Letters: Why do we put up with the welfare culture?

These letters are published in the print issue of The Independent, April 4th, 2013


In his rush to absolve our unaffordable welfare system Owen Jones (3 April) does not seem to grasp the most troubling aspect of the Philpott case. He accurately singles the family out as not typical of those receiving welfare. What he misses is the way in which their behaviour was accepted by others.

If your reporting is accurate the family had some form of cult status in the area. Some thought Mick Philpott a bit of a “character”, yet, on his own admission, he saw his children as a source of income. It seems that an excessive lifestyle, for by any measure that is what it was, can be sustained on state handouts with the apparent approval of those living nearby who may be less fortunate.

This exceptional tale does indeed tell a bigger picture: that some people apply no judgement to the way in which welfare money is spent. The dysfunctional way benefits are bestowed has enabled this mentality to thrive.

G Barlow, Wirral

It is a measure of how remote the churches now are from the lives of ordinary people that they could endorse the welfare report The Lies We Tell Ourselves.

These bourgeois institutions fulminate against Iain Duncan Smith, but the poor and the working class, many in receipt of benefits, accept the need for welfare reform. Two thirds think the system doesn’t work while four out of five believe anyone refusing a job should have their benefits cut.

The fact is that on their way to work they pass the blinds-drawn widows of welfare careerists and have seen at first hand the toxic effect of “incapacity” benefits. Having been brought up in a mining village, I know that coaxing people into the all-encompassing bosom of the state inevitably alienates them from their neighbours.

Senior clerics and patrician commentators are still wedded to the concept of welfarism mainly because they have never personally fallen into its fell clutch.

The Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

George Osborne’s attack on the “depressingly predictable outrage” of churches and charities opposed to the Government’s welfare reforms is itself a depressingly predictable manifestation of the opprobrium now being poured on Christians and churches by people who take at face value the criticisms made by militant atheists.

Churches are on the front line of dealing with the effects of economic hardship the world over, be it the Salvation Army in its campaigns or ordinary churchgoers spending extra at the supermarket to supply this nation’s overstretched food banks.

Many churches and Christians make considerable sacrifices of time and money to assist people in need and to pick up the pieces when times are tough, providing an infrastructure of support unparalleled by any other movement. To describe them as “vested interests” is simply fatuous.

Jeremy Legg, Bournemouth

The current debate about the bedroom tax touches on a wider malaise contributing to the benefits culture.

Because renting or buying a roof over one’s head is so expensive as a proportion of income (spending 40 per cent is not uncommon), once people get into social housing, many tend to hang on to it at all costs.

The same applies to transport to and from work; rising petrol prices and the astronomical costs of public transport deter many people from taking work outside their local area.

As a result, many people would rather struggle on paltry benefits than struggle on paltry wages. The costs of accessing the infrastructure necessary for work need to be addressed.

Karl Chads, London SE18

Sure you can survive a week on £53, as Iain Duncan Smith claims; maybe even two or three weeks. It helps, of course, if you’re already well fed, well educated and in good health.

What happens when your children need new shoes for school? When you need to contribute towards the next school trip? When the bailiffs have taken the television and anything else of value in your home? When there’s a family birthday? When all your earnings are eaten up by repayments?

Time for a reality check.

Jane Kelly, Salisbury

The right kind of targets for hospitals

In his article of 28 March, Andreas Whittam Smith says: “The cruelty of Mid Staffordshire was the result of setting a multitude of targets for staff and then chasing them to achieve them.”

Having “targets” is part of the system of management, popular in the 1960s, known then as Management by Objectives (MbO), but with one essential difference. Each such target needs to be agreed with and by those concerned with achieving it, not merely be set by higher management.

From 1973 to 1977 I was Commander-in-Chief of RAF Support Command. It was staffed by 10,000 service people and 12,000 civilian staff, who manned its repair and supply units, communications units, medical and dental units and others.  

I introduced MbO throughout the Command, including the hospitals, but we were careful to discuss and agree each “target” with the management of the unit concerned, both initially and at periodic revisions, when the results achieved were reviewed in situ. 

I hope that our success in getting steadily improved results for all units, including hospitals, by the use of agreed targets, was in no way responsible for the later disastrous adoption of a system for the NHS with targets set by the Ministry. 

Air Marshal Sir Reginald E W Harland, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

‘American’ helicopters

I don’t believe Eileen Noakes and Terence Davidson (letters, 27 March) need worry about the British search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter service being awarded to “an American company”.

The company concerned, Bristow Helicopters Ltd, is based in Aberdeen. Although it now has a Texas-based parent company, it was started in Britain in 1953 by Alan Bristow, and it has a distinguished history of providing SAR services here. It also, separately, provides a significant proportion of military helicopter training for the UK Ministry of Defence.  

When the American company, Offshore Logistics, bought a controlling interest in Bristow in 1996, it chose to change its name to the Bristow Group, because of the worldwide reputation of the Bristow name.

The demise of military SAR services in this country comes as no surprise in aviation circles. The main purpose of military SAR has always been to rescue downed military aircrew  – something that is rarely needed in this country these days. The great bulk of UK SAR work is rescuing civilians, and a cash-strapped military can no longer afford to do that – particularly since its Sea King helicopters urgently need replacing.

Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Fracking: too much guesswork

Jonathan Brown’s article (2 April) reveals that future energy security depends on fracking, which according to the CEO of the energy firm Cuadrilla is behind schedule and progressing slowly, and may provide 0-40 per cent gas return, and that is a guess. 

A more scientific, data-based article in the science journal Nature reveals that the productivity of 65,000 wells in the US declined rapidly, producing 80-95 per cent less gas than in the previous three years. So far from “fuelling homes [after] three years”. there may simply be insufficient gas to fuel anything. 

Gas fracking companies need urgently to solve why gas wells run dry so quickly. Without that, fracking is simply unsustainable.

Professor Martin Menzies, Earth Sciences,  Royal Holloway  University of London

Managing fewer trains

I have just heard the most egregious piece of management-speak I’ve encountered for a long time. Since the improvements to the station at the weekend were not finished on time, the people who run the rail network have decided to “re-evaluate” their service.

This apparently means that they will be running only one train an hour from Oxford to London Paddington.

Jane Gregory, Emsworth,  Hampshire

Setback for Salmond

So much for Alex Salmond’s dreams of becoming the first president of the Republic of Scotland now that Rupert Murdoch has baled out (report, 2 April).

Mr Salmond should have realised that Murdoch’s allegiance is solely to Murdoch, and it’s a sure sign that the ship is going down when the rats begin to leave.

John White, Sidcup,  Kent

How wonderful to have the extra hour of daylight. I hope that Scotland does achieve independence, for then we shall not feel obliged to put the clocks back as winter approaches in order to accommodate our neighbours north of the border.

Peter Fryer, Loughborough,  Leicestershire

Gender bias

If, as Christoper Dawes suggests (letter, 2 April), continuous assessment of educational attainment favours girls and assessment by exam favours boys, obviously the only fair way to decide between these methods is to tilt in favour of girls for the next 500 years and then review the situation.

Julie Harrison, Hertford

Light touch

If Paolo Di Canio admits he is a fascist will Sunderland rename the Stadium of Light as the Stadium of Darkness? It’s currently the Stadium of Opaqueness.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich,  West Midlands

Fishy business

So cheaper fish is being passed off as cod and haddock. Sea horse?

Jenny Fowler, Brookwood,  Surrey

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