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Why I'm Ignoring Facebook And The Media During This Election

31/05/2017 12:52
Mixmike via Getty Images

When Brexit burst my bubble, I decided it was time to get out of the echo chamber of left-leaning press that Facebook was feeding me.

I started reading a wider range of media. Depressingly, I found them all incapable of offering a balanced take on the state of our nation. The news of the snap general election only propelled this to new levels of nonsense.

We can't rely on the content we see on social media to give us a full picture of what is happening in our country. Nor can we trust the media, owned and manipulated by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

So if you want to know what's happening to the education system, ask a teacher. If you want to know what's happening to the NHS, ask a nurse. And if you want to know how we're going to find common ground to move forward on Brexit, be brave enough to ask a Brexiteer.

I did all this in the last couple of weeks - and the stories I heard are more useful for helping me cast my vote on the 8th June that anything I could have read on Facebook or in the press. Here's what I discovered.

Our state schools are bankrupt, and haemorrhaging teachers
I went to my local comprehensive school and passionately believe in free education. When I left as a headstrong eighteen-year-old (to go to my first-choice university), I was unrecognisable from the timid creature that had walked in seven years previously. I had thrived in the challenging but caring environment.

But the teachers I chatted to told me the system that got me where I am today is crumbling. "This government's aggressive cuts mean that many state schools are running on a deficit budget and head teachers are asking parents to set up Direct Debits to help cover shortfalls," my friend Tom tells me. He taught at both state and private schools for seven years before it became so unbearable, he left to teach abroad. Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession - in fact of the four teachers I spoke to, only one still taught at a state school. Why?

"The workload was just insane," Molly told me, who also now teaches abroad. "The deadlines were unrealistic. The head teacher ruled with fear and there was pressure coming from all angles. Colleagues would often come to me crying - the whole time I felt I was on 'just survive' mode. I just couldn't carry on."

Teachers are overworked, because the coffers are empty. "The expectations placed on children now are ridiculously high, and massive cuts in our borough meant that we couldn't afford teaching assistants and SEN support staff for the kids who needed extra help," explained Lindsay, who switched to teaching at a private school last year.

2017-05-30-1496142947-870782-SchoolCuts.jpg
www.schoolcuts.org.uk analysis of projected budget for our local high school under various governments

The departmental budget at Gemma's first school was around £5,000. "This year in my current school, it is £462," she told me. But despite working up to 60 hours per week with scant resources, she would find it difficult to leave the state system.

"I know what it's like growing up in a deprived area. Regardless of your background, students deserve to have an equal chance at education," she said.

The NHS is poised to fail, and privatisation looms large
Our access to free healthcare in the UK is truly extraordinary. I'm currently in Portugal and left a routine appointment €213 lighter today. Luckily I have the insurance and cash flow to cope with that. But is that what we want Britain's future to look like?

According to two junior doctors that I spoke to that participated in the first all-out NHS strike in history last year, this seems to be the government's aim. "It was a very difficult decision but we felt backed into a corner," Sarah and Rachael told me.

"We felt that imposing a new contract on an already stretched workforce would bring the NHS to breaking point. On some rotas we already work 12 days straight with no days off, how can we safely work more than this?"

"The 24/7 elective care plan wasn't thought through and no extra money was allocated for the necessary extra staff. It felt like Jeremy Hunt was personally trying to make the NHS fail so he could then privatise parts of the services."

Pam, Junior Sister of an outpatients department, is at the other end of her career. She'll be retiring in June after 41 years. She was also adamant the government must put its money where its mouth is.

"The infrastructure is groaning," she said. "We are double and triple booked sometimes seeing over 400 outpatients a day. The NHS is an important pillar in our society, but where is the long-term plan for its survival? I worry about what will be left for my young grandchildren. I hate to think we could go the same way as America."

Brexiteers want more money where it matters
Amid the many reasons the Brexiteers I spoke to had for their views, one was overwhelmingly consistent.

"For too long we have had to help Europe balance their books and forget about ourselves," said Ed, a farmer who is now fetching a higher price for his wheat since the pound weakened against the dollar. "The money that we used to keep us in the European Union, I would like to see invested into healthcare and other funding."

It is true that the UK is one of nine net contributors to the EU, meaning we put in more than we take out. I needn't bother using teabag analogies to explain why I personally believed this was for the greater good because Brexit really does mean Brexit - so that's now irrelevant.

I cannot argue with anyone who wants more money pumped into our public services, into our industries and into opportunities for our kids. Unexpectedly, we have the chance to make that happen. But the conversations I have had leave me with little faith this is what our current government has planned for us.

I don't have the answers and I won't tell you how to vote. But please, use this extraordinary opportunity we have been given to truly scrutinise what is happening in Britain. Get offline and go and talk to people dealing with the issues you care about first hand. Find out which party represents the future you want for our country and vote for them.

The truth is out there - go and get it from the horse's mouth.

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