Sunday 24 June 2012

Broken Britain

Now is the time to be patriotic. England have not (yet) been knocked out of the Euro 2012 football tournament and the Olympics are about to come to London so we must all support Team GB. It is pretty hard to feel patriotic about a country which is in such a mess, in which so much is broken. I'm not a big current affairs follower; I have sources for information on issues that interest me, and the rest goes by the by. I don't read a newspaper, watch the news, read a news website or generally inform myself. This is a good thing, it keeps my blood pressure down!
I do catch the occasional news bulletin in the car on the way to work (despite my best efforts) and there are things that I hear that are hard to ignore.

This week for example Michael Gove announced plans to bring back O-Levels (and at the same time CSEs for the less academically able). A lot of people seem to think this is a Bad Thing. It isn't and I'll tell you why. 

I'm (nearly) 37 years old. My school year was the first to take the GCSE curriculum from the day they started secondary school. Let me tell you something. It did not teach you much to help you get ahead in life; it needs to do that. I'm not sure what the percentage of school children who leave school at 16 is - but for them, that is education. 

I didn't get straight A grades in my GCSEs; although out of the nine I took I got seven which were A or B grade. I'm lucky to be blessed with a reasonably good intellect; I passed my 11-plus and went to a Grammar School and I was a member of Mensa. I used to get by at school with minimum effort (which is probably why the two subjects I got the lowest grades in were History and Chemistry where you really need to learn stuff). In the two exams for English we didn't even take exams it was all coursework. It wasn't intellectually challenging and honestly what I learnt wasn't taught in a way that I later retained it.

In the course of life I've met people who have been products of this system. They didn't have my advantage of a private primary education where I learnt such skills as spelling, grammar and punctuation. Their GCSE education left them with problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is the supply that we are providing to the workforce. Is it any wonder that youth unemployment is rampant.

There's been a lot of talk about the NHS this week too as the Doctor's went on strike on Thursday. The NHS is a beautiful ideal. As somebody who has a serious medical condition I have a lot of interaction with my Primary Care Trust (PCT). I'm lucky - I get a lot of support, all the support I can imagine. It isn't like that for everyone though.

The problem with the NHS is that it was conceived back in the 1940s when the world was a very different place. People didn't live as long, lots of treatments and operations we take for granted were yet to be discovered, lots of illnesses which now have a good prognosis were fatal. Cosmetic surgery and IVF were a long way in the future.

Not enough money flows into the budgets to fund everything that everyone wants. Nobody wants taxes or National Insurance to increase. Something has to give.

Tax dodging - that has been another story I heard in passing this week. Loopholes to avoid paying money to the tax man.  It put me in mind of a quote from the excellent West Wing - an episode written back around 2000 before the current economic meltdown: "Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share," I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I'm happy to because that's the only way it's gonna work, and it's in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don't get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn't come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn't come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let's not call them names while they're doing it, is all I'm saying."

To me that makes sense and still resonates true; maybe that is because I'm not a top wage earner and never will be and nobody is asking me to pay that much tax; but certainly avoiding even paying your share can't make this country run as it needs to. 

Our Government is (and has been for some time) run by professional politicians. Relatively young people with little or no work life experience outside the world of politics. People who are insulated from the problems and trials of the majority of the population.

Education is broken, health is broken, employment is broken, the economy (no matter what they try and claim) is still broken. People muddle by as best they can, but for many it is a hard painful struggle - I find it hard, right now, to feel affection, let alone patriotism, right now.