It was supposed to be the Brexit election, but in reality the niceties of quitting the European Union were barely discussed during the seven-week campaign. Beyond a protracted row over social care and questions over national security, not much else was discussed either.
HuffPost UK has complied a list of just 10 of hundreds of issues few have grappled with in the last seven weeks that has frustrated voters and interest groups.
1. Eliminating The Deficit
The 2015 general election was dominated by the deficit. And that was deliberate. As a HuffPost UK analysis showed, the Conservative Party spent years framing the big political argument around the economy and tackling the UK’s debt mountain around the “the long-term economic plan”.
In 2017? Next to nothing. ‘Strong and stable’ versus ‘the many, not the few’ has the economy at its core, but the messages are much more broadbrush. The Tories coming over all shy is striking after a cursory look at their recent manifestos. The 2015 document deployed the word ‘deficit’ 17 times, and just three times in 2017.
But they have economic plans. The Conservatives want to eliminate borrowing by the middle of the next decade (remember: Osborne promised a surplus by 2018–19). Meanwhile, Labour is willing to borrow up to £250 billion more for infrastructure spending. But neither wants to talk about it much, as the Resolution Foundation has mapped out.
Adam Corlett, economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, tells HuffPost UK:
“What’s striking is how the deficit has fallen off the electoral radar. Back in 2015, the parties all loudly boasted about their tough fiscal rules while offering few clues as to how they’d meet those targets.
“The political silence this time around is a shame because there are big differences between the parties’ approaches, and more candour than we’ve come to expect on the trade-offs involved in meeting these targets. That’s good news, and one worthy of proper debate.
“Politicians may have calculated that voters are sick of hearing about the deficit but it’s still a crucial issue which will determine the next government’s approach to its tax and spending decisions as well as the level of public debt.”
2. 11-Year-Olds Under Exam Stress
Labour’s 1997 mantra ‘education, education, education’ and the hard sell of ‘free schools’ by the Conservatives in 2010 underline how education has been the centrepiece of modern election campaigns.
In 2017, the return of grammar schools is seen as a key part of ‘Mayism’ and Labour’s flagship pledge is free school meals for all primary school pupils.
But this is far from a comprehensive debate on education. Among issues most concerning to parents and teachers is children as young as 11 are being placed under severe stress due to Year 6 Sats. The key stage 2 exams are becoming increasingly controversial as greater focus is being placed on grammar, punctuation and spelling over creative subjects.
The statutory assessments, which concentrate on English and Maths, could also be harming children’s learning and wellbeing, MPs warned last month.
Beth Thomas’s son, Matthew, has just taken his Year 6 Sats. The 35-year-old says she was left feeling “helpless” when her 11-year-old was left in tears in the lead up to the tests.
Matthew has Asperger’s Syndrome and as a result struggles when his routine changes, Beth tells HuffPost UK. When Matthew’s homework increased from two pieces a week to five in January, Beth says she “basically turned into a teacher” as she tried to support her son.
“I’m doing a Masters degree at the moment and I would have to stop what I’m doing to go and help him with his homework and he would cry over it every day because some things he just didn’t understand.”
At times, the concerned mother-of-two, whose 14-year-old son Daniel is in Year 9, would struggle to get Matthew into school. Beth says the experience has even stifled Matthew’s creativity.
“Matthew is a massive fan of Doctor Who and he used to just sit down at his computer and just reel out scripts for a Doctor Who episode he had made up, but he doesn’t do that now. He wants to do it but he doesn’t write it because he’s thinking too much about what he has to have in there.”
At the height of the exam stress, Beth recorded Matthew in tears while he was trying to complete his homework. The clip has been viewed more than 57,000 times on Facebook.
Beth says she isn’t against exams for 11-year-olds, but that regular testing by teachers would prevent adverse pressure being placed on pupils. She adds that the increased focus on Maths and English was at the detriment to more creative subjects, which has poorly affected her son.
“It doesn’t seem appropriate. If you want to encourage children to write and be creative, you don’t want them sitting down and thinking ‘how am I going to compose my sentence, I need to have a verb, an adjective…’ you don’t think like that.
“Children learn in different ways but it doesn’t suit everybody.”
More Than A Score, a coalition of parents, teachers and unions, has launched its alternative for primary assessment. The group advocates formative and summative assessments, which tests pupils gradually and frequently throughout the year, rather than the current intense Sats assessments.
Madeleine Holt is a co-founder of parent campaign group Rescue Our Schools who also helped to set up More Than A Score. Madeleine describes the current testing system as an “exam factory”, whereby children are “made to think that the only kind of intelligence that matters is academic”.
Last year only half of Year 6 pupils met the expected standard in their Sats. Madeliene tells HuffPost UK: “47% of 11-year-olds were told they weren’t ready for secondary school. It’s bordering on the criminal.”
The former journalist and mother-of-three adds: “As a consequence we have seen an absolutely massive rise in mental health issues because children are humans.
“They’re not little machines who can be adjusted or recalibrated, or mobile phones that can have new apps installed. They are human beings and they are being treated like units on a factory production line.”
Madeleine says the current testing system is a “time bomb” and needs to be addressed by the incoming government.
3. Pubs In Decline
At a Budget, the headline will inevitably be whether a pint of beer is going to cost more thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet come a general election, nothing. This was the only picture HuffPost UK could find of a politician backing the industry from major photo agencies that did not involve Nigel Farage.
The great British boozer has long been in decline. While the rate of closures has slowed down, pubs are shutting their doors for good at a rate of 23 a week.
Colin Valentine, national chairman of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), tells HuffPost UK:
“Pubs are a uniquely British institution that showcase our nation’s brewing tradition while providing an essential community facility for those that use them.
“It is therefore crucial that beer drinkers and pub-goers are not left behind when it comes to negotiating Britain’s future over the coming years.”
It thinks the election and Brexit negotiations offer the chance to rewrite tax rules that hike the price of a pint in the pub. It’s most prominent demand, among a series of tax changes, is for the current business rates discounts for pubs in England to be made permanent and increased to £5,000.
LABOUR MANIFESTO: “We will set up a national review of local pubs to examine the causes for their large-scale demise.”
CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: Nothing
4. People In Mental Health Crisis Held In Police Cells
British politics has made huge strides in recognition of mental health conditions and the need to establish ‘parity of esteem’ with physical illness in the NHS, which is borne out by the issue featuring prominently in all manifestos.
Yet they are light on detail. Among the issues campaigners think should be addressed include police cells being used as ‘places of safety’ for people in mental health crisis. National Police Chiefs’ Council figures show police forces put people who are unwell in police cells 2,100 times last year under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. While legislation last ended the use of cells as ‘places of safety’ for under-18s who are suicidal, self-harming or in psychosis, the Mind mental health charity is calling for this to be extended to adults too.
Mind says it has heard from people who were left cold and hungry and unable to sleep from the noise from people in other cells, or kept in the dark because lightbulbs have been removed to prevent self-harming.
While health-based ‘places of safety’ such as hospitals are not always available, it argues if forces including Merseyside and Hertfordshire can entirely avoid detaining vulnerable people in police cells, so can the rest of England and Wales.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, tells HuffPost UK:
“When you’re in a mental health crisis, you may become frustrated, frightened and extremely distressed.
“Your behaviour could be perceived as aggressive and threatening to others, but you desperately need support and compassion.
“Being held in a police cell and effectively treated like a criminal only makes things worse. Now is the moment to ban this damaging practice once and for all.”
5.CCTV Installed In Slaughterhouses
Animal welfare has barely featured, much to the frustration of campaigners. More than 4,000 serious breaches of animal welfare laws in British slaughterhouses were reported to the Food Standards Agency in the two years up to August 2016, yet abattoirs are still not required to install CCTV.
Between 2009 and 2016, Animal Aid covertly filmed inside 11 UK slaughterhouses. Ten of them were found to be breaking animal welfare laws.
The secret filming showed workers punching and kicking animals in the head, picking them up and throwing them across rooms and burning them with cigarettes.
The animal rights group is leading the call for independently monitored CCTV cameras to be installed in all slaughterhouses and is urging for the next government to tackle what is a relatively hidden issue.
Luke Steele, Animal Aid’s farming and slaughter campaigns manager, tells HuffPost UK:
“There’s widespread support for CCTV in slaughterhouses and we just need the government to take action.
“We want to put them in every single slaughterhouse as that is the only way to tackle the cruelty.”
Animal Aid says the surveillance will not only act as a deterrent but will also strengthen prosecutions against those who mistreat farm animals.
LABOUR MANIFESTO: “We will promote cruelty-free animal husbandry and consult on ways to ensure better enforcement of agreed standards.”
CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: “We will make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory.”
6. Disabled People Twice As Unlikely To Be In Work
Matt Carson wants to work. Every day he applies for up to 10 jobs in marketing and administration. Even when he gets an interview and the recruiters say he will get a call back, he rarely does. The process can be disheartening for most people, but Matt’s story is far too common as statistically he is twice as likely to be unemployed as a non-disabled person.
Matt had a stroke at birth, which affected the right hand side of his body. He also has cerebral palsy. As a result he sometimes needs a little longer to complete certain tasks, which takes him out of the running for some roles as companies are sometimes unwilling to accommodate him.
“Someone like myself who has a disability isn’t being given the opportunity,” Matt tells HuffPost UK.
“I realised that when I was going for these interviews, I was being discriminated against simply because they weren’t willing to help me and change an aspect of the role to help me,” the 28-year-old says.
Matt, who lives in Manchester, has a BTECH diploma in IT and Business and a foundation degree in Business and Marketing.
Matt has had two jobs since leaving university in 2012. His first role he stayed in for about four years and the second he had to leave three months ago because his boss couldn’t afford to keep him on.
He is now searching for a job, but the process is frustrating.
“For people with disabilities companies are not very cooperative or forthcoming to help people like myself,” Matt says.
Allowing someone who is disabled to sometimes work from home or adjusting an aspect of the building such as door locks can have a big impact on the life of a disabled person wishing to work.
“I think that we should be given an opportunity and a chance. I think that businesses should have a policy for giving people from all disabilities an opportunity,” he adds.
“But I am definitely not getting that and I think that is really, really wrong.”
Disability charity Scope says that half of disabled people are currently out of work, with three quarters of disabled people losing out on a job because of their impairment or condition.
James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, tells HuffPost UK:
“For over a decade, the disability employment gap has remained at almost a complete standstill.
“Poor workplace practices and a lack of employment support mean disabled people who want to work are far too often excluded from the labour market.
“We want to see a radical change in approach to tackling the employment gap. This must include reforming the assessment for financial support, widening access to voluntary specialist employment support and, focussed action from employers to develop inclusive workplaces.
“With disabled people twice as likely as the general public to be unemployed, a key task for the next government will be to overhaul the system.”
LABOUR MANIFESTO: “Labour will act to tackle discrimination, remove barriers and ensure social security delivers dignity and empowerment, not isolation and stigma.”
CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: “We will get 1 million more people with disabilities into employment over the next ten years. We will harness the opportunities of flexible working and the digital economy to generate jobs for those whose disabilities make traditional work difficult.”
7. Air Pollution
It’s perhaps understandable the Conservative Party has been happy to keep air pollution on the low-down. The Government sought to delay publication of its plan to tackle air pollution until after the General Election on June 8, but it was ordered by the High Court to publish its final Air Quality Plan by the original date at the end of July.
But it’s a pertinent issue. According to Greenpeace, nearly half of the key marginal seats in the 2017 general election are in areas affected by illegal levels of roadside air pollution. Some 51 of the 111 seats where the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats came a close second in the last election breach legal limits for nitrogen dioxide air pollution according to an analysis of government data.
Anna Jones, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, says: “People all over the country are feeling the effects of illegal air pollution coming from our roads. From heart disease to dementia, it seems like scientists are discovering air pollution is linked to an ever-expanding range of chronic and life-threatening conditions. This is a crisis that cannot be ignored, no matter how much some politicians want to pretend it isn’t happening.”
Greenpeace wants the car industry to ditch diesel, and switch to electric, and for government to support urgent transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles.
LABOUR MANIFESTO: “Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with the Conservative legacy of illegal air quality.”
CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: “We will take action against poor air quality in urban areas.”
8. Second-Class Rural Broadband And Mobile
Arguably the only policy aired significantly during the campaign directly affecting rural areas was the Tory promise to hold a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act, which merely renews an ongoing promise. The pledge triggered the usual partisan politics: Labour could paint the Conservatives as out-of-touch toffs, and the Tories could offer something to their shire heartlands. In other words, it plays well to their base support.
Yet most people living outside major cities and towns probably don’t care: they’d much rather a reliable mobile signal and the broadband speeds enjoyed in urban areas.
Tim Bonner, chief executive officer of the Countryside Alliance, tells HuffPost UK its “unacceptable” almost one million homes in rural areas still cannot access download speeds greater than 10 megabits per second (Ofcom says this is the minimum modern families need to watch streaming services such as Netflix and make video-calls). He adds:
“With the drive for ‘digital by default’ and the ambition for the UK to have a world-leading digital economy we must get the basics right by ensuring that people in the countryside have access to reliable high speed broadband and mobile connectivity.
“We call on the next government to ensure that not only do we have the infrastructure and coverage to meet this demand, but also to educate consumers and businesses about the benefits of high speed connectivity and ensure they have the right digital skills.”
The campaign group wants greater competition to reduce BT Openreach’s dominance of broadband infrastructure, more Government funding for alternatives including satellite technology, and reform of planning laws to get more phone masts erected that best suits the local area.
LABOUR MANIFESTO: “Rural infrastructure and industry has been neglected. Labour will invest in broadband, housing and transport to create jobs and ensure that the nation’s prosperity is felt beyond our large towns and cities.”
CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: “Our Universal Service Obligation will ensure that by 2020 every home and every business in Britain has access to high speed broadband. By 2022 we will extend mobile coverage further to 95 per cent geographic coverage of the UK.”
9. Increasing Animal Abuse Sentences
Animal abusers in England and Wales can receive a longer jail sentence for fly tipping than if they brutally beat an animal to death, with sentences currently capped at just six months imprisonment.
Animal welfare campaigners are calling for a “punishment that fits the crime” when it comes to animal abuse, as sentencing in England and Wales continues to lag behind other parts of the world.
Last year horrifying footage emerged of Baby the Bulldog being beaten, tortured and thrown downstairs while those who abused her laughed. Three months after the attack, Baby was put to sleep after losing the use of her back legs.
The offenders pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering and received a 21-week suspended sentence, a six month curfew and were banned from keeping animals for life.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, one of the organisations calling for tougher sentences, says serious animal cruelty offenders are a high risk to the public as well as to animals.
Michael Webb, from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, tells HuffPost UK:
“If you have a maximum of six months then you are saying that only the most serious offences should be considered for that, suddenly the people slightly down the scale are getting really quite lenient terms.
“And we are now in a position where if my dog goes out and attacks an assistance dog and kills that dog I would get three years in prison for that [under the Dangerous Dogs Act].
“But if I kill the assistance dog myself I could only get six months in prison. It’s clearly a legal anomaly and we feel it would be sensible and it would be welcome for a new government to tidy it up.”
Scotland takes animal cruelty cases more seriously than England and Wales with a maximum sentence of one year. In 2015 Northern Ireland increased their maximum sentence to five years.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is calling for the Animal Welfare Act to be amended to allow sentences for animal abuse to be increased from six months to five years in prison.
10. Maximum 28 Days Detention
Both Labour and the Conservatives have dance around annual immigration numbers, but the debate has not got much more sophisticated than that. The UK is the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a time-limit on immigration detention, meaning that migrants can be imprisoned indefinitely.
Campaigners are calling for a 28 day time limit to be introduced for those detained at immigration centres.
More than 32,000 people are detained in the UK every year. The cost of detaining a person for a year is more than £36,000, with the government spending more than £364 million on detention every year.
Human rights organisation Right to Remain say that indefinite detention does not work, has a devastating effect on those held and leaves family in limbo.
The group is calling on the incoming government to get in line with the UK’s European neighbours and introduce a time lime on detention.
Marienna Pope-Weidemann, from Right to Remain, tells HuffPost UK:
“Indefinite detention is barbaric and inexcusable.
“It inflicts profound pain on men and women simply for not (yet) having the correct immigration papers, hurting their families, dividing our communities and undermining the integrity of our justice system.
“The only people it serves are the private security companies at cost to the public, while the rest of Europe has moved onto fairer alternatives. We call on all electoral candidates to say it’s time for a time limit.”