With the recent furore about possible changes to the AE system, there has been a lot of debate on SFN about the cost of taxation in France and this has got me thinking. Do we really pay more than we should? Is France really that bad? Or is it just part of the human condition to resent handing money over to the state?
Back in the UK my partner was a higher rate tax payer. It used to really wind me up that he was taxed at the same rate as a single male, despite the fact that he had a spouse and dependents. I firmly believe that any stay at home parent is doing a job, a full time job and as such, one that should be recognised and rewarded by society. Stay at home parents are the people who ensure little Kyle and Tyrone go to school rather than hang around on motorway bridges throwing rocks at passing cars.
(And should anyone want to debate the issue of working parents, please start another thread as this one is about taxation!)
We received a derisory amount of family allowance and no help with pre-school fees.
Ah yes, you say, but there was the ‘free’ health system. Well, I’d argue that nothing in life is free and you get what you pay for.
Having always been a healthy type, my first experience of the NHS was a broken arm aged 15. I was sent home from A&E and asked to return the next day as ‘there was no-one on duty in the plaster room’ - it being Sunday and all. Ah yes, you might say, but that was a long time ago. Well, it happened to a friend’s son last year. No child should be left in pain for 24 hours due to a lack of staff.
My next encounter with the NHS involved giving birth to daughter No 1. The whole event was a catalogue of mistakes from start to finish. It resulted in her being resuscitated and me receiving an apology from the doctor who performed my episiotomy. Any ladies reading will know exactly what I mean and for any male readers, suffice it to say that I was unable to sit down for well over two weeks.
Delivery number two was far better. Probably because I was only in the hospital for seven minutes before giving birth. The only issue was that no-one noticed that my baby girl had six toes.
Pregnancy number three saw me have an abortion at 22 weeks for fetal abnormality. This was a condition that could have been easily detected at 14 weeks. Unfortunately budgetary constraints mean that scans are not performed at this point. I fully accept that no health system has unlimited funds and that resources need to be allocated sensibly but equally, no-one should have to undergo such a late termination when it is entirely avoidable.
The termination itself was not an NHS success story. Despite it being pre-booked, there was no delivery room available and no midwife. I eventually gave birth alone. The hospital then ‘lost’ the body for several hours. I threw up at 9pm into a sink in my room and the vomit was not cleaned until the following morning. I was left with retained placenta, suffered two hemorrhages over the next fortnight and nearly murdered the (non English speaking) nurse who on my second trip to A&E, couldn’t read my notes and kept asking ‘Where is baby?’
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that this is NOT a criticism of NHS staff. There are thousands of doctors and nurses who do a fantastic job. They are dedicated and committed. They are also overworked and underpaid. The NHS is underfunded and if you want a health system that works, you need to pay for it.
In contrast, our experiences in France have been fabulous.
We also get a lot more out of the system. We’ve had physio, IVF, home visits - all things that are incredibly hard to access in the UK.
Then there’s education. Despite it being technically free in the UK, I have friends who have been forced to go private as there are simply no places. I don’t for a minute think the French system is perfect or even necessarily ‘better’ but the basic principle of free education for all is still upheld.
Benefits are far more generous too. As a family on a modest income, we get all kinds of assistance, from help with the mortgage to termly grants for school dinners. Proportionately we get way more than we would in the UK. Then there are subsidised holidays for both the kids and us as a family, cheap rail travel and holiday clubs.
I fully appreciate that there are people who currently pay more in than they get back and I’m sure that there will come a point in our lives when this is true for us too. But I also firmly believe that society has a duty to support the vulnerable.
I don’t want to live in a country where only certain classes can access health care. I don’t want to live in a country where we don’t provide for the aged. I don’t want to live in a country where I pay less at the expense of others.
Don’t get me wrong - I don’t relish paying taxes. Who does? But like cervical smears and root canal treatment, I think they are a necessary, if unpleasant, part of life.