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Letters to the Editor

12 June 2020

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No, it is not yet time to sing again

From Danyal Dhondy

Sir, — Ed Ballard’s online comment piece about the safety of choral singing, which has been widely shared on social media (News, 5 June), is dangerously misleading and open to potentially fatal interpretation. Contrary to what it suggests, singing remains overwhelmingly the most likely cause of the superspreader events in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Skagit Valley, not merely “people indoors in close proximity”. Neither of the scientific citations in the article says anything to contradict this.

The Munich study’s conclusions about safe singing distances are based entirely on observation of airflow, which relates only to droplet transmission. “Accumulation of possibly infectious aerosol in the room” is nevertheless mentioned (in its supporting video) as another important consideration when it comes to singing.

The Word Health Organization’s study, in the absence of firm evidence one way or another, “continues to recommend airborne precautions for circumstances and settings in which aerosol generating procedures and support treatment are performed”. It certainly does not conclude that “Covid-19 is not an airborne virus”, as the article states.

Further studies are clearly needed to ascertain the safety of group singing, and the precautions that are required, particularly in relation to aerosol transmission. I worry that these subtleties may be lost on your readers, who might simply take the headline “It is time to sing again” at face value.

Address supplied


From Rachel Grantham

Sir, — As a choral conductor, singer, and instrumentalist, I was interested to read Ed Ballard’s opinion on why I should resume rehearsing. But as soon as I read the word “hysteria”, I knew not to take the article too seriously.

An abundance of caution is not hysteria. A lack of scientific evidence does not mean that the research is complete or in agreement.

I am sure that most of your readers are familiar with the word “hysteria” as a diagnosis for the symptomatic functions of female physiology. While Mr Ballard may be using it as a blanket term, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that it is intended to belittle anyone who might be alarmed, concerned, cautious, or highly aware of possible negative outcomes by gathering too soon.

The UK has one of the highest deaths per million in the world, simply because your leaders didn’t want to appear “hysterical”. In contrast, my territorial government acted with an abundance of caution even before the first case of Covid-19 arrived: cancelling large events, requiring self-quarantine of returning travellers, closing our borders, and cancelling school — at first for a short time, then to the end of the school year. As a result, we have had only 11 cases, no hospitalisations, and no new cases in five weeks.

None of my choir members are banging the door down to start singing together again, as much as we miss it. We are all willing to wait things out while scientists sort out the conflicting evidence or lack thereof.

There is no shame in being nurturing, protective, cautious, and patient. Yes, it’s too early to sing together. Yes, we can wait.

315-108 Elliott Street
Whitehorse, Yukon
Canada Y1A 3L1


Christian backing for a Universal Basic Income

From Mr Andrew Connell

Sir, -— Whatever the merits of the Christian case for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be, it is interesting to see Dr Eve Poole (Comment, 5 June) draw parallels, in passing, with Archbishop Temple’s support for the Beveridge report.

Beveridge certainly wanted to get away from the distinction between the deserving and undeserving recipients of support, but he proposed to do so by establishing a criterion of eligibility — payment of National insurance contributions, deliberately set at a flat, low rate — that would be easily met by the wage-earners upon whom his thinking focused.

Among his assumptions for social security, alongside the National Health Service to which Dr Poole refers, was the maintenance of full (implicitly, male) employment — in part to make social security affordable, but principally because he was concerned about the moral effect of unconditional cash payments on their recipients. After a short period of unemployment, he argued, “complete idleness even on an income demoralises,” while “income security . . . is so inadequate a provision for human happiness that to put it forward by itself as a sole or principal measure of reconstruction hardly seems worth doing” (Social Insurance and Allied Services, para. 440).

Plainly, in referring to Archbishop Temple, Dr Poole is not making the unsustainable claim that there is a Beveridgean case for UBI, and, of course, the needs and thinking of the 2020s are not those of the 1940s. But, for what it’s worth, one thing is clear: Beveridge would have hated UBI.

8 Marlborough House
Westgate Street
Cardiff CF10 1DE


From the Revd A. M. V. Robinson

Sir, — I was intrigued to read the article by Dr Eve Poole that the time for a UBI is ripe because, from my experience, it is over-ripe, by many years.

In 1965, I went to Bossey, the Ecumenical Institute near Geneva, which, over the winter, became part of the University of Geneva and welcomed around 75 students from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches from most continents, to study for a diploma in Ecumenical Studies.

Our main topic was “The Church in the Technological World”. I was in a study group under an Indian economist on “Automation and Cybernetics”. We learnt, from our studies, that, in the future, because of developments in production, the world would, inevitably and naturally, have many unemployed, because the work could be done by far fewer. No economy could survive unless the unemployed had enough money to continue to be spenders; so all had to have an assured and adequate income — and no stigma.

We searched the Bible in vain for a “biblical theology of work”, and came to the conclusion that the only Bible-based teaching was that one’s “work” was whatever one did that used one’s gifts and blessed others, whether one was remunerated or not.

We tried to think through the daunting task of teaching, in and out of church, that the unemployed were not a “problem” to be solved by finding them “work”. (And we also had to have an answer to the claim that the world that we live in is “a God-instigated uncooperative creation requiring our toil as a redemptive consequence of the Fall” — and this is as “a necessary preliminary to the Second Coming of Christ”!) Instead, the attitude required was that each person, “employed” or not, was of value, and should be encouraged to be generous with gifts that met the needs of others.

So, we all went home, assuming that this teaching would be taken up in the politics of our countries; and what happened? Nothing. Governments are still going on about the tragedy of the “unemployed”, and many people — and the newspapers that they read — are still going on about the foolhardiness of giving “the undeserving poor” an income.

Likewise, some of us remember the warning of the Brandt committee that, unless Europe helped the poor world to develop, its own countries would be inundated with refugees. When will we ever learn? It seems that the deaf world needs those who do accept the obvious to shout rather louder.

32c Lulworth Road
Southport, Merseyside PR8 2BQ


From Nicola Phelan

Sir, — I was heartened to read Dr Poole’s article and the interview with Julian Richer (Features, 5 June).

Work patterns are changing, unemployment is likely to go up, and disaster can strike anyone; so surely it is better to have this flexibility built in rather than see people homeless and dependent on foodbanks. Many more people have recently become family carers, and others are volunteering; so a UBI could help both groups be valued and supported. Those who don’t feel they need it can surely be enabled to redirect it back to the treasury or to charities.

I fully support everything Julian Richer is trying to bring about, as I also want to see zero-hours contracts no longer imposed and workers’ rights protected. As a consumer, can join in any campaign seeking to support good business practice. I think the groundswell of public opinion has already started, and hope that the Fairness Foundation comes about and we can join in the discussion.

53 South Road
Clifton upon Dunsmore
Rugby CV23 0BZ


Perennial attack on Sunday-trading restrictions

From Mr Godfrey H. Holmes

Sir, — I was extremely disturbed last weekend to hear of this Government’s wanting to scrap, once and for all, the three residual restrictions on mass Sunday trading: (1) size of any retailer’s premises continuing to trade; (2) six hours’ maximum access to purchase within the larger of those retailers’ premises; (3) protection of Easter Day.

For 25 years, every Chancellor has been searching for some reason, some crisis, some festival, to “relax” Sunday trading.

And now those government ministers have the “gift” of coronavirus.

It is surely incumbent upon all church people — particularly those who were alive when that terrible Sunday Trading Act 1994 was passed — to rise up in protest. I shall certainly be writing to my MP and my new Archbishop straight away.

12 North Promenade
East Riding HU19 2DP


From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — From time to time, the Government and the fat-cat bosses of the big retail stores will find some excuse to try to permit all retailers to trade for all hours every day of the week. Now they are at it again, and the excuse is “recovery from coronavirus”. Attached to this will be the freedom to open all hours on Christmas Day and Easter Day, which are retail employees’ only annual guaranteed bank holidays. And there will be no guaranteed enhanced pay for this, many being paid at or near the national minimum wage for weekdays.

British retail employees are among the lowest-paid and most exploited of all workers in Europe; so the Churches must stand alongside all people of goodwill to stop this.

Why is it always retail employees who are singled out for all hours’ working? How about having the post offices and council and government offices and doctors’ surgeries and dentists and all NHS departments and everything else open 12 hours each day, every day of the year?

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR


Palestinians should receive concerted support

From Canon Peter Liddell

Sir, — The proposed annexation of the West Bank is as momentous an event as any in the long conflict between the Occupiers and the Occupied. As a nation, we have been preoccupied with the pandemic and the whole spectrum of its consequences. The issue for the churches, the media, and the public has been whether church buildings are to be open or shut. One hundred and forty parliamentarians signed a cross-party letter calling on the Government to raise sanctions against Israel if it proceeds with annexation. None of the bishops in the House of Lords signed it.

This may be one of those situations where external and unforeseen events conspire by happenchance against intention. Nevertheless, it has meaning, which may be used purposefully. I am grateful to Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Department of International Affairs, for his statement, “As the local Church leaders in Jerusalem have warned, annexation will destroy any hope of a peaceful two-state solution. The Catholic Church in England and Wales will continue to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Holy Land against such a move.”

Gerald Butt (Comment, 29 May) unintentionally provides an escape clause for those looking for one. “The Palestinian leadership has failed its people by allowing their cause to be forgotten.” So that’s all right, then. In today’s political-speak, we can move on, blaming the victims for their plight.

The challenges are formidable: raising public awareness, accepting Britain’s historical responsibility, recognising the existential place of the Churches in the land of their birth, defining what is and what is not anti-Semitism, and, not least, granting to the Palestinian people full appreciation of their existence as a people with a history and a claim.

The letter sent to the Israeli Ambassador by 40-plus leading Jewish figures, opposing the proposal, is exceptionally timely and significant. It provides a spring-board. It is not surprising if, at times, the Palestinian people feel powerless and hopeless. What is surprising is their resilience and immense dignity in the face of oppression. They deserve more than our distracted attention.

Maisonette 12, Old Hall Court
1 Horn Hill, Whitwell
Hitchin SG4 8AS


Virus renders the megachurch focus obsolete

From Alex Smith

Sir, — May I add a thought to the ongoing discussion about the future of parish ministry (Comment, 29 May; Letters, 5 June)? It is becoming increasingly clear that large public gatherings will not be possible until a reliable vaccine is developed and delivered to everyone in the population. This will cause grave difficulties for churches with large congregations. It also renders obsolete much of the theory behind the Church of England’s current funding programmes.

The last thing that we need now is more megachurches, or more new worshipping communities that compete with parish churches for people and resources. A far cheaper and simpler solution would be to divide up the larger congregations, asking people in groups of ten or 20 to join smaller churches instead — preferably where they live — so that their gifts and their giving can bring new life and energy to the Church’s mission in every local community.

We don’t need to change the parish system. We just need to help it work better.

Flat 4, 1 Lancing Street
London NW1 1NA

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