NHS, Local councils and others

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The Independent Online

NHS money will help the living more than the dead

NHS money will help the living more than the dead

Sir: My wife and I are appalled to hear that there are thousands of people lining up to sue the NHS for use of body parts without permission.

There is no sum of money that can compensate for the loss of a loved one and although written permission may be required under present laws, such action will deprive the NHS of much needed funds to treat and heal the living.

Many years ago we lost a daughter aged 17 who was knocked down by a car and suffered a fractured skull. We cannot remember whether we were asked about use of organs, but we very much hope they were used. She was a very healthy, strong and athletic girl and it would be marvellous to think that there may be people alive today because of her organ donation.

Because of the traumatic and emotional state one is in after sudden death, there is a strong case for the law to make organ donation automatic unless a preference to the contrary is expressed in writing. This can be the only positive outcome of a personal tragedy which lives with one for ever.

Lydney, Gloucestershire

Sir: I feel a great deal of sympathy towards the parents who feel at worst that their children's bodies were desecrated, and at best that they were not informed in an appropriate way that parts of their children were retained and/or used for research.

Despite (or maybe because of) this sympathy I would ask them to stop pursuing compensation for the grievous wrong done to them. Compensation for NHS misdeeds comes from the NHS budget. However distressing this whole incident, these parents' children are dead. Please let that money stay within the NHS for the treatment of those who live.

These parents have already made sure other parents will not suffer the same shock of finding out their children's organs were retained. But how much better not suffering the death of a child in the first place? All high compensation claims will do is take money away from where it will achieve most.

London SE23

Give back power to local councils

Sir: I could not disagree more with your editorial on the council tax ("The council tax may be unpopular, but the alternatives are worse", 16 January). Being based in London, it is perhaps understandable that you do not appreciate the concerns of those of us to the North. We also value democracy and want to do the best for those we represent, but are frustrated by always having to get approval from central government for schemes that really will benefit local people, who have already paid taxes to the Treasury and deserve to have a far greater portion of them spent in their own area.

Whether we have a local income tax, a return of business rates, a reformed property tax or a combination of all three, what is important is that some of the power that has been taken away from local government over the past 100 years or so is returned.

For "power" read "money". Local councils should be more than about emptying bins. They should be able to make local decisions unfettered by the mandarins in Whitehall. With a fairer voting system and real money riding on the results of local elections, I am sure that turnouts would improve greatly.

And more power to local councils might mean that a greater cross section of society would be prepared to come forward for election, bringing with them skills and expertise that is often at present sadly lacking in council chambers up and down the country.

North Hykeham,

Sir: The implication appears to be (leading article, 16 January) that council tax as a property tax "is a sensible part of an overall tax system". Council tax is payable by the first person who fits one of the descriptions (a) a resident freeholder (b) a resident leaseholder and (c) a resident statutory or secure tenant ... (f) the owner (where property unoccupied). It is therefore primarily a tax based on residency.

Thus tenants of the tiniest accommodation units, where one room serves as kitchen, living and sleeping space (which most of us would liken to student accommodation) can find themselves liable to council tax of £715.87 a year. (Band A 2003/2004 Herefordshire Council - Hereford City Parish). This translates into an actual monthly payment of £72 for most months of the year (council tax being collected over 10 months) on accommodation for which the basic rent may be lower than £50 per week. This makes for an additional payment amounting to over 33 per cent of the basic rent payable on most months of the year to local government by some of the lowest-paid members of our society living in the smallest of spaces.

I manage six such units contained within a three-storey Victorian semi-detached house. One house it is, but the six "dwellings" within mean six Band A charges. Charged on the owners this would mean an extortionate property tax (more than double the existing highest banding charge). Charged on the tenants it is diabolically unfair.

Although it may well be, as you say, "cheap to collect" and it is certainly "difficult to avoid", council tax is a grossly unjust and arbitrary tax in desperate need of urgent review.


Sir: People complain when their council taxes rise, yet stay silent when their property values rise. Cannot people see that property values are created by public spending on improved services, improved environment, regeneration schemes and all other expenditure by local and central government in the wider environment around their property? Property values reflect the benefit of their location; the market takes everything into account. Taxation "according to benefits received" is surely not a bad principle.

The market also takes property taxes into account in determining the price of property. Thus the abolition of the council tax would result in further increases in property prices; in effect a massive subsidy by the general taxpayer to property owners.

The disadvantages of the council tax system would better be overcome by replacing it with a tax on land values, which will more accurately reflect the benefits of location and more directly be linked to the ability to pay.

Southport, Merseyside

Original Sambo

Sir: When my grandmother Helen Bannerman wrote her Little Black Sambo books they were aimed at her children, who were less than four years old. The books were small and simple and able to be handled by these very young children. They knew nothing of Africa but found India and Scotland tediously everyday places. So the stories contained Africans and employed the African names recognisable by such unsophisticated creatures as my father.

The books are now persistently given to older children who have learned to see insult where none was even conceived let alone intended. Efforts to sanitise them, as reported in your article "Repackaged after 100 years, Sambo still causes offence" (17 January) reduce the punch of the stories, and redrawing the pictures, intentionally naive, make them difficult for small hands to hold.

Those who wish to know more of the background to the books should read Elizabeth Hay's excellent book Sambo Sahib. Parents, buy the books as they were first published. Read them to your children before they go to school. Explain any problems they may find. They will remember a great and robust set of stories and be strengthened thereby.


A hand up

Sir: Your article on the TV series Shameless implied that today's welfare system encourages a dependency culture (Opinion, 13 January). This is not true. Nobody unemployed today can choose a "soft" option of staying on benefits indefinitely rather than go to work.

The active, modern welfare state the Government has designed links rights to responsibilities and supports the move from welfare to work. Through New Deal programmes and other initiatives, we are making clear the responsibility to get back to work whilst ensuring the necessary support is there. Our record speaks for itself, with the lowest unemployment rate for 30 years and youth unemployment virtually eradicated.

We are piloting new initiatives like StepUp which give long-term unemployed people a guaranteed job with an employer for up to 50 weeks, breaking the dependency cycle. We are doing just what John Bird says we should be doing - offering unemployed people a hand up not a hand-out.

Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions, London SW1

Not Hoon's fault

Sir: Samantha Roberts misses her husband and wishes he were still alive. This is understandable, as are her attempts to find out the full details of his death.

However to suggest that Geoff Hoon is directly responsible and should "consider his position" is ridiculous. The idea that every time a British soldier died in questionable circumstances the Secretary of State for Defence should resign is mad. If this approach were extended to cover other departments of state, where would it end?

I don't think he should apologise directly to her; an expression of regret at anyone's death should be sufficient. Geoff Hoon is not callous or indifferent; he is a human being doing his best, something that people tend to forget about politicians.


Kilroy and Paulin

Sir: A standard Zionist line, echoed by Howard Jacobson (Opinion, 17 January), is emerging on the Kilroy-Silk saga that I find profoundly disingenuous.

Whilst Robert Kilroy-Silk has tried to muddy the waters over what he actually wrote against Arabs in the Sunday Express, his casual slippage from "limb-amputators" through terrorism to "asylum seekers living happily in this country on social security", showed clearly that he was referring to Arabs in general; not simply Arab states.

Tom Paulin, in his interview with al-Ahram, was equally clear that he was referring to "American-born settlers" living in illegally occupied territory, not Jews generally. His comparison of armed racist activists with Nazis is not anti-Semitic and there are many Jews and Israelis who see the comparison as perfectly appropriate, not because of the Jewishness of the settlers but because of their yen for colonial conquest, racial supremacy and ethnic cleansing.

Dagenham, Essex

Telecoms battle

Sir: Your article "Cost of BT stranglehold on telecoms put at £20bn" (15 January), gave a somewhat misleading view of the UK telco sector by carrying the unfounded allegations of one of our competitors.

The UK market is thriving as a result of BT's innovation and investment. The UK now enjoys the fastest growing broadband market in Europe and one that is growing quicker than the US. Consumers are benefiting from this progress with prices among the lowest in Europe. This is as a result of the huge competition that characterises the retail market.

Going forward, BT will continue to invest and innovate so that the UK can compete on a global basis. This huge investment carries risks however and so it is vital that Ofcom creates an appropriate regulatory regime that encourages such innovation and rewards those companies who are willing to take a lead in investing for the future.

Chief Broadband Officer
BT Group, London EC1

Saved from Saddam  

Sir: On your front page (20 January) you announce as 10,000 the approximate number of Iraqi civilians killed since the beginning of the conflict. It would have helpful in the interests of fairness if you had given as a comparison the number of his own citizens that Saddam would have killed in that time had he maintained his career average. If, as seems to be accepted, he killed over a million in 25 years or so, then 30,000 are now alive who would have been dead.

Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Rotten idea

Sir: Ageing rock stars creaking towards establishment recognition are a depressing sight. Now Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols, is to appear on I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here. What next for Mr Rotten? A gong? A knighthood? Selection as a New Labour parliamentary candidate? Lord Rotten? A column in the Daily Telegraph? Presenting Songs of Praise? I prefer my rock stars to end their days in an alcohol- and drug-induced stupor at the wheel of the Roller as it sinks slowly beneath the surface of the hotel swimming pool.


BBC's duty

Sir: Melvyn Bragg seems to be missing the point (letter, 19 January). Independent, quality programme making should be what we expect from the BBC, not a notable exception. The fact that the BBC publicity machine is in overdrive hopefully now means they recognise it's about time the BBC remembered us, the licence-fee payers, and put their partisan behaviour in the David Kelly tragedy behind them.


Big name

Sir: So Mark Wnek is emotionally shocked at his surname being used as a brand by a competitor (Media, 20 January). How does he think I feel?

St Helier,