Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried (4th Nov 2020)

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

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

10. The Scottish National Party has challenged Boris Johnson to condemn US President Donald Trump’s false claims of “major fraud” in the US election.

Speaking at Prime Ministers Questions, the SNP Westminster Leader said ” Donald Trump claimed an unsupported victory and “major fraud” with millions of legitimate ballots left to count – I hope the Prime Minister will join me in condemning his actions this morning.”

However, the Prime Minister failed to condemn Donald Trump’s actions or answer the question. Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “The US elections are a decision for the American people – but the outcome matters to the whole world, as does the importance of upholding the integrity of democracy.

“The Prime Minister has a responsibility to promote these values and challenge attempts to erode the democratic process around the world. With his reputation as ‘Britain Trump’, Boris Johnson has a particular duty to speak out and distance himself from his friend’s false claims of major fraud and unsupported declarations of victory before the votes have been counted. The fact that he won’t speaks volumes.”

9. The University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have said that the government’s failure to instruct universities to move to online learning where possible would put public health at risk.

UCU and NUS have issued a joint statement calling on the Westminster government to revise their guidance for universities, and issue a clear call for working to be immediately moved online wherever possible during the current lockdown.  

The unions said that the latest government advice on online learning was contradictory. Government guidance on the 31st October stated that universities and adult education settings should “consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible”.

But a letter from the universities minister Michelle Donelan to vice chancellors on Monday called for universities to ensure “all students have some form of face-to-face learning” and updated guidance on the 3rd November states “We would expect face to face teaching to continue”.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The health and safety of the country is being put at risk because of this government’s insistence that universities must continue with in-person teaching. Lessons need to be learnt from the outbreaks we have seen on campuses across the country this term.”

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said: “The government needs to give students some power and control over their lives again.  They sold students a lie of a normal student experience in the summer, and dragged everyone back to campuses to get their rent money and then blamed them for a second wave. This has got to stop.”

8. Self-employed people have avoided a major cut to Universal Credit after the return of the ‘minimum income floor’ was delayed until April.

Labour has welcomed what they say is a government u-turn, which will boost access to UC during the pandemic.

Jonathan Reynolds MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Finally the Government have seen sense and pulled their plans to cut support for the self-employed.

“While we welcome the limited extension until April, the Government must stop these last minute cliff edges which only add to the stress and confusion facing Britain’s self-employed. The Chancellor must get a grip and set out a plan for the next six months.”

7. The Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee is to investigate the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people and how the DWP can better support disabled people in the labour market.

The inquiry will examine trends in the disability employment gap, the economic impact of low employment rates for disabled people and the assistance available to help people in work. It will also cover the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Almost one in five working-age people has a disability or long-term health condition. For some, this has little impact on their ability to work. But too often, having a disability or a long-term health condition means dropping out of the labour market entirely. With the right support, this can often be avoided. The Committee wants to look broadly at the support DWP offers to disabled people and to consider how this could be improved to help people find, stay, and progress in work.”

6. Brexit is a key reason for the increase in support for Scotland to leave the UK and go its own way, according to a new report.

Analysis by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) and whatscotlandthinks reveals that most Scots are pessimistic about Brexit and that the increase in support for independence is among those who remain positive about the EU.

Commenting, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “This report clearly shows that Scotland doesn’t want to be dragged out of the European Union, especially not on the reckless and deregulated terms dictated by the Tory right.

“More and more people are realising that Scotland’s future doesn’t have to be tied to an increasingly undemocratic and right-wing United Kingdom. Instead, we could be leading the green recovery and renewable energy charge across the continent with our own seat at the European table.

5. More than 50 public health directors, sector experts and healthcare professionals have written to Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock calling on Government to allocate additional funding to the Healthy Start scheme which supports low-income families. 

The letter urges government to increase the value of the voucher to £4.25 a week. The value of Healthy Start vouchers has not increased since 2009.  

The ask is one of three key recommendations from the National Food Strategy and footballer Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, alongside expansion of Free School Meals and holiday food provision. The ask is also part of Marcus Rashford’s petition which more than 1 million people have signed to date. 

The Healthy Start scheme provides pregnant women and low-income families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with children under 4 with free vitamins and food vouchers to purchase vegetables, fruit, pulses and milk. 

4. Fire and rescue services won’t be ready for major threats to the UK without more firefighters, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned, as new figures show brigades have faced the Covid-19 pandemic with 11,237 fewer firefighters than in 2010.

The combined threats of climate change related events such as flooding and wildfires, pandemics, terrorism, and the post-Grenfell building safety crisis will require the immediate funding for at least 5,000 firefighters in the next year, the FBU says, to ensure the fire and rescue service can tackle “the risks of today and tomorrow”.

Without additional crews, the public face a “roll of the dice” every time a major incident occurs, with firefighters hoping that it won’t coincide with another serious emergency, the union says. If the pandemic had broken out during mass-flooding earlier this year, the FBU warns firefighters might not have been able to support the pandemic response.

3. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for a Universal Basic Income, to make sure ‘no one is left struggling to survive during this pandemic’.

The petition, from the Organise platform, calls for an unconditional monthly payment to people in the UK, stating: “Millions of us are being left without support this winter while the coronavirus crisis continues. We’re heading into a second lockdown that could last for months – but this time, the government is closing workplaces and running furlough on the cheap. Already, so many of us are falling through the cracks of government support, with no income since March. Universal Credit is taking weeks and £94 a week is not enough to pay rent and bills.

“The government urgently needs to provide an emergency basic income: a straightforward monthly payment that supports us with basic essentials. No complicated criteria or massive delays.”

2. Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative chair of the Health and Social care Committee, has backed calls for Covid contact tracing to be handed over to local, publicly-run teams – instead of private contractors.

Mr Hunt said in parliament on Monday: “This is the moment to recognise the uncomfortable truth that this would be better done locally and giving it to local authorities to take the ultimate responsibility.”

Public ownership campaign WeOwnit said it marked a ‘huge’ moment. In an email to supporters, the group said: “[MPs] should be scrapping the private companies and asking them to give every penny back to public health teams. They’re the ones who have been mopping up the private companies’ failures, reaching far more contacts, as well as supporting people to self isolate.”

1. The Stop Trump coalition have set out five things people in the UK can do to show solidarity with progressives in the US, as Donald Trump attempts to undermine the legitimacy of millions of mail-in ballots.

The group will hold an online rally this evening, and have launched a ‘write to your MP’ action saying the UK government must condemn Trump. It follows Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refusing  to say Trump was wrong to claim victory in the election before votes were counted. “We must demand that the UK government stands up for democracy by calling out Trump’s lies,” the group said.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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