Open letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

Congratulations on your party’s recent election win. As an EU – not (yet) UK – citizen, I could not vote in this general elections and as such had no part in your victory. To be honest, I really don’t know who I would have voted for if I had been entitled to vote in this election; I consider myself a socialist, but none of the parties in this country appear to represent my idea of socialism.

At some point last year, my email address made it into databases used for various political parties’ mailings. I don’t mind. Time permitting I actually read the messages sent to me on behalf of you and other politicians and parties. Today I decided to attempt a reply, if only to find out whether the mail accounts used are of the annoying ‘no-reply’ type or if they are actually monitored by real people who will pass on any responses like this one. In 2015 fashion, I will post this open letter to you on my public blog as well, in the hope that other politicians might notice my ramblings too.

One of the issues that in my opinion has not been addressed sufficiently by past governments (including yours) is housing. Last month, the rent on my home in North West London increased by 36%. Yes, you read that right, THIRTY-SIX PER CENT. Like many others I am being priced out of London. Everywhere I go across London, I see homes being built, but usually these are billed as ‘luxury’ and that term is reflected in their price tags. Homes that are labelled ‘affordable’ may be affordable for higher earners and foreign investors, but they aren’t affordable at all when you compare them to London’s and Britain’s average incomes.

As much as I love London and wish to stay here, I don’t feel entitled to the city so if I cannot afford to live here, I am prepared to move elsewhere. One problem with that is, that there aren’t (m)any jobs in other areas. Another issue is that public transport is so ridiculously expensive that the cost of commuting into London for work would negate any costs saved on housing. Even though I do most of my freelance work remotely, from home, clients tend to want me to live near enough for me to turn up in person from time to time. Moreover, at times when I don’t have enough freelance work to cover all rent and bills, there are opportunities in London for part-time and/or temporary work to top up my income. Outside of London those opportunities are scarce thus the competition for them is fierce.

London does not need me as much as it needs teachers, nurses and other key workers. If I am priced out of London that’s not as bad as when key workers are. So feel free to ignore my whinges here, I am only one rather insignificant person, but the wider issue is a serious one: London needs the diversity of people of all classes, education types, incomes levels and so on and so forth, but it’s slowly losing it. London’s cosmopolitan melting pot of people is part of what makes it such a great city; greater than, say, Paris, where people appear to have been segregated per city districts, from the very richest in the heart of the city down to the very poorest in the depressing banlieus on the outskirts. I worry that’s what London could become like if, like now, the housing crisis is mostly being left for the private sector to resolve – which it won’t, at least, not by itself. I believe London’s free housing market needs more government intervention, way beyond shallow manipulation by way of help-to-buy schemes, mansion taxes, underoccupancy charges, rent controls or easing of planning regulations. What London needs is the housing supply to meet the demand for homes in ways that private investors and developers won’t provide without some serious public sector intervention.

I also believe that regions outside of London need more attention: local and national government will need to work together to push businesses to set up more than just call centres outside the capital. Doing so will not only relieve London, I think it will also preserve suburban green belts and rural beauty; more importantly, it might spur a much-needed culture change among business leaders, away from their London-centricity: London isn’t the only fabulous city in Britain with fabulous people raring to do fabulous jobs for any employers willing to offer them that opportunity. They just need to be given the chance.

The headline on your (PR agency’s copywriter’s) post-election mass email reads “now let’s make Britain greater still”. I’d be delighted to take part in any effort and am brimming with ideas towards achieving that, but I’m finding myself having to look at opportunities for work outside the United Kingdom, in places where one’s earnings might actually cover the basic cost of living. Not that I really want to go abroad – I love Britain, particularly London – but I feel I don’t really have a choice. Once again, feel free to ignore my individual whining and whingeing here, I am only one rather insignificant person. Besides, I may be anglicised, but on paper I’m still a foreigner, so my departure would benefit your net migration figures. So by all means hit me with a “Bye, Jo, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” However, the people you really do need to worry about now are those that Britain truly wants and needs, people who seriously make Britain great(er), because more and more of them can neither afford housing in British places where there is work, nor find work in British places where there is housing. Britain’s current economic recovery is slow – which in my view is a good thing – but it’s not as steady as one might want it to be. To me, Britain’s economy looks as yet rather precarious, just shy of frail. The last thing the country needs in such a tricky state is a brain drain.

If you really want to “make Britain greater” you and every other politician in this country really need to address the subject of housing. No government since the 1980s appears to have done this sufficiently and in my opinion that is at the heart of virtually every other issue Britain is currently facing. Let’s make Britain greater by ditching any party-political point-scoring on the matter and get to work.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Hughes

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No one said we should give up on cancer

A blog post by Richard Smith on the website of the British Medical Journal is currently causing quite a stir, mostly among people who have probably not even read it. Somewhere someone glossed over Smith’s blog, spotted the words “let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer”, pulled them out of context and turned them into a spectacular headline. Newspaper and website editors and radio producers across the globe picked up on it and (faux mass) outrage among the people followed.

But did anyone remember visiting a website that looked like the one pictured below? No? Let me fill you in: it’s the original piece.

Richard Smith: Dying of cancer is the best death

There’s so much misinterpretation of this blog across mainstream media, it’s stunning.
So please, read the original, not the clickbait. Richard Smith did not write: “let’s give up on cancer” or “cancer is great”, nor did he write “let’s stop spending money on researching possible cures for cancers,” yet that’s how his words are being explained across so many media outlets and in turn upsetting people.

If you’re one of the outraged, please untwist your knickers already, because Richard Smith never wrote anything particularly outrageous – lazy editors did.

Every year, billions of dollars, pounds, euros and other currencies are spent on treating people with cancer. Some (probably many) people will be cured, while others will at least have their lives prolonged to achieve some more milestones in life, like watching their children grow up a little while longer. 

For many, and this is the taboo Mr Smith touches on, their cancer treatment will involve gruelling treatments that are no better or worse than the original symptoms from cancer, and these people will not be cured at the end of it, they will merely have their overall suffering prolonged.

You may believe that one should try everything and anything in an attempt to cure someone’s cancer, that the suffering on the way there will be worth it and that even if there’s only a tiny chance of survival, you should grab that opportunity at all cost.

Or you may believe that, on at least some occasions, it might be better to treat just the symptoms and make the patient comfortable until his or her death from the cancer.

From both personal and professional experience I know there are patients who favour the latter, with oncologists who insist on the former. Those patients then have to almost go into battle with their oncologists, because while they are perfectly in their rights to refuse the cancer treatment, they then don’t get the palliative care that would benefit them.

Most patients, however, will blindly follow their oncologists’ advice and if those oncologists are indeed ambitious this will then mean gruelling treatment after treatment in trying to cure their cancer, when they might be better off with palliative care.

That is indeed wasting billions trying to cure cancer while in fact leading patients to a more horrible death. And I do agree we should stop doing that. That’s not calling for pulling any plugs on cancer research, it’s calling for more human care. Is that so outrageous?

Peaches in blood: A recipe for cash

Amy Winehouse. Addict. Dead. Tragic.

Peaches Geldof. Addict. Dead. Tragic.

Pete Doherty. Addict. Not (yet?) dead.

And alive enough to prove the cliche that f***ed up junkies would prostitute their own mother if that could pay for their next fix.

Peaches in blood

There is no knowing who wrote her name and number in blood, but the person named isn’t here to confirm or deny. How very convenient when you’ve got something to sell.

I’m calling bullsh!t on this one.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with addiction (either being addicted themselves or living with someone who is/was) knows how addicts will use, abuse and manipulate anything to serve their purpose. It’s the a$$holery that comes with addiction.

Tragic? Nah. Sick.

MH17

I wrote to my MP today. Normally I wouldn’t publish that so publicly, or at least not until after giving the MP plenty of time to respond, but on this particular occasion I want to share what I wrote in order to ask you to also contact your elected representatives. It is the least we, the people, can do:

Dear Mr Gardiner,

As a constituent of yours who was born in the Netherlands, I find myself rather affected by the MH17 disaster that took place over Ukraine. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed the Netherlands in a greater sense of shock and pain than now; it seems every Dutch relative or friend I speak to knows someone directly or indirectly affected by this tragedy, and the overall atmosphere among the people resembles what I experienced in London post 9/11 and post 7/7.

As days go by, I also see shock and pain make way for increasing anger. Indeed, I am feeling myself getting angrier when I witness the lack of due respect, care and attention shown to the human remains and what is left of their belongings, as apparent from the images from the area. In circumstances like these I believe that material things do matter, considering they’re all that’s left from a loved one.

The reason I am writing you is that I think it is important that every MP, whether in government or not, uses his or her position in public office to push for swifter action than is currently happening. 

I am astonished to see that every media outlet appears to have people on the ground in the disaster area, but the powers that be, the government departments and institutions who should be representing their citizens, have barely started to arrive in the region, let alone the disaster zone. This shows a seriously lack of speed and incisive action. 

Action on behalf of the victims loved ones is required NOW, not Monday to Friday 9 to 5 BST, not by way of meetings with coffee and biscuits, but NOW, on the ground, in the area. 

Now is not the time to play party politics but for government and opposition to work together; there will undoubtedly be plenty of time and place for electioneering later.

Please use your position in public office to help that happen – not just for the Dutch and British victims, but for all of them, everywhere. Their loved ones are suffering enough already and any delay, indecisiveness and inaction further tramples their feelings.

Many thanks and kind regards,

Ms Jo Hughes

[NL] Omdenken of dom denken?

Deels eerder gepost op Facebook, nadien uitgewerkt tot deze uitgebreidere blog post.

Een brief van een Brits schoolhoofd aan 11-jarige scholieren bij hun toetsresultaten ging viraal, omdat deze zo veel mensen aansprak en mogelijk evenveel lezers met afschuw vervulde. Het internet is grenzeloos, dus ook in Nederland werd de brief opgepikt, onder meer door de mensen achter en volgers van Omdenken:

 

omdenkentweet

Dat de brief hier in Engeland viraal ging, verbaasde me niets; twee dagen na het aankondigen van strengere onderwijsmaatstaven en op de dag dat omstreden onderwijsminister Michael Gove werd vervangen, was de timing ervan perfect. Het sentiment is hartstikke lief maar gezien hoe ik het – in mijn ogen ernstig verstoorde – Britse onderwijssysteem persoonlijk heb leren kennen, vind ik ‘m ook zorgwekkend. Dat toen ook nog bleek dat de brief geplagieerd is(!) maakte me boos; waarom leerlingen ‘uniek’ en ‘bijzonder’ noemen in een onpersoonlijke standaardbrief die ook nog eens gejat blijkt?

Dus toen dit op mijn Facebookmuur verscheen met de woorden “Doe mijn kinderen zo’n school!” schoot dit bij mij in het verkeerde keelgat. Omdenken? Dit is iets uit z’n verband rukken en ombuigen!

Het Britse onderwijssysteem en leercultuur zijn niet te vergelijken met de Nederlandse. Als je als ouders ambitieus bent, en alle ouders in je omgeving dat ook zijn, en je je financieel kunt veroorloven om in de omgeving van goede scholen te gaan wonen, en als het je dan lukt om je kind(eren) ook nog op die goede scholen geplaatst te krijgen, dan heb je een geweldig leerklimaat voor je kind(eren). Als die ideale omstandigheden er niet zijn, dan geef je je kinderen bij voorbaat een maatschappelijke achterstand mee die ze mogelijk nooit meer kunnen inhalen, hoe leuk, lief, aardig, populair, sociaal-voelend enz. ze ook zijn.

Daar komt bij dat je als leerling in het Britse onderwijssysteem niet kunt blijven zitten, dus als je de leerdoelstellingen van een bepaald leerjaar niet haalt blijf je mogelijk de rest van je schoolcarrière achter de feiten aanlopen. In je eindexamens wordt gekeken naar wat je weet en kunt, niet op je fouten, dus kun je alles behalve foutloos zijn en toch het equivalent van een 10 halen. Mocht je een onvoldoende halen, dan krijg je wel je diploma, want je hebt examen gedaan. Hoe waardevol een diploma is met onvoldoendes…? Tja.

Het is moeilijk om uitgebreide recente statistieken te verkrijgen, omdat scholen niet verplicht en al helemaal niet geneigd zijn alles openbaar te maken, maar verschillende bronnen duiden erop dat rond twintig procent van alle schoolverlaters in Groot-Brittannië functioneel ongeletterd en/of ongecijferd is; dat wil zeggen dat ze minder goed kunnen lezen, schrijven en/of rekenen dan de gemiddelde 11-jarige. De enorme kwaliteitsverschillen tussen scholen onderling zoals die ervoer met mijn stiefkinderen en de kinderen van vrienden en bekenden leerde me dat bij een goede school wél bijna elke leerling met een goed opleidingsniveau van school gaat, maar dat op de slechtere scholen de percentages richting 50 (vijftig!) procent ongeletterd-/ongecijferdheid gaan.

Die oneerlijkheid in het systeem was voor mij een van de redenen dat ik zelf geen kinderen wilde. Ook heb ik niet-Britse collega’s geholpen naar de catchment areas van betere scholen te verhuizen of hun expatcontract met onze werkgever dusdanig te onderhandelen dat de kosten van particulier onderwijs voor hun kinderen vergoed zouden worden. Bovendien heb ik niet-Britse vrienden en kennissen afgeraden om naar Engeland te verhuizen tenzij ze het onderwijs voor hun kinderen goed konden regelen.

Het schoolhoofd dat deze brief plagieerde heeft geen gegevens bekendgemaakt over hoe goed of slecht haar leerlingen in hun toetsen hadden gedaan. De brief is hartverwarmend, en past perfect in de Britse schoolcultuur waar de meeste scholen geen sportcompetities meer houden omdat op de sportdag “iedereen een winnaar” is. Maar hij zet ook een lijst excuses klaar, mochten leerlingen hun leerdoelstellingen niet behaald hebben. Die leerlingen gaan nu dus wel met een leerachterstand naar het voortgezet onderwijs.

Zonder toetsen en wedstrijden zal je kind misschien meer eigenwaarde en minder zorgen of zenuwen hebben, dat geloof ik zeker. Maar is die eigenwaarde dan sterk genoeg voor wanneer ze jaren later vastlopen in onderwijs of werk omdat hun basiskennis en
-vaardigheden onvoldoende blijken? Of niet kunnen concurreren met leeftijdgenoten die een betere opleiding hebben genoten? Dan heeft je kind gewoon een levensgroot probleem. Wat kun je dan nog ‘omdenken’?

Iets uit een context die je niet of onvoldoende kent plukken en in je eigen raamwerk plaatsen – het doel heiligt de middelen? – da’s geen omdenken, da’s dom denken.

 


 

N.B.: De Britse onderwijsinspectie noemt de school achter bovenstaande brief een goede school, maar gaf wel deze verbeterpunten aan:

 

“The proportion of pupils making and exceeding expected progress from their starting points is not yet high in comparison to national data.”

“Teaching is good. However, there are occasions when a few teachers do not provide sufficient challenge for all ability groups during whole-class teaching. This is because they do not always make effective use of information about pupils’ progress.”

“Middle leaders are not yet involved enough in monitoring their subjects. They do not have a sufficiently clear overview of attainment and progress in their areas of responsibility. This prevents them from contributing fully to the drive for further improvements in standards in their subjects.”

SATs (± Cito-toetsen) zijn geen examens, je kunt er niet mee staan of vallen, maar kunnen een school als deze dus wel helpen met verbeterpunten als bovenstaande. Daarmee doe je niets af aan al het andere goede en unieke van je kind, maar help je hem of haar naar een onontbeerlijk opleidingsniveau dat hij/zij gewoon nodig heeft.