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: editor@leftfootforward.org

10. The Ministry of Justice’s “naive” approach to outsourcing has failed the taxpayer and prisoners – especially women, according to a new report.

Just 206 new prison places have been delivered out of 10,000 promised by 2020, with many prisons crowded, unsafe and with “dangerously high levels of violence and self-harm”, the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has found.

Attempts to improve the condition and suitability of the prison estate through outsourcing echo the “disastrous” probation reforms of 2014 that were finally abandoned and reversed earlier this year, PAC says.

The Committee pointed out: “The Ministry has once again exposed taxpayers to higher than expected costs as a result of inadequate planning, unrealistic assumptions and poor performance whilst managing facilities within prisons.”

Rather than delivering even a fraction of the promised places, HMPPS outsourcing has allowed a staggering backlog of maintenance work to build up that will cost more than £900 million to address and means that 500 prison places are taken permanently out of action each year, due to their poor condition. 

9. The UK licensed billions of pounds worth of arms to human rights abusing regimes from 2010-2019, according to research by Campaign Against Arms Trade.

£16bn went to countries listed as ‘not free’ by Freedom House, including 36 of the 49 countries on the NGO’s list.  Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China and Bahrain were among them. Arms sales include fighter jets, bombs, rifles, small arms ammunition, and tear gas.

The UK arms trade has been dominated by sales to the Middle East. Of the countries listed, the five largest buyers were: 

  • Saudi Arabia: £9.3 billion (including fighter jets, bombs, missiles, and small arms) 
  • Oman: £2.5 billion (including fighter jets, assault rifles, tank components and tear gas) 
  • Turkey: £1.4 billion (including components for fighter jets and military vehicles, machine guns, sniper rifles and targeting equipment)  
  • United Arab Emirates: £1 billion (including weapon sights, small arms ammunition, assault rifles, ‘crowd control ammunition’ and electronic warfare equipment) 
  • Qatar: £573 million (including small arms, fighter jet components, ammunition, sniper rifles and gun mountings)

In reality the real total figures will be a great deal higher, with many arms being licensed via an opaque and secretive Open Licence system which allows an unlimited transfer of arms within a fixed time-period. This means that the total values are not published. 

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “It has been yet another decade of shameful arms sales and disgraceful alliances. By arming these regimes, Downing Street is sending them a clear message of political and military support. These weapons are not just numbers on a trade sheet, they have been used to empower dictatorships and inflict repression on pro-democracy campaigners.” 

8.  Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (BLAM UK) will run free racial ‘wellness group therapy’ sessions for the Black Community in the UK, following reports of growing racism-linked trauma amid the Black Lives Matter Movement.

A statement from the London-based charity, which works to strengthen the links with the Black diaspora in the UK and worldwide, said: “For many members of the Black community, the world’s realisation of the Black experience has resulted in the further decline of our racial esteem and wellbeing as a group.

“The recent video of Jacob Blake [shot by US police in August] has furthered the current normalised trend of invoking accountability, through the sharing of graphic videos of Black bodies being brutalised…Research has shown that almost a quarter of people who saw the content of violent events developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Racial trauma is not a new concept. It has been happening for centuries and to different racial groups, including, Ingenious Australians, Native Americans and People of colour as a whole.”

The charity is delivering online group therapeutic workshop led by Black therapists. Groups will look at coping mechanisms to deal with racial trauma.

Those affected by these issues can sign up here.

7. The Good Law Project says it has initiated preliminary discussions with ‘several leading lawyers’ to challenge deliberate plans by the government to break international law.

Ministers want to breach the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement it signed only seven months ago. GLP says it amounts to a ‘clear breach of the Ministerial Code’, after Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, confirmed the Government wanted to override the treaty.

6. The SNP’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has urged the UK Tory government to maintain the £20 increase to Universal Credit – instead of axeing it in April 2021.

Leading anti-poverty charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has published a report setting out how the £20 increase has been a lifeline for families during the coronavirus crisis and called for it to be made permanent and extended to legacy benefits to strengthen the social security net.

The report follows repeated calls from campaigners for Boris Johnson to take action to rebuild the social security net – after his party spent a decade dismantling it through austerity.

Neil Gray MP said: “The Tories have an opportunity at the upcoming budget to do what is right and maintain this lifeline, as well as extend the increase to legacy benefits. I urge them to do so to prevent people being pushed into, or further into, hardship.

“Taking this action would be a good first step in rebuilding the social security net but far more needs to be done if they are to make up for the damage caused by ten years of brutal austerity cuts.”

5. Law firm Leigh Day has sent a legal letter to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace asking for an urgent clarification from the MoD on their reported blacklisting of the investigative site Declassified UK.

The letter notes that such a policy would be a serious breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.

It also notes that the actions of the MoD press team may also contravene duties of impartiality and neutrality set out in the Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance as well as the Civil Service Code. Read more on the story here.

4. Social justice law firm, Thompsons Solicitors, has appointed its first female chief executive as it enters its centenary year.

Clare Mellor, a member of the firm’s Executive Board for five years as operations director, will lead Thompsons on the retirement of Stephen Cavalier. Clare Mellor joined Thompsons in 2001 as a personal injury solicitor, which is the mainstay of the firm’s caseload.  

Stephen Cavalier retires following 33 years with the firm, 17 of which were on Thompsons’ Executive Board and 14 as chief executive.

Clare Mellor said: “While my appointment represents real change, in terms of both generation and gender, there will be no alteration to our commitment to the trade union and Labour Movement or providing a first-class service to claimants that has always been Thompsons’ hallmark.  

“As with all firms acting for injured people, we face testing times ahead particularly in the aftermath of Covid. But we are well-placed, given our focus, size, history of ground-breaking work and the talent within the firm, to meet these challenges head on and thrive, while further strengthening the central social justice ethos and commitment to the unions that is so intrinsic to the firm.”

3. The first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change, Climate Assembly UK, published its final report on Thursday, setting out a ‘clear, internally consistent and timely path’ for how the UK can reach its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Six Select Committees of the House of Commons commissioned the citizens’ assembly to understand public preferences on how the UK should tackle climate change because of the impact these decisions will have on people’s lives. 

In a statement opening the report, Assembly members said that it is “imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from Government” that should “forge a cross-party consensus that allows for certainty, long-term planning and a phased transition” and stress that “now is not the time for scoring party political points.” 

One assembly member commented: “It is the ambition of every government to remain in power. This ambition has, in the past, limited government’s appetite to take bold and decisive action on policies which might prove too hard or unpopular with the electorate. This can no longer be the case.”

2. Tory backbencher Sir Bob Neill MP has tabled an amendment to the Internal Markets Bill, hinting he has significant support for the amendment which would establish a parliamentary lock on government changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Speaking to John Pienaar on Times Radio, Sir Bob said: “I wouldn’t be continuing to press the issue if it was purely something it was a hobby horse of mine.”

“We are not natural rebels. We’ve all served as ministers, we know that this is a serious job, and we do our best to take the job seriously. So we don’t do anything like this lightly. So I hope it’s at least an indication as a government that really, you need to think very hard and carefully about going down this route. For heaven’s sake, try and find some other way.”

When John Pienaar asked whether he was prepared to lose the Conservative whip over the issue, Sir Bob replied: “You never take a step in public life without being prepared to stand by it do you?”

1. This Saturday will see more than 20 socially distanced protests take place around Britain organised by the grassroots group NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality. 

They are calling on the government to formally recognise the contribution of NHS staff during this pandemic by giving them a 15% pay rise. Nurses, junior doctors and other health workers say they’ve been left out of recent pay increases and many are struggling after a decade of wage freezes which has seen some staff lose up to 20% of their salary in real terms.

There are currently over 100,000 NHS vacancies. According to a recent survey, this is set to increase following the impact of COVID-19, and retaining staff at all levels by valuing them financially is therefore vital to the future longevity of the NHS. Keep Our NHS Public are supporting these events which will take place in a safe manner whilst observing social distancing guidelines.

Holly Turner, a nurse from NHSworkers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality, said: “NHS workers across the country continue to exercise their right to peaceful protest. National days of action are so important to raise awareness of our movement. Last week the prime minister said in parliament that we had received a 12.5% pay rise, we need to call this out as it is not the case.

“We are calling on the public to get behind us in supporting NHS workers, and the NHS as a whole. The workers are the NHS. As we approach a second wave, services will not cope unless the government moves forward with placing value in its NHS workers and paying us what we are owed.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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