1. University and College Education
It is a well-known fact worldwide that American students who wish to attend college must pay for it entirely themselves. It is an unfortunate plot line for many Hollywood films: the struggling single parent working two jobs to afford their child’s college fee. For American students whose parents cannot afford their college payments, students can leave college with masses of debt, crippling their ability to accept attractive jobs that pay less, relocate, or even leave home at all. Of course, this story resonates with many British students also but let us remember that even in the United Kingdom, the government allows students to pay loans back based on their income – reducing the pressure of debt and allowing more freedom in terms of job choice. The British government also writes off student debt after 30 years if it has not been paid back by then. In America, nothing, not even bankruptcy, alleviates college debt. In many European countries such as Germany, Norway and Iceland, university tuition is completely free and the prospect of forcing tens of thousands of pounds of debt onto the backs of graduates seems almost unfathomable.
2. Approach to abortion rights
Abortions in America are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, especially with Donald Trump’s recent executive order ruling that no federal money was to be spent on groups that perform or provide information on abortions. Some states in America only have a single abortion clinic in the entire state; others have passed state laws that make it increasingly difficult to even locate an abortion clinic. An interesting point that I heard Michael Moore discuss when explaining the difference between the UK and America is that for us, abortion isn’t even a political stance – all major parties on both sides of the political spectrum would not dream of intruding on a woman’s rights to choose.
The United Nations produced some statistics on international abortion rates and showed that in Switzerland, abortion rates are as low as 6.4 per 1000 women – compared to 19.6 per 1000 women in the US on average. This supports the idea that Europe has recognised and instilled the connection that right-wing American politicians struggle to – easier access to contraception, universal healthcare and better sex education equals less abortions.
3. Maternity leave
In most European countries, maternity leave is guaranteed and paid for. France, the Netherlands, Spain and Austria offer four months paid leave. Serbia and most Scandinavian countries offer a full year of paid leave – a consensus is seen across Europe that paid maternity leave is expected and beneficial. The thought that maternity leave could be compromised, unpaid or not even an option at all seems almost dystopian for some Europeans, but in the United States, maternity leave policy is left entirely in the hands of individual states and often, individual employers. This means that for many single new mothers in America, there is no money coming in during the first few weeks of their baby’s life – forcing them back into work as soon as they are able to. Thankfully, although not comfortingly, the federal government in America does guarantee maternity leave. Only unpaid, naturally.
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