Letters: We’ll miss the work retired people do

These letters appear in the Friday 6th December edition of the Independent
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While your editorial “Age Concern” (5 December) rightly takes the pragmatic view that because we live longer and healthier lives we should work for longer, it misses one important point.

Very many people who have retired at 60 are making a continuing vital contribution to the Big Society through voluntary action in our communities, whether as front-line activists or trustees of charitable organisations. And we can afford to do that as we have the time and the pension to go with it.

By raising the age of retirement to 70 we run the risk of reducing the pool of skilled and experienced volunteers and the contribution they make to the health and wealth of society. And presumably government will have to pick up the bill.

Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire


The Chancellor’s plans to further raise the state retirement age underline the two-Britain society the Government is intent in creating.

On the one hand there are those, the poor, who are increasingly expected to work until they drop. On the other hand we have those, like the current Cabinet, who are wealthy enough to retire whenever they please. Now would be a good time.

Keith Flett, London N17


The Autumn Statement by sneering millionaire George Osborne is another Robin-Hood-in-reverse budget. The brutal package of austerity is actually the impoverishment of millions of working people to pay for tax cuts for millionaires. His decision to raise the retirement age to 70 is particularly callous, as there are parts of Scotland and North England where life expectancy is going backwards.

Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee


So I am supposed to “throw a party” to celebrate George Osborne’s extending the retirement age to 70 (Editorial, 5 May)?

I can entirely understand the public policy reasons for this move, but object to the facile assumption that if they want to, people can just carry on working as long as they wish to. I work in local government, and like thousands of colleagues, have been made redundant from a job in which I would have remained if I could, until at least 65.

Instead I find myself back in the job market and encountering the routine ageism of recruitment agencies and employers. It’s illegal, but they all do it, and everybody knows it. I’m fit, healthy, experienced and willing and able, but “too old” at 59.

In the real world outside the London bubble, what chance have I got of working until my current retirement age of 66, let alone 70?

Derek Alcraft, Newcastle upon Tyne


Cameron, world statesman

Compare the Prime Minister’s approach to decision-making on various issues.

Though he appears to be at a loss when faced with  straightforward, much-discussed domestic matters such as plain cigarette packaging, the minimum price per unit of alcohol, the banning of wild animals in circuses and the provision of plastic bags at check-outs, when it has been a question of  involving the UK in civil wars in two Middle Eastern countries, he has no trouble at all in making prompt decisions. Then he appears to be “up for it”, almost “gung-ho”.

It would be reassuring if he would settle the above relatively minor issues without endless further consultations, because it is absolutely clear that he has a mind of his own. Let’s see him using it.

David Hindmarsh



When is the Prime Minister, the self-appointed courtesan of commerce, going to stop dining on chop suey deals in China and begin tucking into bread-and-butter issues in Britain?

Geoff Naylor



The disgrace of housing policy

It’s not surprising that the article on affordable housing (“ ‘Disaster for poor’ as building of affordable homes falls 26%”, 22 November) was muddled, given the complexity of the Government’s own definition of affordable housing in the Planning Policy Framework, and the way that statistics are presented.

Affordable housing includes three types. The subsidised rent levels for “social rented housing” are set by the national rent regime, while for “affordable rented housing” the level must not exceed 80 per cent of the local market rent. The third type of affordable housing is “intermediate housing”, defined as homes for sale and rent at below market levels.

This definition implies that neither homes rented from private landlords nor homes bought on the open market are “affordable”, understood to mean not exceeding 35 per cent of the household’s net income.

The under-supply of homes for sale is a well-known disgrace, fuelling rising house prices. Far less attention is paid to the rented housing sectors, even though the percentage of owner-occupied homes in the UK was only 70 per cent at the high point in 2002 and has decreased steadily since then to the current rate of about 65 per cent.

The one third of households who rent includes many who will never be home owners regardless of government schemes to ease their way into the mortgage market.

At a time when there are 1.85 million households on local authority waiting lists, the 2012-13 national housing statistics show that only 18,000 additional social rented homes were provided, a drop of 53 per cent over the previous 12 months. Intermediate housing also declined slightly. For renting, the picture continues to deteriorate: in the first six months of 2013-14 under 8,500 affordable homes were completed, a fall of 16 per cent, and of these only 1,144 were homes for social renting. The private rented sector is growing, but in 55 per cent of local authority areas rents for a two-bedroom home exceed 35 per cent of median net income for that area.

It is not only those with aspirations to own their own home who are being squeezed; fewer affordable homes year on year, combined with welfare benefit cuts, means that for a significant proportion of the population any kind of home of your own begins to look out of reach.

Sarah Blandy, Professor of Law, University of Sheffield


An exciting  vegan diet

Chris Maume painted rather an unfair picture of the vegan diet in his Friday column. A vegan myself  for nine years, I don’t  spend all day working  out how much protein I need, nor am I limited to eating lentils and nuts.

The quality and variety of vegan food has improved dramatically in recent years, as veganism’s popularity has grown. You can now buy vegan versions of everything from ice cream to fish-fingers. I’m sure Mr Maume could even make a vegan version of the spicy Thai chicken soup that tempted him back to meat.

A sufficiently varied vegan diet is extremely healthy, being low in saturated fat and high in fibre, and can provide all the protein and other essential nutrients we need, as well as being just as delicious and exciting as any other diet.

Ben Martin, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent


Lawyers will never make you rich

Chris Blackhurst (Midweek View, 4 December) draws attention to the £850 per hour charged by partners in leading City law firms.

There is one underlying characteristic of all the newly developed leading economies such as China, India, South Korea and Brazil. They favour the training and higher rewards for scientists and engineers (the wealth creators) and not lawyers. It should be self-evident from history that no nation has ever achieved greatness or economic growth through being proficient in litigation.

Your report (4 December) on increasing hunger problems in the UK is an indicator of our steady decline as a leading economy. Perhaps these City fat cats could contribute more, on moral grounds, to assist the less privileged

David Algar, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire


Hard-wired for reckless greed?

I was interested to read that scientists have discovered that the typical male brain is wired differently to the typical female brain, and that this difference develops in adolescence.

Do you suppose that if these scientists could be persuaded to look at typical bankers’ brains they might be able to show that recent financial troubles were, in fact, just a wiring problem?

Goff Sargent, Loughborough, Leicestershire


Musicians who fled Hitler’s Germany

In 1939, Siegmund Nissel and Peter Schidlof came to Britain on the Kindertransport (“The day we left Hitler behind”, 5 December). Together with Norbert Brainin, who had arrived from Vienna with his uncles as his parents had died, we formed the Amadeus Quartet, of which I am now the only survivor.

I am grateful to their memory every day.

Martin Lovett, London NW3