Good government services
October 23, 2012 7:08 AM   Subscribe

International Mefites! What are some government-provided services that you use that you are shocked Americans don't have? (Besides healthcare)

As an example, I'm thinking of certain European cities that provided car sharing services (before ZipCar started up in the US). Also the Octopus card in Hong Kong might be a good example (though not sure if the mass transit system is gov run or private).
posted by shotgunbooty to Grab Bag (69 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Your example is non-governmental, did you mean that?

I'd say free incoming cellphone calls, decent inexpensive food, fair employment contracts, paid holiday, multiple broadband providers everywhere, and a general focus on the person coming first (before everything else - that's another list).
posted by gorcha at 7:15 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Public Broadcasting?

I mean i know the United States has PBS, but it doesn't really compare to the major role the BBC plays in UK society. Nor is it as much of a political football.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was born in a country where both parents necessarily worked unless there was some sort of disability, and the fact that there's no universal government-run daycare in the US is confoundingly stupid.
posted by griphus at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2012 [18 favorites]

Maternity leave.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

This is backwards (I'm American shocked at other countries' services), but last time I was in France I learned that there's a subsidized lunch program for employees. Employers are required (I think? can't seem to find much in English about this on the web) to either a) provide an in-house canteen that serves a subsidized lunch or b) provide lunch tickets that the employee can then use at participating neighborhood restaurants. A serious lunch - I'm talking three courses here, with coffee and bread - might run 4 euros or so.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, yes, and maternity leave. In fact, compared to most other first-world countries, just about the entire having-children process in America seems to be a big "fuck you" to parents, and mothers especially.
posted by griphus at 7:21 AM on October 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Ongoing unemployment benefits.
posted by KateViolet at 7:25 AM on October 23, 2012

Paternity leave, honeymoon leave (a few countries)
posted by greta simone at 7:27 AM on October 23, 2012

[Folks if you are going to continue to comment in this thread, no more RARARA AMERIKA. This is a list generating question not a political question.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Finland's maternity grants and packages.
posted by trillian at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2012

The whole Public Rights of Way or Freedom to Roam is refreshing. Yes, there is private property but that doesn't mean you can stop people from walking across it. It is the reason you have all these long-distance trails in Europe.
posted by vacapinta at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

Paid sick leave.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:30 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

What are some government-provided services that you use that you are shocked Americans don't have?

Well not shocked, but the lack of state-run day care is quite surprising given that a large percentage of American women work. Also paid parental leave extending beyond 6 weeks which which allows one parent to stay home with the child until such time as full-time day care is appropriate.
posted by three blind mice at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by greenish at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Renter's rights.
No arbitrary evictions; caps on annual rent increases; no access for landlords without express permission (landlords do not hold duplicate keys); no restrictions on painting, carpets, or whatever decoration; permission for renovations usually granted and indeed structural improvements are often reimbursed; landlords' responsibility for external repairs is legally enforced (via annual rent increase review - can result in decrease).
Hey, no need to own here.
posted by likeso at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

4 weeks or more vacation. In my case it's more than 5 weeks.

Protection against being sacked without cause.

I am also befuddled by the continued existence of shared tax allowances for married couples, but I don't know if that counts.
posted by plonkee at 7:38 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

A transcript of government proceedings that isn't "revised and extended".
posted by zamboni at 7:40 AM on October 23, 2012

Much stricter privacy regulations in Europe.
Economist article detailing some of the differences.
posted by inigo2 at 7:44 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also in Sweden we pay a yearly burial tax and the government will put your remains in a box in the ground if no one else does.
posted by three blind mice at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

State-supported maternity leave was first introduced in 1981, when the 26th Soviet Congress called for measures to increase female labor force participation and fertility. At this time, women on maternity leave received full pay up to 112 days, partial-pay up to 18 months, and unpaid leave from 18 months to 3 years (Zakharov 2008). The pay varied across regions, with women in Siberia and the Far East receiving slightly more per month. In 1990 the maternity leave benefit-scheme was reformed, with women who worked prior to leave receiving the minimum wage (70 rubles) for 18 months and women who had never worked receiving half the minimum wage for 18 months. Unpaid maternity leave was expanded to three years without interruption of social security benefits and a guaranteed return to previous employer. The amount of the benefit depended on whether a woman was insured through her workplace, but uninsured women also received a token amount. Unfortunately, rampant inflation throughout the 1990s reduced the value of maternity leave benefits, resulting in trivial monthly payments (Zakharov 2008).
Source (the paper is a draft but I assume that is an honest reflection of the source material.)
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2012

Employment protection against arbitrary/unfair dismissal -- even putting "right to work" in ironiquotes makes me grimace. A PAYE system that doesn't require filing a tax return. A mobile spectrum and regulations that allows direct competition between providers. Automatic voter registration. Data protection laws.

Consumer protection laws: private retailers and supplies in the US tend to offer decent no-questions-asked return policies for the first few months, but it's piecemeal and arbitrary and there's not really the same statutory backstop provided by something like the Sale of Goods Act.
posted by holgate at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is another backwards voice from a shocked American, but it's very surprising to me how involved the government is in wage bargaining in some countries. The fact that wage bargaining coordination exists at the sectoral and even national level in some places is hard for me to wrap my brain around.
posted by yarrow at 7:54 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some countries (not the US) provide meals to children during school.

Like actual free school lunches for EVERY child, not just "poor" kids.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:56 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maternity and paternity leave is a big one. Twelve months shared, father can take up to 5 months of that year.

Early childhood education. Full day JK (4years old) is standard in Ontario now. There's only a 2-year window between the end of mat leave and full-time school. And Quebec has subsidized day care.

Quality schools: teacher pay is seemingly higher in Canada. Being a teacher is something people do aspire to. Teacher's college gets its pick of candidates, and is viewed as similar to medical school admission. Universities are similarly well staffed and funded, on the level of good US state schools, to the point that I don't think it matters much in Canada which undergraduate institution you pick (with a few exceptions).

Police are funded out of federal/provincial coffers, and there are far fewer types of them than in the US. Police-force-by-speed-trap (hello Florida!) doesn't exist in Canada.
posted by bonehead at 8:02 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

In France there are many cultural reductions that exist for teachers with the view point that it is important to be culturally educated. This includes free entries into national monuments and museums like the top/ balcony of Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Mont- Saint Michel, etc.

I'm not surprised that this isn't offered in the US, but rather the other way around that it's available in France.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2012

Reiterating a couple from above - parental leave, public radio and television (that doesn't involve at least annual fund-raising).

Organizing school funding across the country at a basic per-child level and allows for activities like music and art at the school rather than schools being funded by local property taxes. It seems other governments do the same (pooling resources across the country) for things like roads, infrastructure and (sorry) health care.

A lot more recycling and dump pick-up organization (e.g. for Christmas trees).

In terms of employment law, more mandatory holidays, the same minimum wage for all jobs (no waiter/food service exception), and paid lunch hours and breaks.

Other governments keep most or all of the universities public so that they can be more affordable. Some countries even pay for their citizens to attend foreign universities either for a full program or as part of an in-country degree program.

A Canadian example but arts funding and mandatory Canadian content for television and radio broadcasts (public and private), aka, CanCon.

Also the Canadian government oversees mergers and take-overs to make sure that it's not going to hurt Canada.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Universal National Identity Cards with a chip

Also, and this is an aspect of health care but a specific and interesting one. Upon arrival in Belgium I was pretty shocked that, as part of the universal Social Security that pays for everyone's health care, I would be issued with an ID card that would keep track of all of my medical information. Everything would also be tracked in central databases. The implications for managing public health are pretty astonishing.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think you have it in the US but how about Austudy. Basically a type of social security payment paid to students while studying.
posted by wwax at 8:24 AM on October 23, 2012

The lack of PAYE is the one which has always surprised me. The thought that everybody--even basic shopworkers and factory workers--have to struggle with their own tax returns is astonishing.
posted by Jehan at 8:38 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Government funding for private training initiatives in business -- if you have a business and decide your employees need training, the government will pay for all or part of it. I've seen some version of this in Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico so far.
posted by ceiba at 8:51 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

USian here - I hung out with various UK residents, New Zealanders and Aussies for a couple days this summer and they were all universally surprised that the US didn't have guaranteed vacation time, and doubly surprised that even among the employers who did offfer it, that two weeks rather than four was the standard.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Almost everyone in urban Europe, Asia, and Africa has access to public "wet" markets for, at minimum, food, especially produce, and often a lot more.

They are not the best places to buy many things, and there are a lot of problems - parking, smells, pests - but a publicly-provided place for all people in society to spend a relatively small amount of money to get quality, local food in season is something that many, many American cities would benefit from, I think. Plus, there's a great deal of variety and competition - often absent from the mega-supermarkets you need a car to really make the best use of!
posted by mdonley at 8:56 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Scotland, besides things like free museums, the BBC and the NHS: More generally, paternity leave (it should be more, but that's a start), and truly national public transport journey planners (you want to go from Oxford to Durness? No problem! Your train leaves in a couple of hours...).
posted by Talkie Toaster at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Invaluable to immigrants in Quebec (like myself): French language classes are free, or very nearly so. Not so for English Canadians.

I was also gobsmacked by paternity/maternity leave times here. How cool is that?

Well above the standard minimum wage for retail workers.

That most people still listen to CBC Radio 1 (or 2) as a source of information and entertainment, like the BBC. I LOVE that.

And yeah, the vacation time thing. The amount my husband gets every year makes my mother in South Carolina seethe with loving envy.
posted by Kitteh at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another aspect of the close embrace of socialism experienced elsewhere; effective transporation infrastructure not engaged in a death grip on the car. That means busses that run on time as well as everywhere and often, trains that run to everywhere and often - as well as on time depending on where you mean, and roads built specifically to accomodate bicyclists.

Also undergraduate educations that are pretty much free, at least by American standards, if you can hack it.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:02 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The right to form and be part of labor unions without interference from the employer. This implies certain individual worker's rights, so you can't just fire someone for being a union organizer.

The cost of higher education in the US is shocking. It isn't exactly shocking that you don't get it entirely for free, but for I think the absence of tuition fees here is a good thing.

From a Swedish point of view, it sounds backward to even talk about "maternal leave" rather than "parental leave". Encouraging fathers to take care of their kids is widely considered one of the most important ways to improve gender equality. That's for the benefit of both men, women and children.

Along the same lines, access to daycare is considered as a sound investment on purely economical grounds (as expressed by the right-wing minister of finance), since it allows parents - and women in particular - to be part of the workforce.
posted by springload at 9:15 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Meaningful support for the arts and intellectual inquiry, e.g.:
Norway buys 1000 copies of every book a Norwegian author publishes. It provides a $19,000 annual subsidy to every author who is a member of the Authors’ Union. The Association of Bookstores is allowed to have a monopoly on the sale of books—but is prohibited by law from engaging in price competition. It requires, by law, that bookstores keep books in stock for two years regardless of sales. And it exempts books from its very steep sales tax. Not surprisingly, Griswold finds, “Norwegians everywhere read, and they read a lot; Norway has one of the world’s highest reading rates.”
Source. Brought to you by another jealous American.
posted by unsub at 9:18 AM on October 23, 2012 [24 favorites]

Baby bonus. HOLY CRAP BABY BONUS. Okay so that's what it's called here, it's technically a tax credit. I moved to Canada from the US and I had no idea I was eligible for this money - conversely people here were gobsmacked the US has no equivalent. I couldn't claim it until I was a permanent resident but once I was (and there was some paperwork back-and-forth) I even got what I would have been entitled to while I was processing my residency retroactively.

So based on your income + number of children you have under 18, you get a check every month (obviously the more you earn, the less you get - it's a need-based thing). It's reassessed every year based on your taxes filed for the previous year. Plus now you get $100 per month per child you have under 6 no matter your income (we personally call this "Harper's money" and feel kind of dirty taking it - it's meant for "child care costs" but $100 does not get you very far - it's this feel-good thing which is supposed to make us all feel better that subsidized daycare got shot down when Harper became Prime Minister).

Anyway, yeah, so it pretty much means I receive a little something as a stay-at-home mother. I guess I shouldn't say little, it's enough to almost pay our basic living expenses every month right now (one breadwinner and a bunch of little kids) and I feel very very lucky this is how they do it - such a family-friendly policy. Canada has its issues of course but between this and the healthcare, I can't imagine moving back to the US.
posted by flex at 9:43 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know how wide-spread these are, but they were standard policies when I worked in these countries for myself as an expat, as well as the local population:

In China, there was a perk I really never quite understood, in which if you were of "older age" to be married, such as older than 25 years old for a woman and 26 years old for a guy, was some sort of a bonus (equivalent to two weeks salary for a "low-income" factory worker, and extra vacation days for the year you got married.

In Russia, the company is supposed to subsidize the cost for your meal at work. So either reasonable amount for lunch at a company that didn't have a cafeteria, or if they had a cafeteria, it's crazy cheap as you just pay for the raw ingredients and not for labor, utilities, etc. With maternity leave, I don't know how much salary you are paid at the time, but you are guaranteed your job, the same exact job, upon returning. You see heaps of job listings which indicate it's a 6-whatever month temporary position, as it's for someone on maternity leave.

In London, ALL of the museums were free basically all day, every day. Except for some special exhibits, where you had to pay extra. But I mean ALL of them. Unlike in the US where you just get maybe one day free/month, and therefore it's packed with people rather than just popping in and out as you wish. This was 9 years ago, so I don't know about now.

For my French colleagues, after working 6-8 years apparently you can take a 1-2 year "sabbatical" to do whatever you want, and if you want to return, you are guaranteed to have the same exact job returning back if you desired. I had many colleagues who spent that time to get an MBA, start a company, travel.

Also, according to my French spouse, in the US if you use your ATM card at a different branded bank, you're charged a fee. Apparently, within the EU Euro Zone, as long as your account was opened in the EU Euro currency zone, you can withdraw money from any bank's ATM without any fees.

Also, now working abroad in Europe (and seemingly it applies to most of Europe), I have nearly 5 weeks of vacation here versus the lame 2-3 weeks in the US. Seems like sick days are unlimited, as people are taking days if not WEEKS off claiming to be ill.
posted by peachtree at 9:52 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Baby Bonus, yeah. That kept us fed more than a few times as kids.
posted by bonehead at 10:01 AM on October 23, 2012

Maternity and paternity leaves.

This is backwards (I'm American shocked at other countries' services), but last time I was in France I learned that there's a subsidized lunch program for employees. Employers are required (I think? can't seem to find much in English about this on the web) to either a) provide an in-house canteen that serves a subsidized lunch or b) provide lunch tickets that the employee can then use at participating neighborhood restaurants. A serious lunch - I'm talking three courses here, with coffee and bread - might run 4 euros or so.

This is correct. Any meal that must be eaten between working hours - not just lunch if you're working overtime or on a different shift - must be reimbursed by the employer. The minimum reimbursement is raised every year according to inflation, and is just over 4 euros now for lunch. Employers can choose to reimburse more; mine reimburses 5.30 euros (currently, they raise it every year according to inflation). Some employers give out these "tickets restaurant" that actually cover more, but there is an employee contribution beyond the employer fraction.

As for other perks:
- the 25 paid days of vacation required by law in France, on top of which I get 12 more but those aren't government-ordained, "only" the 25 are
- public transportation that can in fact take you anywhere, a few feet away from pretty much any place
- work commute that is also required by law to be employer-reimbursed
- public transportation + that reimbursement = I pay 50 cents a day for unlimited transportation in the whole of PACA. Yes, that means that my yearly transportation budget is less than 140 euros. I do not own a car; I don't need one.
- unlimited (essentially) paid sick leave on doctor permission (there's a form they fill out)
- government restrictions on foreclosures: if you own a home, lose your job, run out of unemployment, and can't afford your mortgage, and you have nowhere else to go, you cannot be kicked out of your home. Rentals are slightly less protected, but it's still very difficult to kick out a non-paying renter, especially if they have good reason for not being able to pay. I've never had to benefit from this, but holy heck is it reassuring (speaking as a homeowner; I no longer rent).
posted by fraula at 10:08 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In France there are many cultural reductions that exist for teachers with the view point that it is important to be culturally educated. This includes free entries into national monuments and museums like the top/ balcony of Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Mont- Saint Michel, etc.

Not to be ra ra USA, but this is a little misleading. Major US national monument and museums have entrance fees that range from always free to free-one-day-a-week to pay-what-you-like.

Mandatory payment tend to be for private museums, or small municipal places. Washington DC has a mess of free to everyone. So too New York.

As to London, well, things change.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:10 AM on October 23, 2012

Austria: monthly payment per child up to age 25, 100-200 euro, depending on age and number of children; free or tiny-tuition university studies; 5 weeks paid vacation; extra salary for Christmas or summer vacation (13th or 14th monthly salary); public kindergarten (not always daycare); mandated compensation for getting laid off, depending on length of employment; paid sick leave, parental leave; good quality public radio; public health insurance pays for several weeks of "Kur"- resort stay with medical attention and recovery;
posted by meijusa at 10:15 AM on October 23, 2012

Switzerland: excellent public transport network, can get an abonnement for all public transport (train, bus, boat, funicular) in (almost) the whole country for about 2000 chf/year; good public radio and tv
posted by meijusa at 10:26 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Elections on a weekend so that 90% of the country is not at work (bonus: you can use schools as polling places).

funding for schools that at least attempts to even it out, instead of correlating with local property values.
posted by jacalata at 10:36 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


walk in sexual health/well women clinics at no charge. None.

Not even the usual basic NHS charges for example I would pay for dental treatment. I pay 17.50 for anything up to Root Canal treatment because i'm lucky to earn enough not to get all charges waived. For root canal which I have tomorrow morning I pay a grand total of (gasp!) £47.50

so even if I don't need any sexual health services but just can't manage to go to my GP for my pill I can walk in off the street give a false name or even no name, have a full panel of tests and walk out with free (whatever I need meds or contraception) because this is in the best interests of PUBLIC HEALTH.
posted by Wilder at 10:43 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Australia, the larger cities (Sydney, Perth, Melbourne) offer at least some form of free public transit in the core/CBD.
posted by skermunkil at 10:43 AM on October 23, 2012

"Like actual free school lunches for EVERY child, not just "poor" kids."

The U.S. is piloting this program in three states. It's being piloted in high-poverty districts where most children would qualify for free school lunch anyway, and may become standard in high-poverty districts ... or may spread even beyond that, depending on the success and popularity of the program (it's been surprisingly popular among middle-class parents in our district). They're hoping that reducing administrative costs for yearly enrollment in free and reduced-price lunch programs as well as daily administrative costs of doing the program will cover the increased food cost (so far, yes), and that it will provide better student nutrition and thereby better academic outcomes, while also removing stigma about free lunch. (So far all these goals are being met in the pilot programs.)

"Also in Sweden we pay a yearly burial tax and the government will put your remains in a box in the ground if no one else does."

Someone will do this in the U.S. too, but it's usually a city or county-level service.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2012

Remembered another one along the lines of the Baby Bonus, the GST credit which offsets the GST/HST paid by lower income Canadians. You don't have to send in any information about how much tax you actually paid, it's just based on an estimated/modelled amount.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2012

Another backwards (U.S.) viewpoint here, but: many other developed nations either make election days a national holiday or hold them on weekends. This (in conjunction with virtually automatic enrollment) explains how Sweden regularly gets 95% of the country to the polls.
posted by susanvance at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you get anything like Child Benefit in the States?

"Only one person can get Child Benefit for a child.
"You normally qualify for Child Benefit if you’re responsible for a child under 16 (or under 20 if they stay in approved education or training) and you live in the UK.
"Rate (weekly)
Eldest or only child £20.30
Additional children (per child) £13.40"

As I recall it was planned as a way of funneling the tax rebate due to families directly into the hands of whoever was responsible for the day-to-day expenditure needed by children. I'm not sure what's happening at the moment but I'm sure the Tories have plans to cap it or cut it or something.
posted by glasseyes at 11:30 AM on October 23, 2012

In the Netherlands, the government will send around a Dutch lady for a week after you have a kid, for a few hours a day. As far as I can figure out, her job is to tell you you're doing everything wrong and complain that you don't have the proper ingredients to cook a real meal. Then she leaves.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:15 PM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

1adam12 is talking about kraamzorg, which is part of the health care system.
posted by rubbish bin night at 12:54 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Voting on a Tuesday and the long lines (I've read that it can take over 2 hours). Our elections are always on a Saturday, and sure, if you pick a busy time, it can take you half an hour, but that's what the barbecues and lamington sales are for.
posted by b33j at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2012

Germany: Providing large amounts of public space that is safe and pleasant to be around (ie not filled with homeless people, beggars, untreated mentally ill persons, druggies). Among them city streets, parks, zoos, clean and beautiful public pools. Comparing Munich to the Bay Area might be a bit misleading though.

Postnatal care for women. I was literally sent home after giving birth with a 'see you in six weeks'! WTF people? First you treat birth like a scary medical emergency that necessitates huge amounts of intervention, and then you just send me on my merry way? Germany has postnatal midwife visits (10, I think). And maternity leave, of course.

(OTOH, the US has excellent public toilets that are NEVER out of toilet paper. Count your blessings.)
posted by The Toad at 1:00 PM on October 23, 2012

ooh, I forgot that one. Parks that are actually public spaces and don't close overnight, even in the inner city.
posted by jacalata at 1:04 PM on October 23, 2012

American living in Australia; spouse is Australian. This is why we moved back to Oz:
Austudy/HECS, national health care, vacation time, parental leave, enforced gun control laws, living minimum wage ($16/hr for adults over 21). Clean public toilets that always have toilet paper. Subsidized childcare. We'll never get rich here, but then, having a kid won't be total economic devastation here either. It feels cleaner and safer - it feels like it was developed to support the middle working classes, rather than the corporate/upper class. The tax structure encourages "middle class-ness" - and this is good. Less disparity, less crime, more small businesses, etc.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:48 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another backwards (U.S.) viewpoint here, but: many other developed nations either make election days a national holiday or hold them on weekends.

Yes! Holding elections on a weekday is quite shocking, as is the neglect of any measure that would bring more people to the polls. I read on the blue from time to time about malfunctioning voting machines considered too expensive to replace, people getting turned away wrongly at the polls, and politicians redrawing the maps to regroup voters in favorable ways. Maybe these reports are scandalized, but they look pretty alarming.

Here it is universally recognized that the most important government service is enabling people to vote easily and fairly, and there is absolute political consensus about the importance of a high voter turnout. Sorry to US-bash, but quite a few americans appear to view their country as the most democratic one in the world. With a voter turnout that risks dipping below 50%, that looks from the outside like a strong delusion.
posted by springload at 2:57 PM on October 23, 2012

No, IndigoJones, things haven't changed at all. Those are private attractions that were never free. The free ones are the really big deal ones like the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum. Info here.

Having just moved from the US to the UK, healthcare, maternity leave, and sick leave are the big ones. Along with the right to just not be fired whenever for whatever. People look at me like I'm crazy here when I talk about what's standard in the US.

I wish more people would say where they live in this thread. Renters rights for example are much, much, worse in London (where they are basically non existent) than in Los Angeles. (Ask me how I know!)
posted by crabintheocean at 3:11 PM on October 23, 2012

the US has excellent public toilets that are NEVER out of toilet paper

Where? Definitely not in cities. Maybe in a state park?
posted by crabintheocean at 3:13 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Australia - for low income card holders, at the state/territory level - cheap dental (I've had $5000 of work done free this year; I only paid $12 for subsidised pain medication) and optical ($27 basic pairs of glasses; Medicare allows for free eye checks every 2 years).
posted by quercus23 at 3:16 PM on October 23, 2012

I actually had a list of these things in my head from when I studied in NYC for a while, because there were so many of them that genuinely surprised me and made me appreciate my country (the UK) more. In no particular order:

Pest control. I was shocked by the prevalence of indoor pests in New York because here the council will usually provide free or very cheap pest control services, on the grounds that it is in everybody's damn interest to make sure that the place isn't crawling with cockroaches and rats.

Building standards that mean that, while you can get some awful cheap buildings, you don't have ones apparently built out of actual papier-mache like I encountered in Harlem, and you don't have widespread lead poisoning in children.

I only just realised that all the stuff about tax day and so forth was because there is not PAYE in the US, and frankly that is mental. I had just assumed that all the tax day stuff was coming from self-employed cartoonists and journos, but apparently not.

Safety standards on plugs and electronic items. I was properly scared the first time I saw electricity arcing through a plug as I put it into the socket.

Holidays, holidays, holidays. I have 27 days' leave per year, plus Bank Holidays. Employee rights in general.

The fact that public sector pay is centrally negotiated.

Never, ever having to queue more than 5 minutes to vote.

Free ATMs/holes-in-the wall, regardless of who you bank with. No walking for blocks and blocks to find a cash machine owned by your bank.

A sort of general sense that the police force is there to be broadly helpful (with some notable reservations) and you can approach them with your problems in a friendly way rather than cowering in fear and displaying exaggerated subsurvience. I was really frightened by NY police, and it wasn't just the guns, it was their general demeanour, even when they were supposedly helping me out. There was this whole theatre-of-authority thing going on that I haven't observed in even the most aggressive and overzealous policing I've seen in London.

As others have said, a school system that at least in funding terms is not skewed towards schools in better-off areas.

Party political broadcasts rather than wall-to-wall televised election ads.

The fact that you can't be charged to receive texts.

Legislation that means all TV advertising has to be clearly separated from the programming by 'idents' which, while they can be sponsored, cannot directly display or advertise any product. (My dad works in advertising, so I know a bit about the details of the UK legislation on what you can and can't do in an ident. When I first watched US TV, on the other hand, I found it immensely disorientating because it kept going back and forth between programming and advertising and I couldn't tell when one was beginning or ending.)

When I was in the US I found myself, through no actions of my own, in a rather sticky situation. I actually had someone sit me down and lecture me about the differences between the two countries. He said, "You need to understand that there is NO SAFETY NET here. It can be brutal. You need to protect yourself."
posted by Acheman at 3:29 PM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Short elections campaigns. Just had a quick look at the Australian Electoral Commision website, and from what I can understand, after an election is called (the current Prime Minister can call on any time within three years of the last one) the election is 33 to 68 days later. So we only have a few weeks of terrible "Vote for me, the other guy is an idiot".

Also, I think only the US and NZ can advertise prescription medication on TV.
posted by kjs4 at 4:16 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Subsidised medicines. A working person will pay not more than $20 to fill a perscription on most medicines. Low income people pay around $5. Once an annual limit is reached, sick people pay nothing.

Baby bonus. $5000 at birth of first child, $3000 at birth of subsequent kids.
Family payments. Like the Canadian bb scheme, this gives a tax break on weekly tax payments for parents with kids. Subsidised child care. Paid parental leave. Single parents pension.

Hospitals. Free public hospital treatments including emergency and hard core surgeries. Ambulance (state based) mostly covered through land tax thus a poor person renting is likely to be covered for their ambulance trip through the tax paid by landlord.

Social security. Ongoing unemployment benefits. Small business start up support for one year equal to unemployment. Sickness benefits when too sick to work short term.

Disability. A just introduced national disability scheme that provides funds for disabled people to self-determine their treatment.

Work. Natioanl minimum wage. Compulsory 9% superannuation (pension) contributions payable by employer. Minimum 4 weks annual leave for permenant employees. Paid sick leave. Paid 3 months long service leave after 10 years with an employer. Protections agains discriminations and unfair dismisals. Plus other protections and benefits. Low income people get $500 pa from the government into their superannuation fund.

Unions. Based on industry not employer. Not allowed to discriminate against union membership or non membership.

Students. Austudy is a government provided student income for (many) students in high school and university/tafe. Uni course fees payable but deferable for ever if income levels never reach a certain level. Fees then paid via percentage of income.

No state taxes, only federal for business and wage earners (gst, company and income tax). No income tax for people earning 18k or less per annum.

Elections. Compulsory voting (a good thing). Elections held on Saturdays. National Election Commission thus elections are run uniformly around the country using the one system.

Environmental Defenders Office. Funded law providers for people to take legal action on environmental issues.

Footpaths/sidewalks on almost all urban roads with grading at corners for easy descent when crossing the road with a pram, wheelchair etc. Low income people also get transport discounts on public transport.
posted by the fish at 4:31 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Australia, the HECS (or HELP now) - Higher Education Contribution Scheme. I finished high school, went to university, finished five years later, and didn't pay a cent. The government loans me money for the tuition, and I then pay it back when I start earning income. The only interest on the loan is 3% inflation, and if I don't earn enough money in a year then I don't make any repayments. It means anyone can go to university and not have to worry about the cost.

Oh, and the cost for five years of study (two degrees and an honours year) was about $35000.

Also, while I was studying I was on youth allowance, which was about $250 a fortnight so I could study instead of working every night.
posted by twirlypen at 4:31 PM on October 23, 2012

The US does not give you a baby bonus, but the tax code has some pro-child aspects built in. The Child Tax Credit, inceased eligibility for Earned Income Tax Credit, lower rates for heads of households, etc. So there is no equivalent "$X a month just for having a kid" bonus, but the government does a lot of policy through tax credits, and a married parent has a significantly lower tax burden than a childless single of the same income.

As an American, I will chime in that our undergraduate and graduate education finance systems are barbaric.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:39 PM on October 23, 2012

jacalata: "Elections on a weekend so that 90% of the country is not at work (bonus: you can use schools as polling places)."

Also, a national election commission! It's mind-boggling to most non-Americans that a national election (Congress, president, Senate) can have voting regulations that differ state-by-state or even county-by-county.
posted by vasi at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2012

Early childhood education.

Yes, just to confirm, in the UK every child is entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week after the age of three, and they go to school full time the September after their fourth birthday (some people think that's too soon).
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:13 AM on October 24, 2012

Subsidized holidays (including thermal spa treatments) for senior citizens in Portugal and, I'm sure, elsewhere in Europe.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 4:52 AM on October 24, 2012

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