance is not portable from job to job, and CRB checks must be conducted by each employer, even if the person concerned is working for several different organisations at the same time. Is this not a glaring example of wasted time, effort and money?

Stephen Clarke


I once spent half a morning waiting for a youth on community service to arrive to do some work. In the event he did not show and a supervisor arrived to tell us he was unavailable. We had wasted half a morning, did the work ourselves, and never asked for help again.

The present idea seems to involve organisations that already have volunteers having further numbers of people, generally claimants, who could have volunteered anyway and haven't, foisted upon them. Some of these new "volunteers" will be reluctant, and that will raise questions of supervision, who does it, and what authority they have to tell these people what to do.

These are the handed-down, half-baked ideas of a bunch of distant and disconnected multi-millionaires with zero real-life experience. If they want to see unemployment figures fall they should look back to any period of high employment. The unemployment numbers fell then because there were more jobs – not because the unemployed were forced to do things.

DBV Thomas

Usk, Gwent

Am I alone in seeing parallels between the Government's proposal of compulsory, unpaid, manual labour for long-term benefit claimants and community service for petty criminals?

Two questions occur to me. First, does this mean that unemployment is a crime? And second, isn't there something slightly insidious about dishing out what is essentially a penal sanction without even a semblance of due process?

Andrew T Barnes


Your correspondents (letters, 9 November) are a little hard on the Archbishop, who, it seems to me, has a robust view of the difficulties of unemployment.

Our society is one in which there will always be losers, and the state has a duty to provide for them since ultimately it is the policies of the state that have created such inequalities. Indeed, it can be argued that unemployment is essential for a competitive, market-driven economy to function. The fact that some may exploit welfare benefits does not invalidate the duty of the state to provide them; most do not, and as the Archbishop says "circumstances have been against them". Yes, voluntary work is to be commended, but not as a means of forced labour for those who find themselves out of work due to market forces and the profligacy of government.

L J Atterbury

Szydlowo, Poland

To order the forfeiture of income for weeks equates to a very severe court fine. To order community service at the rate of 30 hours per week would amount to a very severe court punishment. Yet this is exactly what the Government appears to be doing with its proposals to make benefit-recipients work.

Many will agree that benefit-recipients who are not working should in some way repay society. But to say that the proposals are not a punishment is simply untrue.

David Bond

Witney, Oxfordshire

UK language schools maligned

I was dismayed to read Mary Dejevsky's comment (5 November): "Why not simply stop all visas for study at establishments other than universities – solving at a stroke the problem of bogus language schools."

There are hundreds of extremely reputable private language schools in the UK, contributing billions of pounds to the UK economy. My brother and I set up our own language school in 1982, and in the intervening period our tiny school has brought some £20m of money into this country. Some 10,000-plus students have passed through our academy – and not a "bogus" student among them.

My school provides livelihoods year-round for 14-15 people – most of them graduates – and employs 20 more during the summer months. We are extremely careful to comply with every legal aspect of our profession, including immigration matters. The vast majority of private language schools take their responsibilities with the same seriousness, and we should not be tarred with the same brush as a few bogus schools operated by people intending to take criminal advantage of the visa system. Furthermore, it is not our responsibility to police these few bogus institutions, any more than it would be for good drivers to take responsibility for the behaviour of bad drivers.

As for the threat of potential terrorists entering the UK via the student-visa route, or people becoming radicalised during their stay in the UK: which type of institution is really likely to pose the greater threat; a university of 30,000 students where a single racial or religious group may comprise several thousand individuals, or a private language school like mine with 50 students throughout the year, where the average stay is weeks rather than months or years?

It is painful to hear the private EFL sector, comprising several hundred institutions which have to be "whiter than white" in order to survive, being accused of presenting a danger to UK security or encouraging illegal immigration.

James Rogers

Director, Severnvale Academy,


Attack on Russian journalist

The horrendous attack on the Russian journalist Oleg Kashin is just the latest reminder of how dangerous Russia has become for journalists, lawyers and human-rights campaigners (report, 8 November).

It seems highly likely that breaking Mr Kashin's fingers was a clear message to him and other journalists not to write about "difficult" topics. It will certainly have a chilling effect on media professionals in Russia already well aware of the risks they run in simply trying to do their jobs.

For some time Amnesty International has been warning that the space for freedom of speech in Russia is shrinking alarmingly, first under President Putin, now with Dmitry Medvedev's presidency.

With Oleg Kashin, the level of public outrage in Russia at the attack does at least provide some hope that the authorities might respond effectively in apprehending his assailants. For his sake – but also for Russia and its beleaguered civil society – it is vital that this is so.

Graham Jones

Amnesty International UK, Russia Coordinator, Sheffield

Strictly delightful rugby writer

For the information of Stephen Roberts (letters, 9 November), "prancing" is defined as "moving quickly with exaggerated steps", and if that isn't what Gavin Henson is doing on Strictly Come Dancing, I'd like to know what is!

I will hear no criticism of Chris Hewett, who is the best rugby correspondent in this, or any other, newspaper. Not only is his analysis spot on, always amusing, accurate and well-informed, his literary style is worthy of the best writers in any genre.

Some years back my family, knowing how much I admired Chris, invited him to my 60th birthday lunch, where he proved to be a delightful and amusing companion. Whatever he has to say about the game of rugby and the players, you may be sure that he is talking sense, choosing his words carefully to convey his meaning.

Helen Maclenan

Teddington, Middlesex

Study abroad

If I were the parent of a child coming up to university age (letters, 8 November), I would encourage them to apply to the University of Maastrict, one of Europe's many English-language universities, where the fees for the academic year 2010-2011 are €1,672. Not only is Maastrict nearby and easy to get to, but living costs there are 20-30 per cent lower than in the UK. Even better, Maastrict is, by virtue of its location, a multilingual city, so students there have an excellent opportunity to acquire useful language skills.

Chris Payne


Scooter hazards

I am very old and wobbly but the proud possessor of an electric scooter, on which I was shopping in Sainsbury's yesterday. I caught sight of a married lady friend I had not seen for some considerable time. We approached each other with smiles on our faces and when we arrived together she put her hands on each side of my head and, as it seemed to me, kissed me on top of my head and on my cheek and said something I could not hear for the chatting of passers-by. This surprised me a little as I had always known her as a friendly but undemonstrative, quietly spoken person. I wondered what on earth she could be saying to me. I asked her to repeat it. She did: she said, "Your wheel is on my foot."

Tom Hetherington


Perspectives on Cameron in China

The PM needs to tread with care

What the Prime Minister gets from his trade mission to China very much depends on the attitude that he adopts while there (letters, 8 November).

There are two fundamental points that Mr Cameron should accept. Firstly, that modern Britain is something of a political, economic and geographic irrelevance to China, and second, that China is now in a strong economic position, as bankroller of the free world.

As such, China is in no mood to be lectured to on human rights or territorial issues – certainly not by a nation with a dubious imperial history such as ours. Sure, we have serious concerns over the likes of Tibet, but nothing that Mr Cameron can say or do will change things, so he is well-advised not push things too hard.

China's one-party government may not be our cup of tea, but it has brought enviable levels of economic growth and prosperity. That China is now evolving into a more modern and open society of its own accord also needs to be acknowledged.

Of all the large European nations, Britain has least to fear from Chinese economic growth, as we no longer have large-scale manufacturing industries to protect, and are one of the few European nations that can claim to abide by the tenets of free trade. Our technological, retail and financial expertise, and niche-manufacturing capabilities, offer scope for excellent synergy with China's bulk-manufacturing industries and ballooning retail market.

If Mr Cameron plays his cards right there is scope for establishing mutually beneficial economic ties.

Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis

Dunblane, Perthshire

We have a duty to speak up on rights

Ann Dowling's suggestion that "we in the West should just shut up and concentrate on improving the quality of our own democracies" (letters, 9 November) is a noble philosophy in principle, but the fact is that self-criticism and criticising the human-rights records of other countries are not mutually exclusive.

It is possible to focus on China's repression of domestic opposition without neglecting the faults of Western countries and their allies. Indeed, without external pressure of any sort, how can progress in human rights be achieved in countries where internal dissent is not tolerated? In this case, we can particularly make a difference because China depends so heavily on Western demand for consumer goods to achieve economic growth.

Aymenn Jawad


Pure hypocrisy for British to criticise

Yes indeed Cameron should speak out about human rights in China (letters, 8 November). It will display the great national characteristic of British political life; ie hypocrisy. Think of "shock and awe", and illegal wars and the acceptance of torture by our allies, and keep a straight face. Tell China to embrace democracy while we have an unelected upper house and a head of state by birth. Tell of the need for accountability while we pursue more and more secrecy for the state.

F Rice