Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, is right to say that austerity has sought to recreate the workhouse for the 21st century (Report, 22 May). The idea of âless eligibilityâ (that the experience of state support should always be felt as being economically and socially worse than earning a living) underpinned the 19th-century workhouse and frames contemporary austerity policies. But, in the weaponising of less eligibility for todayâs precarious labour markets, social security policy goes beyond the oppressiveness of the poor law. Though the experience of the poor law was designed to be deeply unpleasant and grudging, it was also designed to relieve destitution by focusing on the needs of all household members.
In contrast, social security policy, particularly after George Osborneâs 2015 budget, is designed to create destitution by, for example, only providing support for two children per household and limiting benefit payments in arbitrary ways via the benefit cap. The Department for Work and Pensions claims that Alston provides a âcompletely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling povertyâ. If anything, he under-emphasises the regressiveness of contemporary social security policies.
Dr Chris Grover
In a proportional representation election, it can be counterproductive to become embroiled in debates on tactical voting (Letters, 21 May). However, my mind goes back to the debacle in the north-west region during the 2009 Euro election. Labour urged voters to support their party and desist from backing other reasonable options in a bid to keep out the far right. Then came the law of unintended consequences. When the votes were being shared out and the seats allocated, it became clear that one of two smaller parties would take the final place. Out of around 250,000 votes there were fewer than 6,000 separating them â the Green party was denied a seat, and it went to Nick Griffin of the BNP. My advice this time would be to respect the fairness of PR: vote for what you want and you are very likely to get it.
âą To all those European Union supporters who have been agonising in the columns of the Guardian in recent days over which pro-remain party to support in the Euro elections, I would say that you should count yourselves lucky.Continue reading... [ + ]
The harmful effects of air pollution during early life deserve greater attention (Air pollution damages âevery organ in the bodyâ, 18 May). Ongoing research in the US has reported that exposure during pregnancy to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a constituent of diesel exhaust, is linked to developmental delay at three years, an IQ reduction of 4-5 points at five years, increased anxiety, depression and inattention at six to seven years, a reduction in surface white matter in the brain at eight years, and delayed self-regulatory behaviour which became most significant at 11 years. These data are âpreliminaryâ only in the sense that they have not yet been replicated. Benzo-a-pyrene (BaP) is the only PAH routinely monitored by the EU. Due to the rapid growth in the sale of diesel vehicles since 2000, levels of BaP at traffic-monitoring sites has increased by 52%.
These findings have huge implications for public health, educational attainment and the high level of mental health problems currently afflicting schoolchildren in the UK. It is beyond belief that the governmentâs only response is a vague commitment to halve the number of people exposed to levels above the WHO limit for small particulates by 2025. This is not even a target; it is an aspiration that is legally unenforceable.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser, Geraint Davies MP Chair, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution
Your story (Tories consider electoral law to protect MPs if parties overspend, theguardian.com, 21 May) should worry anyone who values fair elections and a functioning democracy. If their initiative succeeds, only campaign spending explicitly authorised by a candidate or their agent will count towards their legally limited election expenses. Other spending â for example, by the candidateâs party headquarters, aimed at getting that candidate elected in that constituency â would not count at all. It would be open season for wealthy parties to drive a coach and horses through the whole regime of controlled campaign spending. They could âbuyâ elections in seats on an even more egregious basis than the current ludicrous legislation permits.
We would readily support the proposed reform, so long as it was accompanied by another reform making it a criminal offence for parties and their staff to spend money promoting a candidate without their agentâs authorisation.
Chief executive, Liberal Democrats
Your article (Agencies plead for ceasefire as fresh Ebola epidemic spirals out of control in DRC, 15 May) brings home how essential community involvement and participation is in responding to outbreaks such as Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When such crises emerge, a trusting relationship between responders and affected community members makes a vital difference to whether the response is effective. As shown in DRC, trust is not a given, which is one of the reasons why community engagement â involving local people in the development of the response from the very start â is so important. In conflict zones this is more difficult than in other emergencies, and yet even more important.
This also holds true when conducting research during an outbreak â an essential part of the emergency response, as shown by the way research in the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa led to the vaccine available in the current outbreak in DRC. Social science research is an essential part of any emergency response to understand how the response should best be tailored to local circumstances.Continue reading... [ + ]
Milkshakes | Boots and plastic | Model railways | Mulhouse | Wordsearch
No, Aditya Chakrabortty, it is not âpolitical theatreâ to throw milkshakes at people (Journal, 22 May), whoever they are. If you condone this you may as well condone the shouting of sexual abuse at females in the street â just a bit of banter, after all. I am no fan of Nigel Farage, but I donât agree with this attitude â and I do not agree with printing a front-page picture of Farage showing the result of the assault. It simply encourages more of the same outrageous behaviour.
âą I too was very unhappy when Boots started packaging my repeat prescription in plastic bags (Report, 18 May). After complaining last year, I was fobbed off to my local recycling systems (although the bags are not recyclable). That they have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact is just a joke.
While Labour should be concerned about the gaping 20% gap (YouGov/Datapraxis poll, 17 May) between itself and the Brexit party, as well as facing a revived Lib Dems, it shouldnât automatically conclude that the Tories are now a spent force, irrespective of this Thursdayâs results. If Labourâs strategy is to ride out the European elections bruised but still capable of fighting and defeating a broken Tory party in a general election, it may need to think again.
A resounding victory for the Brexit party will embolden the leave wing of the Conservatives to adopt a Brexit leader who will undoubtedly want to reconcile, even reunite, the leave membership now dominating both parties. Despite the large egos of Nigel Farage or likely leader Boris Johnson, the urge for a formal or informal pact to deliver Brexit will be too compelling to resist. Such a pact may enable the Tory party to survive and in a triumphalist post-Brexit climate allow the wider economic and social policy issues, which the Brexit party has been silent on, to come through. This combination could be the real danger to Labourâs prospects for government.
At last! A big thank you to Gordon Brown for asking questions on the Brexit partyâs funding (Brexit party funding must be scrutinised, Brown urges, 21 May). It was quite clear from Carole Cadwalladrâs excellent work on the funding of the Brexit campaign that there was unexplained financial backing, with the suspicion that it originated from Russia. As a result, even if we are allowed a public vote, I fear the Brexiters will win again.
If a foreign state invested in destabilising the EU through social media, it may do so subsequently, unless it is exposed and prevented.Continue reading... [ + ]
What Bryan Cox and Mary Ruck (Letters, 20 May) do not tell your readers about the claims for compensation by the Kenyan litigants they represented was that they were all dismissed by the judge, Sir Peter Stewart, after one of the longest trials in British legal history â 230 hearing days spread over four years. He concluded that the passage of time since the alleged ill-treatment was so great that it was impossible for the crown to mount a meaningful defence, especially in the absence of virtually any corroborative evidence.
Nearly all those alleged to have committed the claimed offences were either dead or not traceable. Moreover, almost none of those accused in these 40,000 claims was a member of the British army: policemen and prison warders were the alleged culprits in nearly all cases. Abuses in screening camps were repeatedly investigated at the time, and more than 100 policemen, home guards and prison warders were prosecuted, convicted and jailed. The army had almost nothing to do with screening and detention.Continue reading... [ + ]
I loved Ali Martinâs interview with Moeen Ali (21 May). Is there a nicer and more genuine international sportsman in the world? I doubt it. His wish for Steve Smith and David Warner to be âtreated decentlyâ in particular brought me up short. Having grown up in a cricket-loving family and been swept along in all the rivalry and needle of the Ashes over the years, I confess that I was happy to see their tragic fall as a divine judgment on their hubris. And then here is Moeen reminding us of the real wisdom in classical tragedy (and indeed in all world religions): that we are all human. The chorus in Sophoclesâ Antigone speaks of the inevitable fall of those who climb to the heights of power but then reminds us that âthe small man lives outside disasterâ (line 590). Moeen Ali should be celebrated by all of us as a great man because, even at the top of his game, he can embrace his rivalsâ disaster with true empathy. Meanwhile I fear I shall get caught up again in the emotional frenzy of the World Cup and prove myself to be so much less of a man than I wish I was.
Milton Abbas, Dorset
âą Join the debate â email email@example.comContinue reading... [ + ]
Sorry Nigel Healey (Letters, 21 May) but Sir Cliff Richard is rightly that. He changed it legally in 1980.
âą On Monday we had the good fortune to enter the east wing of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, just as the galleryâs director was paying tribute to the buildingâs architect, IM Pei, who died recently. Almost her first words were to quote Andrew Saintâs obituary in the Guardian (18 May). Good to witness at first hand the international reach of our favourite newspaper.
John and Liz Kirkwood
Jeremy Kyleâs uncouth, aggressive, distasteful programme was an accident waiting to happen (Two more Jeremy Kyle guests took their lives after TV appearances, 20 May), but not entirely unprecedented. Some years ago, a patient of mine was admitted to A&E following a serious overdose (he survived). This occurred four weeks after he had undergone a crass, insensitive TV interview by a celebrity broadcaster which took place in the same A&E. I also worry whether participants in more responsible programmes, such as Louis Therouxâs recent visits to two perinatal psychiatry units, might later come to regret their involvement. There should be a presumption of privacy when people confront the most intense personal crises of their lives. The naivety and greed of broadcasters, the desire of some clinicians to be TV stars, and the marketing strategy of some NHS health trusts should not be allowed to obviate that presumption.
Emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry, Epsom, Surrey
âą There may be many reasons why people like to watch the Jeremy Kyle show but none as desperately sad as the one offered to me on an adolescent psychiatric unit by a teenager from a very troubled family background. âIt makes me feel normal,â she said.
We are writers. We are your writers, the United Kingdomâs writers. We write the TV shows on UK screens and the books on UK shelves. We are part of the bubbling soup of the creative industries â along with games, film, theatre and the rest â which together are worth ÂŁ10m an hour to this country. In fact, the UK publishes more books per head than any other nation on Earth, and millions of UK citizens believe they will one day join us and write the book they have inside them â and lots of them will.
That is possible in part because books printed here, in English, can be sold into Europe as easily as at home. Exports account for 60% of UK publishing revenues, and 36% of physical book exports go to Europe, and that is only the most straightforward concern about what will happen. Itâs fashionable among politicians to sneer at the creative industries, but our work is work just like anyone elseâs, and like anyone elseâs it can only happen if we get paid. Without any idea of what Brexit might look like, itâs impossible to know exactly what we might lose. A tenth? A fifth? A third of what we live on? Weâll have to make compromises. Should we ditch part of the beginning, the middle, or the end of the story? Would audiences prefer not to know whose fault it all is, how the crime was solved, or whoâs still standing at the end?Continue reading... [ + ]
We gain much when we travel responsibly
The thing about not flying is that it forces you to slow down (Greta expectations: the power of not flying, 10 May). Travelling slowly helps you to love the world, to take it more seriously. By train you experience the tremendous variety of physical landscapes and the multiplicity of peoples who inhabit them; by sea you are awed by the wonder and ever-changing moods of the oceans and the vastness of the skies. How could we not treat with care this thing that sustains us so abundantly?Continue reading... [ + ]
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