Letters: Wealth, health and how we define inequality

These letters appear in the 11 March edition of The Independent

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Of all economic statistics, inequality measures are about the most misleading (“Britain’s divided decade”, 10 March). Anyone talking about the “wealth” of the “poorest” 20 per cent is talking nonsense; as in most measures the bottom 20 per cent have debts, not wealth. That does not mean they are “poor”; many are recent graduates with student loans and overdrafts, but otherwise well-above-average life prospects.

Moreover, measures of “inequality” typically capture only income or wealth before taxes and redistributions. The “rich” pay by far the bulk of income and capital taxes, and are now paying more than they did. They are also getting low returns on their savings. Poorer families, meanwhile, are supported by below-market tenancies, welfare benefits, state pensions, free bus travel, free healthcare and education – though none of that is counted as “wealth” in the numbers cited.

The result is that the statistics are far more subtle, and the UK is far more equal, than the raw figures of economists and the sensational headlines of newspapers suggest.

Dr Eamonn Butler
Director, Adam Smith Institute, London SW1


In a report on deciding what treatments the NHS can afford (6 March), you report on criticism of Nice.

If you are one of those who would vilify those who must make difficult decisions in an effort to get the greatest benefit from a limited budget, you should ask yourself one question. When, if ever, did you last vote for a political party which declared it would increase or even just maintain tax levels, rather than cut taxes? If the answer is never, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

If we had a realistic programme of progressive taxation, with the wealthiest paying as high a proportion of their disposable income as the poorest, we would have much more money to fund the NHS. An additional benefit would be that every objective study has found that in societies with lower levels of inequality, people at all levels of society report greater happiness and a better quality of life.

Ken Campbell
Kettering, Northamptonshire


The front pages of your paper have recently told us that British society is more fragmented along economic, ethnic, religious and cultural lines than ever was the case.

One could ask why, then, your leader writers take, in effect, the Coalition line on the benefits of free schools, which together with exclusive private education encourage and foster inequality and  division.

If we followed Finland’s blueprint of only having state schools, every child would benefit from the same education as the offspring of ministers and members of the Royal Family, and there would be fewer bars to mutual understanding and opportunity.

Can any policy maker grasp this joined-up concept, as we approach an election with the choice for voters being that of the untrustworthy over the unspeakable?

Angelo Micciche
St Erth, Cornwall


Gay teachers back in the closet

It is worrying to read (9 March) that some teachers in schools are bullying gay students.

I’ve worked as a teacher in schools since 1996 and when I started gay teachers were very open about their homosexuality and I rarely heard any homophobia.

But recently gay teachers have decided to remain very quiet about their sexuality even among staff. I feel there is a fear among these staff that being openly gay is unwise in schools, and so I can see why issues around homosexuality are not aired.

I suspect that they fear being bullied themselves, if they openly admit they are gay.

Kartar Uppal
West Bromwich, West Midlands


Migration: the  truth at last

Hooray! At last someone has had the courage to write in The Independent (Chris Maume, 5 March) about the obvious strain put on school places and housing by record levels of net migration into this country.

No politician other than Nigel Farage appears to have realised that if you have an extra 280,000 people coming into the country each year it is going to stretch resources to breaking point.

Few people take Ukip seriously as a contender for power, but as long as politicians are too scared to admit what the public worked out years ago about the effects of large scale net migration on our housing, schools and NHS, their popularity is going to increase.

Keith Brawn
Fareham, Hampshire


Nigel Farage (6 March) comments that “for decades Britain’s net migration numbers hovered around 30,000 a year”.

At no time since data became available in the 1960s has this been true, as even a cursory look at the statistics would have shown. Actual numbers have fluctuated widely, with net emigration characteristic of the period before the mid-1990s.

Professor John Salt
Migration Research Unit
University College London


Controversial year for Crufts

This years Crufts has been marked by controversy, and it’s about time.

As a nation of dog lovers, can it really be acceptable to hold a national dog show which focuses so doggedly on the animals’ looks, which in many cases come at the great expense of the dog’s health, happiness and welfare? While there were some small steps forward, Crufts 2015 was marked by a number of disturbing events: the suspected poisoning of at least one show dog; the rough handling of dogs including the Best in Show, who was lifted to the ground by her throat and tail; internet reports of a dog being beaten in the car park; and yet more people winning awards for breeding of dogs with extreme exaggerations which can compromise welfare.

We believe that the time has come for Channel 4 to ask itself the question if it’s really responsible to air this show in 2016?

Violet Owens
RSPCA Campaign Manager
Southwater, West Sussex


Sensible Green Party policies

I would have thought you would be able to muster something a little less sensationalist and superficial than the list of “unusual party policies” you came up with on Saturday’s report on the Green Party conference.

I could almost hear the indignant gasps elicited by news that “drugs and brothels will be decriminalised” and the “BBC will be forced to screen educational films”, not to mention the terrible controls on who England’s football teams will be allowed to play with. 

I would have thought that the uniqueness of Green Party economic policy is more the sort of thing that would engage the Independent reader. It’s based on the recognition  that indefinite “growth” is an impossibility, given that our planet’s resources are finite, and it turns current economic assumptions upside down. 

Green housing policy is pretty unusual too. It calls on the British to eschew home ownership and instead aspire to being tenants in high-quality and secure rented accommodation. There’s something to get readers going as they regard the dismal failure of the Thatcherite housing model from their mother-in-law’s spare bedroom window. 

Lois Davis
London SW11


Cannabis shown to save lives

Further to Janet Street-Porter’s column on pain-killer abuse (7 March), new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that US states with open medical marijuana access have a 25 per cent lower opioid overdose death rate than cannabis prohibition states.

The protective effect grows stronger with time. States with established cannabis access showed a 33 per cent reduction in deaths. This finding has huge implications.

The substitution effect was documented by California physicians long before the JAMA research. Legal cannabis access is correlated with a reduction in opioid and alcohol abuse. The cannabis plant is incapable of causing an overdose death. Not even aspirin can make the same claim, much less alcohol or painkillers.

The phrase “if it saves one life” has been used to justify all manner of drug war abuses. Legal cannabis has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Robert Sharpe
Policy Analyst
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Washington, DC


Bring back live politics

Much more important than a pointless seven-way election TV debate in which no meaningful exchange of ideas can possibly take place is the staging of more constituency hustings.

Over recent years these have become an endangered species in an age of digital campaigning. It’s much more satisfying engaging in the rough-and-tumble of live debate in a school hall than watching politicians throw mud at each other on the telly.

Stan Labovitch