Sure, we have some gripes about the UK’s socialism – high taxes, long waits for doctors, incentives for not working, etc. But being in the US, we are really grateful for some of the benefits we get from the system.
This morning at the Super 8 Motel in Murdo, South Dakota (yes, we succumbed again to the joys and comforts of motels – this time staying at the $64-with-tax king of motels, which boasts laundry, WiFi, cable, make-your-own waffles for breakfast and a coffee maker in the room), I was talking to the girl on the desk.
With a baby just a few weeks older than Lulu, she went back to work four weeks after the birth. I couldn’t even walk after four weeks. It’s not that extreme for most people, who seem to get about three months – fully paid - off by saving up sick leave and invoking something called disability. My question is: does this imply that having kids means you’re sick and disabled?
In contrast, under UK law, I get nine months’ maternity leave and my job is protected for a full year. It’s thanks to that provision that we can make this trip.
If your company, like mine, does not offer anything over the government minimum, you get six weeks’ pay at 90% and then 120 pounds per week for the duration of the nine months, with the last three months unpaid.
Now on to healthcare, which is obviously a huge topic here, with President Barack Obama (vainly?) trying to convince Congress and the country to approve some type of universal coverage.
In the UK, a small percentage of each paycheck goes towards the National Health Service (NHS), and everyone is covered – whether they work or not. The system is slow and uneven, but usually, if something goes wrong, you can get it fixed.
One direct benefit to us is that Daniel, who has his own business, is covered without costly insurance payments. If we wanted to move here, we’d have to hope that my job gave our whole family coverage.
We don’t really get the opposition to universal health coverage – isn’t it in everyone’s interest to have a healthy populace?
The problem seems to be that Obama is spending all his airtime – we saw him on TV before a joint session of Congress two weeks ago and again last night on talk show Dave Letterman - extolling the good of his idea, rather than explaining exactly how it would work and how it would be paid for.
He’s got his work cut out for him. We’ve been listening to a lot of Christian radio in the car here – just to learn firsthand what exactly the conservative groups are thinking and saying – and they allege that universal health coverage is going against God’s will.
I don’t have that religious a background, but Jesus always struck me as a bit of a socialist, working on behalf of the poor, the sick and those gone astray. But these guys, who seem to have quite a following, say it goes against Freedom.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.