This article has been written by my friend Sophie who blogs at Raising Revolutionaries.

Have you decided how you’re going to vote yet in the general election next month? You are going to vote… aren’t you?

Only around 30% of eligible voters made it to the ballot box in the local elections. That’s 7 in 10 who left it up to others to choose who is going to be making the decisions about what happens in their local community for the next four years.

Hopefully the general election will be different. It was, admittedly, only two years ago that we were last asked to cast our vote for the government of this country – but a lot has happened in the last two years, and an awful lot is riding on the outcome of this one.

In the full seven years since this Conservative party first came to power, the impact on our society of their vision and policy decisions has been huge:

National debt has increased from £980 billion in 2010 to over £1.7 trillion in 2017.

1 in 6 of all A&Es, as well as 40% of walk-in centres, have been closed.

The GP vacancy rate has increased by 500% – and nursing vacancies have increased by 200%.

There has been a 43% increase in homelessness, and a 166% increase in rough sleeping.

An ‘affordable home’ now costs £250,000 – nine times the average UK salary of £27,600.

Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession: a third of teachers who qualified in 2010 had quit by 2015.

Per-pupil school funding is falling for the first time in 20 years, with planned cuts to the education budget of £3 billion by 2020.

4 million children are living in poverty in the UK – the highest number since 2008. 67% of those children are in working families.

90 people a week have died after being assessed as Fit For Work.

The collective wealth of the UK’s 1000 richest people has almost doubled – from £335 billion in 2010 to £658 billion in 2017.

This is politics: this is what we are voting for on June 8th. So make sure you vote, and use your vote wisely.

In that last general election, in 2015, there were a huge number of people who didn’t vote – nearly half of under 45s in fact. Some because they felt that politics had no relevance to their lives, some because they felt that their vote wouldn’t make much of an impact on the overall result.

If you look at the figures, though, it is clear that isn’t true. In 2015, more people didn’t vote than voted for any individual party.

Why It's So Important to Vote in the General Election #GE17 

research source: Ipsos Mori

The picture becomes even more interesting when you look deeper into the data: the people who did vote are unlikely to be representative of the country as a whole.

For example young people and people from lower income families are significantly less likely to vote. They are also significantly more likely to vote Labour. How different could the last seven years have been if they had made it to the polling station?

Of course part of the problem in recent years has been that the two major parties have both spent so much time dancing around the centre ground that there have been legitimate reasons to believe that things won’t change much whoever is in power.

In 2017, things are different

Theresa May’s Conservative party has moved considerably to the right: this was demonstrated in their ability to so completely absorb the UKIP vote in the local elections, but can also be seen through an analysis of their policies which correlate strongly with those of the BNP in 2005.

The Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn has shifted from the neoliberal position occupied by Blair, with policies reflective of the social-democrat model which dominates in Scandanavia.

There are real choices to be made, and we as members of a democracy have a real responsibility to find out what we are voting for. The parties will be releasing their manifestos over the coming weeks, and there are several online quizzes that will help you work out which party you are most aligned with.

There’s the tactical voting option too – our ‘first past the post’ system means that the MPs elected to parliament do not necessarily reflect the views of the majority of voters in their areas, with the left of centre vote especially prone to getting watered down. If you’d like to see a change in how the country is run then it’s worth seeing which party is most likely to achieve that in your local area.

However you decide to vote, the most important thing is that you do.

If you are not already registered, then you have until Monday 22nd May to make sure you don’t miss out. You can do it online, and it only takes five minutes.

Once you’re registered, make sure you can get to your local polling station on Thursday 8th June to cast your vote. And if you know that might be tricky, then apply for a postal vote – you have until 5pm on 23rd May to notify your Electoral Registration Office.

It is easy to feel that we have little control over the way the world is going – to hunker down and focus on making the best of what we’ve got rather than trying to make things change. Our democracy though – and this general election in particular – is the best chance we’ve got to get our voices heard and make a difference.

Make sure you don’t miss your chance to have your say.

An Open Letter to Theresa May: Our Children's Mental Health is Suffering for the Sake of Your School Statistics #CMHW17Dear Prime Minister,

I hope this note finds you well. I’m writing to you today as a mother of three. As it’s children’s mental health week, it feels like an appropriate time to do so.

Allow me to introduce myself  

I’m Reneé Davis. I’m the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood and was failed by the education system in the nineties (I left at 15 with no qualifications). I was also bullied throughout school, so know first hand how much damage it does to one’s mental health. I suffered two breakdowns, and numerous bouts of depression as a young adult. Through sheer determination I have broken the cycle of dysfunction, to ensure that my children have a better start to life than the one I had. 

My little family is neuro diverse, which means that we do not fit into a standard pigeon hole. My eldest daughter Polly was diagnosed high functioning autistic in 2015. So far, my two younger children appear to be neuro typical, but I don’t have a crystal ball. Who knows if further diagnoses are on the cards later on down the line? 

Polly is a July baby, and sending her to school weeks after her fourth birthday in 2013 felt like throwing her into the lions den. She was the smallest in her year, and due to her sleep problems back then largely wandered around in a little world of her own.

I believe it was a combination of these two things that made her an ‘easy target’. She would often come home with a red note to say that she had banged her head, or injured herself during the day.

Polly suffered low level bullying from the end of reception, and all throughout year one. Not only this, but the ridiculously high expectations of learning were too much for her to cope with. She lived in a perpetual state of anxiety, and her pre and post school meltdowns dominated the happiness of the whole family. My husband and I would plough all our energies into getting Polly on track during the holidays, only to see our hard work being undone almost as soon as she went back to school.

You see she’s a classic high functioning autistic girl. She is able to convincingly mask her autism, and appears to cope in public. All the pretending to cope takes a lot of effort, and is exceptionally overwhelming for her. It got to the point where she would come home, where she felt safe, and spend up to two hours screaming. This was her way of communicating to us that she was unhappy at school, and wasn’t coping as well as she appeared to be.

After her diagnosis we thought we’d get support from the school, but none materialised. Perhaps if she had been subjecting her teachers to huge meltdowns things would have been different? That’s just my speculation though. Going against my gut instincts, I sent Polly back to school and into year two in September 2015. Within a few weeks our lives had once again become soul destroyingly hard. My husband and I knew that if we wanted different results, we were going to have to take matters into our own hands.

We made the decision to not send Polly back after the first half term of year two, and home educate her instead.

It’s not been an easy ride, but in the fifteen months that Polly’s been at home, we’ve made great progress. In addition to her core learning, we’ve invested a huge amount of effort in rebuilding her confidence, and fostering emotional intelligence. She is finally, at seven and a half, sleeping most nights. She is calmer and happier, and more patient. 

Now, no two children are the same, and this is especially pertinent in a neuro diverse family such as mine. My other daughter, Clara has always been laid back and mostly happy. I say mostly because no child is going to be sunshine and rainbows 24/7 are they? Especially when they are exposed to some times unpleasant behaviour from their older siblings.

For many reasons, my husband and I made the decision to send Clara to school in September. We figured that being such an easy going kid, as well as being super bright, she would excel and flourish.

Clara loved the first few weeks of school, but sadly it didn’t last.

When she returned after the first half term, things changed for her. She wasn’t so happy about going to school in the mornings, and has a few times, point blank refused to go. She started having meltdowns after school, like her sister used to. She broke out in the same stress eczema that my husband gets on his hands when he is bogged down at work. For the first time, Clara began displaying the familiar symptoms of being seriously overwhelmed.  

The decline in our girl has been shocking to witness. She has become highly sensitive, aggressive and inflexible. It’s as clear as day to me that she’s stressed out. She has little patience, and gets very upset very quickly, over things that wouldn’t have mattered to her six months ago. It feels like she’s a shadow of her former self. 

One day last week Clara wasn’t feeling well, and had a raised temperature, so I kept her off school. When she saw Polly getting her learning books out, she said she wanted to practice her writing. We got her dry wipe tracing book out, and she started tracing the alphabet full of enthusiasm. By the time she got to F she’d started crying. It wasn’t long before she was completely inconsolable, screaming that she wasn’t doing her writing perfectly. She ended up shutting herself off from the rest of us by hiding behind the furniture, and didn’t come out for over an hour.

Am I the only parent who feels it’s too much to expect four year old children to learn to read and write (in joined up handwriting) from the very first term of school?

I can’t imagine that I am, but know from experience that there’s a lot of turning a blind eye us parents have to do. My husband and I weren’t always in a financial position for me to stay at home with our children. In fact I only stopped working in my part time City job weeks before we began home educating Polly. The combination of a promotion for my husband, and voluntary redundancy presenting itself to me led to me being able to drop out of the traditional workplace.

Since then I’ve been able to make a little bit of money through writing, which has kept me afloat. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have the option of staying at home. If I had financial pressure to go back to an office based job, we would be, to put it bluntly, screwed. 

The school system has already failed one of my children, and it’s beginning to look like it’s failing another. The one size fits all approach does not work for so many. 

Seeing the change in Clara has been nothing short of heartbreaking. It feels to me that our children’s mental health is being sacrificed for the schools numeracy and literacy statistics. That all the emphasis is put onto their academic capabilities, and very little thought is given to their emotional well-being. 

I felt that too much pressure was being put on the kids when Polly was in reception. Now, three years on, I am truly astounded at the expectations put on their little shoulders. Surely at four and five, it makes more sense to invest in our children’s mental health. Wouldn’t it be better to let them learn through play, rather than forcing them to read and write?

For now I have put my faith into the Senco at Clara’s school, to see if there are interventions available to help her. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. I’m not going to sit back and watch school turn my happy go lucky ray of sunshine into an anxious wreck.

I have signed this petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. It currently has over 33,000 signatures, which means it will definitely get a parliamentary response. 

At this point, Mrs. May, anything is worth a shot, which is why I’ve written you this letter. To ask you personally to put our children’s mental health on your agenda.

Yours sincerely,

Reneé Davis 

The Left and Right Need to Come Together #LoveTrumpsHateI’d like to start this blog by stating loud and clear that I am not a ‘loonie leftie’

I’ve written before about where my liberal values come from (clue: not through an early life of privilege, quite the opposite). I am not a communist, and don’t think socialism could even begin to work in the UK. I feel that the world is way too politically correct on many levels.

I read an article recently about not calling pregnant women ‘expectant mothers’ for fear of offending transgender people. I thought it was out and out bonkers. Is this honestly what transgender people want? Or are clueless people in the government making decisions about things they don’t know? 

I’m a mama. I grew three babies, pushed them out into the world and fed them with my breasts. I will not apologise for owning the title mama. Ever.

I grew up in a right wing household, but do not hold the same values as the people who raised me. I vehemently oppose any form of racism, and am appalled that open misogyny still takes place. For what it’s worth I think that Donald Trump is the devil incarnate.

Coming together on the things that divide the sides

A heated debate that is currently taking place on my personal Facebook page has prompted me to write this. And I am doing so with shaky hands and my heart beating in my mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as strongly about getting words on the screen before. You can probably guess the topics of conversation.

Brexit.

Trump.

Hillary Clinton being the rightful president of the USA v’s Hillary Clinton being the She Devil.

Directly after the EU Referendum, there was lots of hatred. Then it died down a little. Then Trump got elected and it started up again. And now? Now people are sick and tired of being polite whilst being shat upon. People are protesting in their droves to get their voices heard.

I posted a link to a news site after the Brexit update on Thursday, and a few (non-British) friends commented with their thoughts. In a nutshell they are concerned that they’ll be kicked out of the country. This is a worrying time to live through. They’re scared for their kids, and don’t know what to do and where they’ll go next if it all goes tits up.

A British friend commented that he’s finding the Brexit fallout very interesting, as he was a leave voter. As a remainer, and someone who is always willing to listen to intelligent arguments, I find it genuinely enlightening to hear why people voted leave. In many ways I’m starting to see their logic. Which I’m surprised about, because I couldn’t for a long time. I was too emotionally caught up in the immediate consequences. 

The system as is needs fixing in a big way 

I don’t think many could argue that we have a broken political system, that properly needs to change. Unless you’re in the top 5%, and if you are I doubt highly that you’re reading my blog,

My friend said that if he was in the States, he’d have voted for Trump in a heartbeat. This initially got my back up (along with the backs of all the others who had commented on the thread). After a few days of reflection though, and many more comments along the way, I’m starting to see where he’s coming from.

Bear with me please. 

Let me state for the record that I feel it’s utter lunacy that Donald Trump is sitting in the White House. I don’t agree with a single thing he says or does, and his openly racist, misogynistic stance makes my blood run cold. His campaign was run on fear and hatred. Some of the laws that are now being passed are backward at best. For once a politician is keeping his campaign trail promises, but at what cost?

Like it or not though, he is the president. Even if he got impeached, the alternative is not going to be better. Look how swapping David Cameron for Theresa May is working out.

Let’s use our collective voice for real good

It feels like us in the UK are getting sidetracked by the states to be honest. Yes we should be shouting loudly about how much we hate Trump, but how about also using our voices to speak up about our own government? The Tories have been running the country into the ground from the day they took office, yet won last year’s election hands down.

WTAF?

Austerity is clearly failing the masses, and looks like it’s only going to get worse. Assets are being sold off to the highest bidder. Budgets for public services are being cut to the bone. The NHS is being run into the ground, people dying on trolleys in the corridors of our hospitals. I cannot for a second understand the logic behind charging nursing students to study. 

There are more homeless than ever before, yet hate-mongering media are showing headlines of record numbers in employment. You couldn’t make half of it up.

The women’s march two weeks ago was nothing short of amazing. People came together across the world to say they were not going to sit back and watch their rights being taken away. Women said, loud and clear, that they’ll do whatever it takes to protect the rights that have been worked so hard for over the years.

Unfortunately though, it was largely seen as a liberal thing to do. Right wing women have been condemning the marchers and making fun of them. How very sad.

Wouldn’t it be amazing for us to find our common ground and come together? For the sake of human decency?    

It’s time to wake the f*** up, open our eyes and get angry  

Now that the worst has happened, it’s put politics on everyone’s agenda. This is a wonderful thing, and should be celebrated. Which ever side of the political fence you sit on, we should all be using the current momentum, which is so strong, to be protesting about what the Tories are doing right here in the UK.  

When the junior doctors marched last year, over appalling pay and ridiculous hours, they ended up with a much better deal. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could save the NHS before it’s privatised? Sorry to state the obvious, but once it’s gone it’s gone!

Wouldn’t it be incredible to get something done about the housing crisis? About zero hour contracts, which are pushing people into poverty, even though they are technically employed? 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get some extra funding for our schools? As the mother of an autistic child, I find it abhorrent that SEN budgets have been slashed to next to nothing, and that a child has to be suicidal before they can get in front of a counsellor. Good teachers are quitting in their droves because they have had enough. Just think about that for a minute.  

Left or right, we all have to share the country. Let’s stop allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered. 

Collectively we very much do have a voice, we should start using it for some proper good. Let’s not become tired and boring shouting the same old things that fall on the same old deaf ears.

What we cannot do is apathetically resign ourselves to what’s going on right under our noses. We can’t allow it to be considered normal, because it very much isn’t.

#LoveTrumpsHate