Reform National Insurance
Sir: One objection to an increase in National Insurance contributions to rescue the NHS is that it would once again exempt from contributing those who most heavily use the NHS — the retired — and heap yet more of the burden on the working young who least use it and can least afford it (‘The Tory tax bombshell’, 17 March).
As you acknowledge, National Insurance contributions long ago ceased to be purely contributions into a pension and sickness benefit scheme, and became part of general taxation. This means that entirely exempting retirees from contributing when many of them are on incomes larger than the working young is quite impossible to justify.
If the Tories are to increase National Insurance contributions again, it is essential that it be combined with a phased reform of its structure, so that the element in it which funds anything other than the state pension is levied on all people of all ages based purely on income.
The only possible objection to this is that retirees are predominantly Tory voters. But this is a double-edged sword: a Labour attack on that front will arguably do far more damage to the Tory vote among the working population than it will among the retired.
A rounded education
Sir: In her piece in Spectator Schools, Eleanor Doughty overlooks a key benefit of private schools which, alas, can no longer be found in many parts of the state sector: the opportunity to gain many skills which cannot be obtained from the ‘academic’ part of the curriculum (‘Why pay for the privilege?’, 17 March).
It is true that many state schools are equal to, and in some cases outperform, their private counterparts by measure of academic results. Yet to judge education purely on this basis is to ignore a core part of schooling which is of paramount importance — the ‘other half’ of the curriculum. Public schools provide a plethora of clubs, societies and teams which state schools simply cannot compete with. Pursuing other interests in a competitive environment is a key facet of forming one’s character, inculcating pupils with skills such as resilience, leadership and adaptability which are seldom fostered in the classroom.
If parents are solely concerned with securing the best results for their children, then I am sure they will be able to find a comprehensive school which satisfies their requirements. However, if they’d prefer a truly rounded education, then (regrettably, I might add) a public school is the only option.
Sir: Leslie Buchanan (Letters, 17 March) compares the 1:25 ratio of bureaucrats to populace in Sunderland unfavourably with the 1:20,000 ratio of the EU. However, since the EU has 28 governments also employing bureaucrats to provide the services which Sunderland provides for its inhabitants, this is as misleading a comparison as I have ever seen. As to whether the inhabitants of Sunderland were well-informed when they voted, perhaps they were aware that 2016 was the first year since 1995 when the Court of Auditors did not feel obliged to state that the EU accounts were not free of significant errors — and before 1995 the Court was not required to check this possibility, so 2016 may have been the first year ever.
In full colour
Sir: While I know of and understand Charles Moore’s antipathy towards the BBC, I cannot let his cynical opinion of the ‘actual’ reason for Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation pass without remark (The Spectator’s Notes, 17 March). It had nothing to do with selling television sets. Colour was a terrific addition to the medium. Suddenly it was possible to do some justice to the beauties of European civilisation. My father, Huw Wheldon, thought that television as a medium could bring forth ‘the equivalent of a really important publication by a man who could approach a big subject with authority’. That is because he took the medium seriously. Civilisation was the first such series. The Americans followed suit with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. We take these kinds of series for granted now; some are good and some not so good, as in any other medium. The invention had the effect, too, of catapulting BBC television into the American public consciousness, and ushered in great dollops of American money for co-productions, including for David Attenborough’s own incomparable contributions.
How to protect children
Sir: As someone who spent most of my working life in the field of child protection, may I congratulate you on the leading article concerning sexual exploitation of young white girls, which correctly identified the factors which can inhibit an appropriate response from police, social work teams and other agencies (‘A dangerous silence’, 24 March). It may be worth pointing out that here in the north-east, no such inhibitions prevented a robust response to a pattern of abuse similar to those identified in Rochdale, Rotherham and, apparently, Telford. ‘Operation Sanctuary’, as it was called, enabled a multidisciplinary team to encourage victims to come forward and to pursue the perpetrators, resulting recently in a number of convictions in Newcastle. All it takes is proper leadership.
Must try harder
Sir: Steve Bannon is ‘a practising Catholic’ who has ‘been married and divorced three times’ (‘Populism, fascism — who cares?’, 17 March). At 64, Mr Bannon needs to start practising a lot harder.