Radical roundup: 10 stories you might have missed this week

With so much going on, crucial stories are slipping through the cracks.

Here’s some highlights of what you might not have seen reported this week

10. Scottish Greens challenge BBC over ‘breach of transparency rules’

Scottish Greens Media Spokesperson Ross Greer MSP has lodged an official complaint with the BBC, after its flagship radio news programme Good Morning Scotland hosted a right-wing think tank to debate an issue ‘without even asking who funds them’.

In a letter to Director General Tony Hall, Mr Greer refers to an appearance of the Institute for Economic Affair on GMS on Thursday where they discussed the minimum unit pricing of alcohol, a policy the think tank claims is ineffective.

“At no point during the package did the BBC make it clear that the IEA has been funded by the alcohol industry, despite a recent change in editorial guidelines making clear that they should do so,” the Greens said. In 2014, a senior IEA staffer appeared to confirm the group received funding from the alcohol industry.

9. Frontline staff suffering huge levels of anxiety

Thousands of people working in the NHS, social care and local services have contacted a UNISON hotline in the last week expressing anxiety at the lack of gloves, masks, eye protectors and gowns where they work.

Staff from across the UK’s public services say they’re scared that without the right protective equipment, they risk catching the virus and passing it on to their families, or the elderly and vulnerable people they work with and care for. UNISON have passed the stories to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, urging him to act.

8. Keep parks open this weekend, Green say

The Green Party has urged the government to help local authorities redeploy staff from non-essential roles in order to keep parks and green spaces open this Easter bank holiday weekend. Jonathan Bartley writes about the issue on LFF here.

7. Labour condemn continued government shaming of workers as ‘low skilled’

Responding to the government’s publication of material on its ‘points-based immigration system’ for employers, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “These last few weeks have been a stark reminder, not that one should be needed, of the incredibly important  contribution frontline workers make in our communities.

“Workers like nurses, carers, supermarket staff and refuse collectors are playing a vital role in saving lives and keeping our country running, often at risk to themselves. It will be a slap in the face to many of these workers to see themselves classed as low skilled and unwelcome in Britain.”

6. Fine people £1,000 for travelling unnecessarily, Plaid Cymru say

Fines should be a “real-deterrent” to people not respecting non-essential travel ban says Plaid Leader Adam Price: “As this Easter weekend promises to bring with it good weather, many will be tempted to travel to second homes, a holiday let, or for a day out.

“Those who don’t respect the non-essential travel ban should face fines of £1,000 – a level which can prove to be a real deterrent,” the Assembly Member said.

5. Court action over lack of schooling during pandemic

The Good Law Project has started urgent legal proceedings to establish the right of every school-age child in England to an education.

“We want the Government to come up with a plan for these children, before they fall behind,” the group said. They are crowdfunding for a legal challenge here.

4. Institute for Fiscal Studies call for benefit cap to be lifted or scrapped amid coronavirus crisis

On the eve of the economic crisis caused by the public health response to coronavirus, around 76,000 working-age families were subject to the benefit cap, according to the respected IFS think tank.

The cap means that most of these families, and some of those who have since lost employment during the crisis won’t benefit at all from the temporary increases in benefits announced by the Chancellor. 

Robert Joyce, Deputy Director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The government has implemented a substantial temporary increase in the generosity of the welfare safety net. But the overall cap on how much a working-age family can receive in benefits will mean that those increases will not benefit most of the around 76,000 families who were already capped on the eve of the crisis, as well as a small fraction of the large number who appear to have lost employment during the crisis.

“At the present time encouraging families to move into paid work, or to cheaper housing, is less of a priority. The government should therefore temporarily raise or remove the cap.”

3. Health researchers warned of UK’s lack of preparation for a pandemic back in 2013

The Centre for Health and the Public Interest warned of the lack of preparation for a pandemic years ago, but went ignored, it emerged this week.

“[The threat] is something which has concerned us at CHPI for a number of years. In 2013 we published a detailed assessment of the impact that the 2012 Health and Social Care Act would have on the ability of the NHS to respond effectively to a pandemic like COVID-19.

“We were concerned about the lack of resilience in a health system which was governed by the principles of competition and marketisation and the difficulties in co-ordinating this highly fragmented structure in a national emergency,” the group said.

2. Calls grow for ‘virtual Parliament’ and stronger scrutiny of Covid-19 response

The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip called for an urgent all-party meeting to discuss remote working for Parliament, including a special committee of MPs, chaired by the Leader of the Opposition, to scrutinise the government’s coronavirus response.

“In uncertain times and with sweeping powers enacted, democratic accountability demands that the parties outside of government are at the heart of the discussion. I believe that it is right and proper that the Leader of the Opposition chair this committee,” Alistair Carmichael MP said.

1. UK in breach of international law on workers’ rights

In a new report for the Institute of Employment Rights, Dr Andrew Moretta finds the UK government to be in breach of its international and regional treaty obligations.

He suggests that a new Workers’ Bill of Rights be introduced to implement the UK’s employment-related treaty obligations, including the right for workers to strike, and mechanisms to promote collective bargaining at both an enterprise and sectoral level.

Dr Moretta, of the University of Liverpool, said: “Again and again, history has shown that a collective foundation to workers’ rights – through democratic trade unionism – lays the groundwork for better statutory rights too. When workers’ have a voice in the economy to equal that of employers, employment laws are fairer and more balanced. What we’ve seen in the UK since the 1980s is a shift away from a just system and towards one that favours the rights of business over the rights of their staff.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has brought to light how these individualised rights make it difficult for us to act collectively when we need to. Workers are afraid to stay at home in case they are dismissed; stories of dangerous health and safety violations abound.

“When this crisis is over, and we grapple with a new recession, we must respond in the same collective spirit that will help us to win our battle against this disease. It’s time to make sure the economy is working for all of us.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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