Zoe Williams (Targeting families has got nothing to do with fairness, 27 September) rightly condemns the way in which politicians of all parties deploy family support provision as a political football. She is kind to overlook the potentially collusive role played, if unintentionally, by social researchers. As researchers, we believe we have a responsibility to avoid increasing the risk of stigma for families, or apportioning blame to practitioners, through a mindless adherence to “outcome theology”. There is debate among researchers as to the extent that “outcomes” (in the complex context of where people live such as in poverty/deprivation/bad or no housing etc) can be straightforwardly captured in a limited time frame. For example, the payment by results pilots in children’s centres have a series of measurement points at 12 weeks.
Considerable risks derive from an unquestioning “faith in the outcome mantra”. First, those families who can’t be seen to hit the outcome in the relevant period, risk being further stigmatised or labelled; second, practitioners, who if they can’t be seen to have waved a magic wand in the requisite timescale, risk being viewed as incompetent. Some researchers will be more sceptical about outcome theology than others, but hopefully all of us will want to try and avoid the temptation to gloss over uncomfortable political debates about poverty and inequality.
Professor Jane Tunstill
Kings College, London University
• Energy secretary Ed Davey’s decision to change the criteria for measuring fuel poverty, so as to reduce the soaring numbers, is not just an attempt to reduce the grants paid out, but is an acknowledgement that energy policies being pursued and being proposed will do nothing to reduce short- to medium-term energy costs for consumers and industry (Low users paying more for energy, 19 September).
A plethora of green taxes to raise money to help subsidise renewable energy has caused electricity bills to rise in recent years, but the worst is yet to come. Next April, the government will introduce a carbon-price floor which will increase by 178%, on present figures, the price paid by electricity generators for the carbon dioxide they emit.
Given the UK relies on carbon-emitting fossil fuelled plants to generate more than 75% of its electricity, this new carbon tax will cause electricity prices to spike and then continue to rise in line with the carbon-price floor’s steep trajectory. British and European carbon prices are presently the same, at around €7.5 (£6) a tonne emitted, but Britain will introduce its own rising carbon-price floor next year, starting at €20 a tonne. This will create a large disparity with EU carbon prices.
Rather than changing the criteria to massage fuel poverty figures downwards, the coalition should abandon plans to impose a unilateral new rising carbon tax and instead guarantee that Britain’s carbon prices will remain the same as our EU competitors, while examining viable ways to strengthen EU-wide carbon prices.
Research fellow, Centre for Policy Studies
• Nick Clegg says “no attack on welfare without new taxes on rich” (Report, 23 September). That means that as long as the most able are asked to pay more in taxes, he will support savage cuts in welfare. Clegg and his kind are oblivious to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, the logic of cuts in welfare and other essential spending have become accepted as a new neocon orthodoxy. Sadly, the Labour party is unlikely to pose any real opposition, and we will have to rely on the trade unions to carry the fight on behalf of the majority of the people who aren’t rich or privileged.
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