Poverty, Iraq and others

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Worsening poverty hidden in the midst of affluent Britain

Worsening poverty hidden in the midst of affluent Britain

Sir: John Kennedy's piece (Faith & Reason, 5 March) supporting the report Prosperity with a Purpose is rightly enthusiastic about the market as the creator of wealth but over-enthusiastic about it as an instrument of social justice in Britain. The unregulated free market in money lending is the motor that has lifted land and house prices and rents to eat into the already low incomes of the poor and created a massive bill in housing benefit for the taxpayer. It is the wealthy and the moneylenders that have grown ever richer at the same time, and ever more distant from poverty.

Poverty is now worse now than it was in 1985 when the Faith in the City report was published by the Church of England. The numbers of people with incomes under the government poverty threshold increased from 1979 to peak in 1997, while the market was allowed to run free, but have not returned even to 1985 levels. The number of households accepted as homeless doubled between 1980 and 2003. Low birthweights have increased, and stand at Third-World rates of 11 to 14 per cent of live births in some inner city areas. The expectation of life of the manual worker is 7.5 years shorter than that of professional workers. These are the core signals of poverty.

This poverty is largely unseen by comfortable Britain. It is oppression by laws that threaten fines, or prison, for council tax arrears and the truancy of a child, and eviction for rent arrears against inadequate incomes; or exploitation by door-to-door money lenders at over 300 per cent APR. A Government-imposed national minimum wage, tax credits, unemployment benefits and state pensions are instruments of social justice that regulate the market.

The proposed "minimum income standards agency" in the report is the next vital step in social policy that will enable employers, shareholders and the public to judge whether the poorest employees, pensioners and unemployed have minimum incomes that can sustain good health and social cohesion, thus reducing the costs to the taxpayer of poverty-related ill health, educational underachievement and crime.

Chairman , Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
London N17

Foreign policy lesson of the Iraq war

Sir: Andrew Grice describes two dimensions of the "Iraq effect" (9 March): first the question of military intervention in Iraq, secondly the question of trust in the Prime Minister. In our view there is a third and more significant dimension to the decision to go to war, and that is the fact that we in the UK rely upon 19th-century mechanisms to control foreign policies in the fast-changing world of the 21st century.

Tony Blair, ministers and officials are able to use the pre-democratic device of the Royal Prerogative to go to war, to deploy troops and to agree treaties, without needing Parliament's approval and largely outside judicial scrutiny. Going to war is obviously the most immediately pressing issue for us today. But the Government's treaty-making activities, and the agreements it enters into in the international councils of the world - the EU, the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank, the G7 and G8, etc - have enormous significance for the life of people in this country as well as for equity between nations. Again, these negotiations take place out of sight, unless, as with the case of Africa recently, government ministers want us to know how well they are behaving.

For these reasons, we do not agree that the "Iraq effect" will be measured on 5 May. This is a longer-term issue for our democracy. We urgently need to reform parliamentary oversight of foreign policy in the UK.


Democratic Audit, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex

Sir: Your editorial obsession with the question of the legality of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is peculiar ("Iraq war revelation: there was no full legal advice", 11 March). War is the mass murder of human beings and the mass destruction of property in the public interest - that is to say, a very great human evil. How could such a thing ever be lawful?

A show of hands in a meeting-room in New York could not possibly determine that question. The United Nations system, like the League of Nations system, was an attempt to multilateralise the temptation of governments to indulge in such behaviour. The Security Council is a sort of Warmakers Anonymous.

It took us, the people, a very long time to get some governments to behave decently as the government of a nation. Until we cure all governments of their age-old addiction to the use of armed force internationally, the correct questions to ask, relentlessly and lucidly, are the casuistic moral question and the utilitarian practical question. Can the evil of such behaviour possibly be mitigated, on a particular occasion, by a reasonable degree of certainty that some great good might flow from it, more or less as a side-effect?

At very long last, you arrived at that question in your edition of 8 March ("Was Bush right after all?").

Professor Emeritus of International Public Law, Cambridge University
Trinity College, Cambridge

Saved by the Russians

Sir: Paul Usher (letter, 10 March) makes the amazing statement that if the US "mission to promote freedom and democracy" transforms the Middle East "we will have cause to thank the Americans for saving us from tyranny for a third time. First Nazism, second Communism and third Islamofascism.''

Alan Clark hardly a "fellow traveller", wrote a classic account of the Russo-German conflict. In his book Barbarossa he said: "It was in this epic conflict that the outcome of the Second World War was decided. It seems that the Russians could have won the war on their own, without any help from the West."

Winston Churchill said: "It is the Russian army that tore the guts out of the German military machine."

Soviet casualties during the war were twenty times greater that the total of British and American casualties. It was this enormous Russian military effort that made possible the Allied landings in Normandy, for in June 1944 the Allies in France and Italy faced 90 German divisions while the Soviet Union was still fighting 250 divisions.

The survival of the "free world" and of British Democracy owes most of all to that transfusion of Russian blood.

Bromley, Kent

Patients made to pay

Sir: Once again, the prescription charge has increased. Whilst the 10p increase may seem minor, for cancer patients who can't afford to pay their prescriptions it is not.

Macmillan Cancer Relief believes that the current system of exemptions from prescription charges is outdated, riddled with anomalies, and in need of urgent overhaul. We believe that it is morally wrong for cancer patients to be required to pay for their prescriptions while they are undergoing or recovering from potentially life-saving treatment. There is also a substantial body of evidence to support the argument that the cost of prescription charges actually deters patients from taking prescribed medicines or treatments.

The nature of cancer treatment and care has changed radically since the current list of exemptions for chronic conditions was drawn up in 1968. It is now common for radiotherapy to be given as an outpatient treatment and this means that cancer patients have increasingly become liable to pay for prescribed drugs to control the side-effects of treatment.

We believe it is unacceptable that cancer patients and their families should suffer the huge problem of financial hardship at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Chief Executive
Macmillan Cancer Relief
London SE1

Stamp of disapproval

Sir: The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was established by Edinburgh Town Council on 1 July 1505. The College, accepted as the oldest surgical institution in the world, applied 18 months ago to Royal Mail for commemorative stamps to acknowledge 500 years of unbroken service. The college is currently supported by about 16,000 Members and Fellows; 50 per cent work in the UK and 50 per cent in over 80 countries worldwide. Royal Mail rejected this application.

The Hanoverian dynasty, succeeding to the British throne in 1714, and the relationship between Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles have lasted significantly fewer years than the college. The impending wedding will, however, be commemorated by Royal Mail issuing two stamps in an extremely short time-frame, apparently bypassing its normal procedures.

The college can justifiably feel aggrieved that Royal Mail has favoured the Royal Family while ignoring 500 years of setting standards in surgical training, assessment, continuing medical education and research.

Immediate past Vice-President, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Support for 4x4s

Sir: When Jonathan Margolis tested a Range Rover (Motoring, 6 February), not only was he seduced by the experience but he failed to encounter a single negative reaction to his presence on London's roads.

How succinctly his experience demonstrates that the campaign against 4x4s is waged by a tiny minority of hardened activists, intent on patronising the rest of us into accepting their view of the world. We should not fall for their PR stunts, especially their latest "survey" claiming that 85 per cent of people support higher taxes on anyone richer than themselves - no surprise there!

Neither should we fall for their tenuous arguments, lifted from the USA, where half of new cars are 4x4s and giant pick-ups. Here, higher fuel taxes and smaller roads have limited 4x4 sales to about five per cent of new cars, and all but a few thousand of these consume closer to 30mpg than 12mpg.

The idea that ownership of 4x4s can be further penalised without hurting those who really need them is a myth. Moreover, it should be resisted simply because it is wrong to allow one minority to make scapegoats of another in pursuit of a wider green/pink agenda.

London E14

Sir: Tony Ball (letter, 4 March) has reached the conclusion that the "off road" vehicle is so called because of its presence parked "on pavement". Here in Derby these vehicles have created their own carriageways at the side of the road. Perhaps they should be termed "on verge".


Football misbehaviour

Sir: There is a simple solution to the problem of poor behaviour by footballers (letters, 10 March). If a player argues with the referee about a decision, simply move the free kick 10 metres up the field. If they argue again, do the same ... and so on. This works very effectively in rugby union and hockey. You don't see the free kick or hit moved very often, just because it is so effective.


Christian sexuality

Sir: In the past the Church may well have got it wrong and presented a negative view of Christian sexuality as Wynne Greenhalgh says (letter, 9 March). However, this is not the case any more. The new Church of England marriage service refers to "the delight and tenderness of sexual union". As for love poetry the Song of Songs, to be found in the Old Testament, takes some beating and this erotic masterpiece is regarded by some as required reading for all couples preparing for a loving and fulfilling marriage.

Meopham, Kent

IRA's offer

Sir: Was the IRA's offer to shoot Robert McCartney's killers really so "outrageous" (leading article, 9 March)? I find it far more outrageous that most murderers are these days "punished" with a couple of decades' free room and board, before being freed either to re-offend or to enjoy the years their victims cannot. For once, the IRA could have performed a public service.


Aid for refugees

Sir: On 9 March, you printed a photograph of "Three Sudanese refugees ... look[ing] over Cairo, where they are unable to find work". It was stated that donations to Caritas could be made through AMERA. This is incorrect, and AMERA is not responsible for this error. In fact, in Egypt, AMERA provides legal aid to refugees to help them access their rights. AMERA does not provide financial support or health care and is not linked to Caritas in any way.

(on behalf of the AMERA UK Board)

Pregnant on the Tube

Sir: If Stuart Bonar (Letters, 10 March) had ever been a pregnant traveller on the Underground he would know that it is usually other women who offer up their seats. Teenage boys can often be surprisingly polite and chivalrous too. By far the worst offenders are the suited middle-aged men who will resolutely stare at their newspaper, presumably believing you should be at home knitting in the first place.

London E14

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