Education and religion

Having read an excellent opinion piece  in the Huffington Post UK by Stephen Evans ( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/stephen-evans/faith-schools_b_7600660.html?utm_hp_ref=tw) it reflected on my attitude towards religion in education. I don’t believe it is up to the State to ram religion down the throats of children or base the National Curriculum around it, but in many cases children cannot escape religion whilst at school.

I loathe school admissions based on faith. I think it’s divisive. A school can have an application from a bright child, but must reject them because they follow the wrong faith or have no faith at all. I think outside of London the CofE schools are available to pretty much everyone,  and because of limited options in some places even Catholic schools are becoming more inclusive. However, there is still a long way to go.

My niece and nephew go to a church school in a rural area. Neither of their parents attend church or have strong religious beliefs. (I would say the household is agnostic). But the Church of England provides education in many villages in the area,  and there is little choice.  Most kids go to the nearest school, and that school happens to be a faith school. (I went to the same school when I was young).

It’s traditional in the UK for the Church to provide education for children, way before when most Victorian schools that exist today were built. It’s hard to turn turn the tide after centuries of this provision.  I am an advocate for the banning of faith schools, but the culture and traditions hold strong in many regions.

Even in community or non – faith schools, religion is inescapable. My daughter has to study RE in her urban community primary, even though she and many of her classmates follow no religion at all. Currently she tells me that her teacher has a laissez faire attitude to RE, in that he gives them a worksheet to complete to fulfill the bare minimum of requirements,  and I could hug him for it. I know that other teachers from the same school bore their pupils to death with RE.

The school canteen doesn’t serve pork in case it offends some parents. My daughter tells me the Muslim kids eat the vegetarian options or bring in their own lunch, so halal chicken sausages are really a futile measure to please everyone. As it happens she likes chicken sausages!

Every Christmas there is a play or show to take part in, featuring the icons like Baby Jesus, sheep and donkeys. My child goes to a school with kids from many Christian denominations, from Catholic to the newer churches of Africa and the West Indies,  to Muslim,  and the odd Hindu. Yet oddly,  as the Christmas play progresses,  two things occur to me; how equal the kids are doing the play (in that all of them want to take part and enjoy doing so) and that religion isn’t the thing that binds them. It’s friendship, a stronger need of faith in my book.

In my ideal world religion should be separate from education, to be followed as an extracurricular hobby or activity. But I can’t fight tradition, culture, and the amount of cash the Church puts in to funding schools. I can’t win over our politicians,  who still believe religion and the charity they provide is goid for our kids. But I have faith in our children, though, who, religious or not,  are always able to find a common interest to build friendships and relationships without religion impeding them. I am hopeful.

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Are we bringing up a generation of spoilt, incapable children?

I have promised my readers not to speak too much of my job on the London Underground as it is a bit dull. However, one of the reasons I like or loathe my job is it gives me the opportunity to perk through the windows of parts of society I am unfamiliar with outside of work. I see mental health issues, issues around the welfare state,  family problems, the concerns of the middle classes and the richer members of London society who regard the Tube as little more than a fairground ride.

One day a little while ago, a teenager approached my ticket window with his mother. He neglected to say please to me and his mum corrected him. “I was going to say thank you at the end!” he protested. His mother rolled her eyes and said nothing more.

On other occasions I have encountered young people with virtually no aptitude, compassion or initiative at all. One was about 16, in a group, who wanted his Zip card updated. Egged on by his mates he then fired an insult at me, saying how I am so ugly I’d be grateful for his dick. “Do you speak to your mother in that way young man?” I asked incredulously, “as I reckon we must be similar in age. Is that how your mum brought you up? To speak like that?”
“Don’t bring my mum into this…” he protested, “you fat cow.”
Needless to say I called back up from colleagues and the police, to whom he had to explain the abuse he had given me.

Some young people still need help with simple directions. A typical conversation would go thus:

“Excuse me, how would I get to Oxford Circus?”
“Take the Piccadilly line eastbound platform 1 to Green Park, then the Victoria line.”
“Sorry can you say that again?”
“Piccadilly line, platform 1. Take the train to Green Park. From there, get the Victoria line to Oxford Circus”
(Young person digests this for five seconds, then talks)
“So where is the Piccadilly line?”
(Losing will to live here)
“You see the ticket barrier? Go through there, down the escalator and find platform 1”.
“So from Platform 1 I go to Green Park?”
“Yes.”
“And what do I do at Green Park?”
“Jump on the Victoria line. Listen, if you get lost, press the green button on a Help Point.”
“Ok. So how do I get through the barrier? ”
“With your ticket, Oyster card or contact less bank card.”
“Oh. I’d better buy a ticket then.”(After transaction is completed, he asks) “So could you tell me again?”

A colleague of mine, who had an 11 year old son, despairs at teenagers who can’t get a drink from the fridge without getting a parent out of bed first. Having allowed her boy to help himself to breakfast every morning, and go to school alone on the bus, she says she has been training him to look after himself since reception class. Too many of her friends kids cannot or will not use their initiative as their parents have always done everything for them. “It’s just the way things are with some families,” she tells me.

My sister – in – law worries constantly about my niece and nephew when they are away from the house playing. I grew up in the same village as they have and was allowed out alone aged 8. But as paedophilia has had more press over the last 30 years, my sister in law has been more cautious. My niece has a mobile phone, and she is responsible for her younger brother. I feel sorry for them, sometimes, for not having the free and easy childhood I had. Not just my sister in law, but many parents have heightened anxiety.

I now live in Old Smoky and I am training my daughter to take care of herself. Just a little bit about road safety, personal safety and the transport system. She can’t go out by herself yet, her Dad isn’t confident to allow her, but I know she will be a sensible sort. I hope she won’t turn out like those youngsters who have nil manners, no common sense and no initiative.

I hope the Tories are voted out (and why I spoiled my paper)

The prime aim of a Tory right wing Government is to serve business, which in turn raises tax money and creates jobs, which hen can be ploughed into the economy.  The Tory business owner feels impeded by holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity leave and the many other rights fought for and won by the working proletariat.

It frightens me, therefore, that should the Tories win again, they plan to decimate the welfare state by a further 12 BILLION. (The Guardian, 05/05/15) This includes abolishing statutory maternity pay and and barring under-25s from claiming housing benefit. Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions secretary of the last government, already oversaw the terrible effects on low-income families when he introduced Universal Credit and the the so-called “Bedroom tax”.  Jobseekers were “sanctioned” if they didn’t meet the very strict criteria the government has set down for finding work, leading to a rise of food bank use from 61,468 in the year ending 2011, to 913,138 visits in the year ending 2014 (www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-figures-top-900000). The Trussell Trust, which runs many of these food banks, expects the 2015 figure to top over a million.

Many users of the welfare state are working in some capacity or other. According to the Daily Mirror (ampp3d.mirror.co.uk/Joseph Rowntree Trust 18/13/14) 4.3 million families were in work and on benefits. That’s out of 5.3 million working age benefit claimants overall (DWP, 2014). So 1 million claimants cannot or will not work, but the majority, or at least one person in the family, holds down a part time or full time job. Not the layabout, TV watching, smoking, drinking feckless wonders that some journalists and politicians will have you believe.

Meanwhile, lets have a look at the top of society whilst David Cameron has been in power. For a country with the 5th world’s largest GDP, the gap between the top earners and low income earners has widened. In other countries, like Japan, the gap has remained much the same for twenty years. In the UK, it has widened by 10 points. There are 4700 people in the UK with fortunes of £31 million plus. (The Mirror 15/10/14).

The Government has been building the UK economy mainly on foreign investment, from China, Russia, India and South America.  Business from those countries have bought up large swathes of housing in the UK, leading to rent rises and property left to rot as investors cash in on the fast rise in its value. The “SE17” twitter feed found out that a party of developers of the former Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle went to China to sell their new flats (www.twitter.com/se17). This site housed local authority tenants for forty years, all of whom were forced out to unfamiliar parts of London (and in some cases, the UK). Such social cleansing is, in my opinion, heinous.

But whilst I will never vote Tory in the future (I did vote for Boris Johnson in over Ken Livingston for London Mayor, a decision I think every working class Londoner who did the same now regrets) the choice of the other parties is limiting.  I cannot see the natural choice of Ed Miliband for Labour as a statesman.  He seems like a ridiculous fool.  Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems let down so many students when he let the Tories raise university tuition fees, and Nigel Farage with his UKIP party, look like a bunch of fruitcakes (no PSHE in schools, exit the EU, go after AIDS patients to prove their entitlement to the NHS). The Greens looked okay to me, but they have a forgettable leader (I forget her name) and are anti-unions, of which I am a member. So despite memories of my mother reminding me what the suffragettes went through to get women the vote, and despite I am fully aware of the struggles of citizens worldwide to get a free and fair democracy in their countries, I spoiled the paper.  I really couldn’t decide between them.

As voters are not provided with a “none of the above” box, I wrote next to each candidate exactly what I thought of their party, and the party leader.  Some would say, I wasted my vote.  Some would say, I protested about the ambiguity of politics these days.  I just say, there needs to be a change so that there is a real choice.  At the moment, choice is sadly lacking.

The Police

I have had dealings with the British Transport Police. its not all good.  I have seen racism towards staff and passengers. I have been assaulted in my job and I have to say, the process of making a complaint and leaving them to try and catch the assailant was woeful at best.  They have a bad attitude, and make me feel like I am wasting their time. Instead of nicking people for assault and affray, they stop people who are drinking or skating on the Underground.  I attest that drinking and skating are against the Conditions of Carriage but the priority for that over, say, fare evasion, sticks in my craw.

My husband is a football fan.  Regarding various polices forces, he has been kettled, spoken to with disrespect, pushed towards the station to get home (when his Uncle had driven him to the game), and threatened with a baton and a horse (on separate occasions).

Its fair to say that the police do not have much respect within our family.  But our daughter has now experienced the way the police operate.  After being kettled with her dad and grandad at a match today, she saw an officer lie to a supporter about why they were being held, then when the officer was found out, he just smirked about it.  She didn’t like the kettling, and she didn’t like the officer.  She is eight, and the experience had left her thinking that such figures of authority are not always right.

I want the Met and the BTP to have good honest polite officers but they keep failing.  They have now lost some ground with a child, for heavens sake.  I want my daughter to respect the law, and the legal process, but if the police cannot be kind and polite (like she is being told to do constantly) then no wonder her faith has been shaken.  What message does it send to a child to lie, then cover it up, then smirk about it? All the good work her family have done regarding manners and respect has the potential to fly out of the window!

The Police from the Met and ohers all need to recruit staff that are approachable, have manners, are honest, and make citizens think they are being looked after.  They should make the best use of their time to investigate crime and disorder and close cases.  They should keep citizens informed. This is not happening!

In 2014 an Ipsos Mori poll found that 31% of the public do not trust the police to tell the truth*.  Considering personal experience, I am not surprised.

*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26730705

The Election is ON…but who speaks for me?

The next UK election will be a tough choice for people like me.  I earn enough to live on, my child is doing fine at school, my husband is having difficulty getting the NHS treatment but coping, many jobs are being lost in the industries we work for, and we are stuck in inappropriate but mortgaged housing.

Being brought up in a working class family I find voting for David Cameron and his Conservative Party a heinous act.  I am very aware of what George Osborne and Ian Duncan Smith are enabling to make the poorest and weakest struggle daily.  Instead of making the richest pay more towards the country, they employ accountants to help them avoid tax, whilst the poorest, who needs the money the rich can contribute, are wondering where their next meal is coming from. Universal Credit, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the introduction of the “Bedroom Tax” for housing benefit claimants have hit hard. All these measures have been the brainwave of the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats had my vote in 2010 because I agreed with most of their policies.  This time around though, they have a proven record of being the Conservatives’ stooges.  The biggest back pedal was the huge increase in University tuition fees.  Whilst the numbers of young people going to Further Education has not gone down since the fees went up, it has led to many post-education with huge debt.  As a man, I like Nick Clegg, but they do not have anything that will make my or my family’s life better.

Labour is traditionally the party of the working class but they have a terrible record on the economy.  They haven’t offered anything new about the NHS, or justice, or immigration.  They have nothing about housing.  I wouldn’t trust Ed Balls with the local Bowls Club subs, let alone the country’s finances.  Also, no true Red Labour supporter will ever forget what Ed Miliband did to his brother David by stealing his crown.  If David had won the leadership I am sure the party would be a different beast today.

Then we have the weirdness of UKIP.  They seem to attract the type of person who never admits outright that individuals born abroad should be thrown out but secretly believe it.  They have a small point that the UK may be getting full but apart from that, I can only see passive racism. In the past, their members have blamed bad weather on gay marriage and called women “sluts” if they didn’t clean behind the fridge.  On the policy of restricting immigration from the EU, people tend to forget that UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage is married to a German.

The Greens have an outside chance of gaining seats in England. But the leader, Natalie Bennett, was caught out on LBC radio recently for poor preparation when explaining how to fund her new Council housing plan. It leads the voter to wonder what else has she not thought through properly. There is another problem, in that Caroline Lucas, a prominent Green and MP for Brighton, is more popular with Green voters than Natalie, which is a formula for disaster, leadership-wise.  I like the Greens policies but given the huge debt that the UK needs to repay, I cannot see them as anything but pipe dreams.

I am not the only person to say that there is little choice. Many of my peers and contemporaries say the same.  In part, it’s our own fault for not registering to vote in time, or voting at all.  The voting system is not effective and needs to be changed to better reflect the thoughts of the voters. Although Russell Brand advocates, “don’t vote, organise”, I think both are needed to change British politics.

Post-election, I think there will be another hung parliament, another coalition, and a further feeling of not being properly represented.  I certainly don’t think my vote will make any difference.

Cancer discrimination

Someone close to me has cancer. I don’t know what the future holds yet.  Whilst they are alive,  and mobile, and talking, and have all their faculties,  they want to see a bit more of the world and make the best of the time they have left.  I think that’s fair enough.

My loved ones’ cancer has probably been around a while, although it was only diagnosed recently. They contacted their travel insurance provider, being the honest person they are, and tell them of their medical diagnosis. After a long pause, and being asked to be put on hold, they were told that the medical assistance part of the insurance was to be withdrawn.

So they contacted other insurance companies to ask about cover for medical expenses abroad. Some were rude. Some didn’t know how to deal with the call from a cancer patient. Some just hung up without so much as a farewell salutation.

My loved one might have had the cancer a year before diagnosis.  They have been to many places in Europe and the UK without incident.  Yet the minute the C-word is mentioned,  insurance companies come over all peculiar.

The highest premium my family member was quoted was £1400 a year. Their previous premium was under £100. This is a scandal. My family member is nowhere near at a stage where they might be hospitalised,  and at the moment is actually feeling good. The treatment has begun, which might actually reduce the tumour. My loved one offered to give the companies his doctor’s contact details but they refused to entertain the idea.

So where does that leave them? Effectively, grounded. They may pay the lowest of the high premiums. They may be dissuaded from travelling ever again. Or they may decide to travel uninsured, as long as they feel well. Insurance companies prevent many cancer patients and others with chronic or terminal conditions to make the best of their time left,  by hiking premiums to astronomic levels, or denying insurance. It’s beyond ridiculous.  Fair enough there is a fear from the Insurance companies about the cost to them, but it’s out and out prejudice. The mere mention of the word “Cancer” gives them licence to rip off patients to the nth degree.

It’s not just insurance companies.  Another family member is in remission from Lymphoma and hoped to build a hoyse extension. The bank knew his medical history and denied the finance. My family member in remission is well, healthy, and back to living his life.  But again, the bank sees “Lymphoma,  people die from that” and refuse to help.

I am the first to mention equality for women, for people of differing heritage, for the LGBT community, and for those with disabilities.  Until recently I have thought little of those with an “end of life” conditions.  But it’s still discrimination to make life difficult for the person who already has difficulties,  whatever their background. It makes me mad.

The imposition of prayers before Government meetings

http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2015/03/09/eric-pickles-evangelical-charter-forces-people-take-part-in

Eric Pickles MP, Minister of Communities and Local Government, was outraged in 2012 when the National Secular Society successfully argued and won a case which meant local councils were no longer compelled to conduct prayers before meetings.  Mr Pickles is now getting his revenge, by pushing through the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill through Parliament.

Mr Pickles says Britain is a “Christian Country”and to a large extent that is true.  However, not every British politician running local government is, and to impose these rules on the non-religious, or those following differing faiths, is wrong.

There is no evidence that praying leads to better decisions being made. In an increasingly secular (and you don’t have to be non-religious to be secular, there are followers in faith who also think religion and state should be separate) society where councillors of all backgrounds conduct local government business the notion of needing prayers becomes ever more redundant.  I think many councillors would agree, if business were to be conducted from an ethical standpoint, the end result would be the best path to take, without the need for God’s guidance.

This is just another chapter of the Coalition Government imposing Christianity on people who may not want to participate. The Church of England is fading from many people’s lives in Britain, but the Government is hell bent on shoving it down our throats. They see religion as a force for good, overlooking the great work in promoting “goodness” from non-religous groups.

I hope the Lords has the good sense to reject the Bill forthwith, and allow councillors to conduct meetings as they wish, befitting the needs of their local communities.  But I have a sense of forboding that it will not be the case.