Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried this week

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Nurses marched on Downing Street on Wednesday to protest the government’s decision to put off a pay rise for NHS staff until April 2021.

Iain Wilson, nurse and member of Keep Our NHS Public said: “I’m tired of this government letting us down. They lie about privatising our jobs, about recruiting 50,000 more nurses and about PPE during the pandemic. Things can’t improve in the NHS without more staff to care for our aging population, and we won’t have more staff until existing staff are trusted and valued, so that more people want to join us. After everything we’ve done, we deserve better, and a pay rise should be the start.”

Nurse Mark Boothroyd, branch Secretary of Unite union branch at Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital said: “NHS workers have been criminally let down by this government. Despite all our sacrifices, the government has not included nurses in the pay deal for public sector workers. We have worked masses of overtime, isolated from our families, and lost over 540 of our colleagues to COVID-19. We are not valued. NHS workers deserve a pay rise after a decade of austerity for the 20% pay cut since 2010, and to address the 40,000 vacancies across the NHS that puts our patients at risk.”

9. Family members of people in prison and campaigners from the Prisoner Solidarity Network and bluebaglife are calling for action on extreme temperatures in prison cells as another heatwave hits, with temperatures expected to reach 32 degrees on Friday.

People held in several prisons including HMP Coldingley, HMP Frankland, HMP Highdown and others have reported feeling ill and being unable to sleep as they are locked up in cells with poor ventilation and no fans for up to 24 hours per day, according to the campaigners.

Most prisoners are now held in solitary confinement – locked in their cells for between 22 to 24 hours per day – due to coronavirus restrictions, and families and friends say they’re extremely worried about the impact of excessive temperatures on the physical and mental health of their loved ones.

One partner of a now-released prisoner said: “The cell he spends 23 hours a day in has a window that only opens about two inches at the most. He hasn’t been able to sleep and says the heat and lack of air is unbearable.”

Elliot Murawski, who was also in prison until recently, said: “Prison cells in the summer are ridiculously hot. I remember one cell on the top floor specifically. They’d left the heating on until the end of May and the hot weather had started. My windows were the type that didn’t open, we just had small vents. It was unbearable. I had a clock sent in that showed the temperature – it was 37 degrees. The only thing I could do to cope with the heat was lay with a wet towel over my body. I barely slept for weeks.”

8. A new national network been launched to campaign for human rights in Palestine. Palestine Action says it has “come together to promote civil disobedience and take direct action against the companies and institutions that Israel uses to violently enforce apartheid, occupation and colonisation on the people of Palestine.”

In a statement, the group said: “Israel wants to make the theft of the Jordan Valley official, and will annex Israel’s illegal colonies. It continues to steal more and more Palestinian land, destroying Palestinian homes using machinery made by British company JCB.

“Meanwhile, Gaza’s skies are filled with unpiloted killer drones, controlled by soldiers who never see the lives they are destroying. Israeli companies like Elbit Systems sell their weapons as ‘battle tested’, on a population of Gaza that is mostly children. In England there are four Elbit arms factories profiting from Israel’s war crimes… Despite their attempts to expose the collusion of these companies, these actions have been met with silence. We are tired of being ignored.”

7. Private renters are twice as likely as home-owners to live in unacceptably cold properties, and could miss out on new government funding to insulate their homes, analysis by Generation Rent has found.

Generation Rent has warned the Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng that private renters could lose out on benefiting from the government’s £2bn fund for insulating homes if the scheme does not make it easy for renters to take the initiative to get improvements.

The Green Homes Grant was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 8 July to provide up to £5000 for measures to improve energy efficiency in owner occupied and private rented homes. To benefit private renters in proportion to the scale of the problem, at least £700m of the £2bn fund needs to improve private rented homes.

The recent English Housing Survey found that of 4.805m private rented homes, 459,000 – 10% – failed the Decent Homes Standard on thermal comfort criteria. While 834,000 owner-occupied homes failed the same criteria, this accounts for just 5% of the total of 15.294m such homes. Generation Rent say landlords are unlikely to feel incentivised to make the improvements as they do not pay tenants’ electricity bills.

6. Under half (45%) of people in England report having a ‘broad understanding’ of the current lockdown rules, compared to 90% across the UK during the strict lockdown period, finds UCL’s Covid-19 Social Study.

Levels in Scotland and Wales have also fallen but are higher than those in England, with reported levels of understanding at 75% and 61% respectively. Complete understanding has fallen even further, with only 14% of adults in England reporting understanding the rules completely as lockdown eased, compared to 18% in Wales and 27% in Scotland.

5. Candidates are gearing up their campaigns to become the next general secretary of Unison, the UK’s largest union.

Margaret Greer has joined the race to succeed Dave Prentis as general secretary, following the announcement that he will retire at the end of 2021. Greer would be the first woman and first Black general secretary of the union.

LabourList reports: “Glasgow-born Christina McAnea, currently assistant general secretary at Unison, has also formally announced her intention to stand for the job this week and launched a campaign…

“Roger McKenzie, also an assistant general secretary at Unison, launched his campaign last week. He is considered to be on the left of the Labour-affiliated union…

“Hugo Pierre, a member of UNISON’s national executive council – as a representative of Black members – and of the Socialist Party, has said he is “looking to be the candidate of the left”.

4. The trade union United Voices of the World (UVW) has launched a fundraiser so its former Head of Legal – Franck Magennis, a barrister with Garden Court Chambers – can take legal action against the Metropolitan Police after being ‘unlawfully arrested’ on a picket line in January of this year.

The arrest, which took place on January 13th at St. George’s University of London, saw Mr Magennis handcuffed and detained in mid-conversation with a Metropolitan Police officer as he inquired into the legality of workers and UVW staff being threatened with arrest under Section 119 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The arrest led to the breakup of the workers’ picket.

3. The number of people who have died in prisons in England and Wales is falling, but incidents of self-injury continue to rise year on year, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform have revealed.

A statistical bulletin published by the Ministry of Justice shows that 294 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to the end of June 2020. They included 76 people who lost their lives through suicide. Between March and June 2020, 26 people died in circumstances where Covid-19 was assessed to be a contributory factor.

The bulletin states that prisons recorded 64,552 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of March 2020, at a rate of one every eight minutes. This represents an 11 per cent rise compared to the previous 12 months.

2. The Women’s Equality Party has welcomed the news that Charlie Elphicke has been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault, and demanded urgent changes to the Recall Act and party selection processes in light of the verdict.

Women’s Equality Party leader Mandu Reid said: “This verdict is a huge victory in the fight to ensure that powerful men face consequences for sexual violence, harassment and abuse, but we must not forget that it is also an outlier. The shockingly low rate of prosecutions for rape and sexual assault in our criminal justice system means that sex crimes have all but been decriminalised. Let’s hope that Elphicke’s conviction, for historic allegations based on testimony evidence, will prompt the Crown Prosecution Service to think twice before dismissing other cases and denying women justice.

1. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds MP, tore into the Government’s new public sector recruitment drive.

“It feels pretty rich for the Prime Minister to talk of valuing the public sector when the Covid-19 crisis has shown just how starkly his Government has let down our NHS and social care workers.

“Let’s not forget that the reason the Prime Minister needs to launch a recruitment drive is because Conservative governments have cut our public services to the bone.

“If the Government is serious about attracting people to work in the public sector then he needs to show that he values those who already do, giving them the equipment they need and the pay talks they deserve,” she said.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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