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Wednesday 30 June 2010
Letters: Wildlife and cuts
High price of spending cuts
Dominic Lawson (29 June) argues persuasively that if it is a choice between unproductive public expenditure and expenditure based on personal choice the latter should prevail. However, that is not the choice the Government is making – it is seeking to reduce debt by reducing public expenditure and increasing taxation, thus also reducing private expenditure.
The effect will be deflationary. If public sentiment were favourable it could be tempered by an increase in personal and corporate expenditure funded by debt, but there is no sign that the sentiment will be there or the banks will lend.
The Government has a difficult balancing act that can go seriously wrong. Not only is it unlikely that personal and corporate indebtedness will increase but sentiment is vulnerable and fear of unemployment can rapidly reduce elective expenditure, adding to deflation, as it did in 2008/9. Unemployment from cuts will increase public expenditure, reducing the net saving.
The Government needs to be more subtle. It needs to talk the economy up, not down; it needs to find out how much it can borrow if it can show a more buoyant economy; it needs to reduce expenditure by spreading the pain thinly in reduced benefits rather than an immediate reduction in headcount, and spread the pain of tax increases widely. The desired reshaping of public expenditure and distribution of wealth can follow when the private sector is better able to absorb the labour that is released.
As Simon Hughes gets cold feet over the Budget ("Hughes threatens 'trouble' for the coalition over treatment of poor", 25 June) what is more worrying is the consensus between all three major political parties over disability benefits and welfare "reform".
Most people understand very well that the banking and debt crisis was caused by the absurd situation whereby investment banks and hedge funds could gamble on toxic investments with capital they never actually possessed. In most businesses this would have been known as fraudulent trading, but when it came to the bankers it was expected that the rest of society would make the sacrifices necessary for them to indulge their addiction once again.
Yet the attack on welfare benefits proceeds apace. The higher unemployment is and the fewer the jobs that exist, then the greater is the need for sanctions and penalties in order that claimants fight harder for the jobs that aren't there in the first place.
New Labour abolished incapacity benefit, and its green paper on care raised the prospect of the abolition of disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance for the over-64s. The Tory-Liberal Budget has merely put flesh on New Labour's proposals.
Eligibility for incapacity benefit used to depend on one's own GP, until medical tests by private companies were instituted as a means of cutting the numbers qualifying. Because not enough people were disqualified, New Labour decided to abolish incapacity benefit. Instead, people were supposed to be judged by what they could rather than couldn't do. Because there is no onus on employers either to take on or retain disabled people, the result has been that sick and disabled people are still unemployed, but receiving a lower benefit.
The reason why DLA is so popular is that it is not means-tested or subject to taxation or the overlapping benefit rules. It is a genuine addition meant to compensate parents and carers for the additional costs of looking after someone who is disabled. As someone who cares for an autistic child receiving DLA, I know that the alternative to DLA for many thousands of people is to put someone in care, at much greater expense to the state as well as the personal distress that this will cause.
There should be a simple message to governments which seek to interfere with this, the most basic of disability benefits: hands off and deal with bankers' bonuses first.
Secretary, Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre
Budget will cost Lib Dem votes
Having read the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of the Budget I can see that there is very little in it that will be warmly welcomed by core Liberal Democrat supporters. The pain will come to the fore when cuts to frontline services provided by local government and benefits agencies are introduced.
Nick Clegg and parts of his leadership appear to have forgotten that their support is primarily drawn from individuals to the left of centre who have been unable to support Labour owing to its reactionary civil liberties policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Liberal Democrat economic policies have often been to the left of Labour's in their redistributive aims.
Policies in this Budget and the subsequent spending review announcements will lead to a massive loss of Liberal Democrat support at the next election.
In the Midlands and southern England there are many places where the Lib Dems hold very small majorities over the Conservatives. Lib Dem support is going to fall away as people wondered why they bothered voting for them and fought the Conservatives so hard at the last election.
In the North and Scotland, where I suspect Lib Dem support is more fragile, people will no doubt go back to supporting a reinvigorated Labour Party. I foresee the result will be the Lib Dems returning to a 1980s level of parliamentary support.
Those who criticise Nick Clegg over the VAT rise in the Budget are ignoring a fact. The Lib Dems didn't win the election. If they had done so the Budget would have been different.
The Lib Dems have done well to achieve the increase in the tax threshold, the safeguarding of the value of the state pensions by the "triple lock", the rise in capital gains tax and the levy on banks. Many would like to have seen the rich and the banks making a greater contribution, but the essence of coalition is compromise.
Political journalists are having a hard time adjusting to the notion that we no longer have a two-party system. They need to be reminded that in coalitions no party gets everything it wants.
Moving house to find a job
Iain Duncan Smith's proposals to encourage the long-term unemployed to move to areas where there are better job opportunities have been greeted with a mixed response. But they do shine a spotlight on a major problem for many social housing tenants – the difficulty for people to move within the social housing sector.
In a recent survey conducted by our house exchange service, the UK's only not-for-profit mutual exchange service for social housing tenants, almost 10 per cent of people looking for a house swap cited employment as their reason for wanting to move. Moving into a larger home or downsizing, being closer to family and friends and caring for family were other key reasons respondents gave.
There is a will is among many people to relocate for work, but in the absence of a nationwide house exchange scheme that all landlords are obliged to sign up to, we will struggle to create the fluid, free-market of house exchanges that would help so many people. The Coalition has highlighted the problem – we hope it also encourages and enables the right solution.
Executive Director Strategy and New Business, Circle Anglia
England team deserve support
If you are feeling let down by the pathetic display put on by England in South Africa, do not despair: I know of a national team you can follow.
They play with passion, commitment and pride. Last year they reached the finals of the European championships and lost to Germany after a spirited performance. This year they are in the World Cup qualifiers, sitting second in their group after an exciting comeback against Spain in their last match to draw 2-2.
Yes it's the England women's team. Dust off your vuvuzela and come along on 29 July to Walsall, for their next World Cup qualifying match against Turkey. They would love your support, and you know what? This team actually deserve it.
I'm so relieved that England are out of the World Cup. Like the mercy-killing of a terminally ill patient, this was the most humane way of alleviating the suffering of team and fans alike.
Buildings for a modern city
If Bruce Anderson is to achieve any success in his argument for architectural stagnation and against Modernist architecture he is going to have to come up with more than simply labelling it "ugly". (Opinion, 28 June). Personally, I find the anachronism of pastiche both ugly and depressing, but I understand that that in itself is not a case.
Like all successful world capitals, London's population is rapidly increasing and its shortage of housing is a significant problem, and yet Prince Charles and his ultra-conservative supporters oppose building above the height constraints imposed by the technical limitations of 19th-century building materials and methods.
Perhaps they feel that London's population shouldn't be increasing, in which case they should have the honesty to say so. Otherwise, perhaps they could explain to suburban green-belt residents why sprawling faux-Georgian "villages" need to be built in their neighbouring fields, and then explain to environmentalists and other taxpayers why expensive transport infrastructure is needed to bring these populations to work.
I would find the Prince's notion that all architectural progress ceased circa 1800 both depressing and nonsensical even if its logic was only applied in rural or suburban environments, but to apply it in central London constitutes a threat to the city's viability as a world leader. This bizarre nostalgia is a cultural, environmental and economic millstone around our necks, and as Mr Justice Vos rightly stated, the Prince's interference is unwelcome – not to mention unconstitutional.
Presumably the "traditional" architecture that Prince Charles espouses was once "modern" itself and presumably subject to the same criticisms that he himself now uses.
Religious rules for slaughter
Your article "New EU rules require compulsory labelling of halal meat" (21 June) draws attention to a new EU regulation which will result in the discriminatory labelling of all meat and meat products derived from animals that have been slaughtered by shechita, the Jewish religious humane method of slaughtering permitted animals and poultry for food.
The Jewish community is fully supportive of providing consumers with information about the origins of their food and we urged MEPs that if they wanted to label meat and meat products, labels should include those killed by electrocution, shooting, gassing or clubbing as well as the many millions of animals that are mis-stunned during the stunning process. But to single out one method is suspicious, troubling and discriminatory.
It is a popular myth that shechita is a painful method of slaughter. There is ample scientific evidence to the contrary. The shechita process requires the rapid uninterrupted severance of major vital organs and vessels, which produces, inter alia, an instant drop in blood pressure in the brain. This abrupt loss of pressure results in the immediate and irreversible cessation of consciousness, followed by immediate death.
And shechita accounts for only 0.03 per cent of all animals slaughtered each year for food in the UK. The real concern for animal welfare activists should be the far greater numbers of animals mis-stunned by captive-bolt or electricity every year. Both Defra and Compassion for World Farming recognise that 9 per cent of animals are mis-stunned.
Henry Grunwald QC
Chairman, Shechita UK London NW5
Liz Hoggard ("What sport teaches us about men", 28 June) wonders why she has only ever encountered women and gay men doing the work at the causes for which she has volunteered. May I propose that the projects that she has supported "from HIV and Aids to feminist causes" may have something to do with it? People give up their time for causes with which they most strongly identify. Had Ms Hoggard been volunteering for, say, Help for Heroes or the Testicular Cancer Fund I dare say that her experiences might well have been different.
Janet Pearson (letter, 29 June) takes the crossword compiler to task for calling the yew a conifer, on grounds that "yews have berries". Wrong: they have an aril, a kind of false fruit which bears a superficial resemblance to a berry. The yew belongs to the genus taxus in the family of taxaceae, all of which are conifers. Yew "berry" is merely popular, not botanical, usage
Stretford, Greater Manchester
Perspectives on wildlife in danger
Where have all the insects gone?
Michael McCarthy's article about vanishing insects (25 June) reinforced my own observations.
When I came to Leicestershire from Yorkshire 40-odd years ago I noticed a change in the flora, as I moved from a limestone area to an area on clay. However, there were a few mind-boggling differences that were definitely man-made. For example, walking by a local river I was struck by the enormous dock leaves growing in the muddy shallows. Dock leaves where I came from grew no bigger than around 25 centimetres long, but these Leicestershire ones grew – and still grow – to almost a metre in length, and there are many such clumps. This is attributable to run-off from heavily fertilised fields, but I had never seen it before.
I soon began to notice a curious lack of wildlife. Sitting down by a canal or a river to observe the passing fauna was a total disappointment. There was nothing much either to see or to hear. It didn't take me long to spot the reason, because as I sat on the grass I was not bothered by the usual collection of small creatures. Nothing moved. No spiders, ants, earwigs; no beetles, grasshoppers, moths or butterflies.
Yet whenever I have mentioned the lack of insects to people around me they don't react with horror. It's as if insects are an inconvenience. And the rows of insecticides in our local garden centre bear this out.
This loss of diversity is indeed tragic. Leicestershire is a haven of agri-business and is incredibly boring to walk in. As a child I lived in a Yorkshire village where as we walked we passed hedges with nests in and fields where there were wild flowers and butterflies. Bees and grasshoppers were noisy in the meadows and gardens. Birds sang.
So has this gone for good? Has anyone noticed?
Acid rain damage is still with us
Michael McCarthy is right to draw attention to the probability of an acid rain comeback (23 June). But what he doesn't say is that some of the greatest damage it caused in the UK has never gone away, even though it has long since disappeared from the agendas of environmental NGOs.
In the west of Britain, thousands of kilometres of idyllic-looking upland streams remain fish-dead because of acid pollution over the last few decades. Most of these streams have their sources on high moorland peat bogs, themselves naturally slightly acid environments. Their waters were rendered even more acidic by sulphur dioxide air pollutants dissolved in rain, outstripping what little buffering capacity these peaty soils naturally had.
The result? Kills of stream invertebrates and, thereby, no minnows, brown trout and other fish. Few stream birds such as grey wagtails and dippers are able to survive, simply because there are so few invertebrates for them to survive on.
Schemes led by the Environment Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales to add lime to some of these stream headwaters and peat bogs – many of them very difficult to access – is starting to return them to some semblance of normality.
Ships continuing to burn sulphur-rich fuels at sea (from which westerly winds blow airborne pollution our way), and vehicle nitrogen oxide emissions outside any regulatory control are likely, as McCarthy rightly suggests, to bring back the acid rain scourge that has fallen off almost every environmental agenda and out of public thought.
Dr Malcolm Smith
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