Radical roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – 16th December 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. NHS rules have been changed in England so that pregnant women can have one person with them “at all times” during maternity appointments, labour and after birth.

The move comes after Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake spoke out about her “very difficult” experience in a Parliamentary debate on baby loss earlier this year. 

The blanket ban on visiting patients or accompanying them to hospital appointments in England was lifted on 5 June, leaving individual NHS authorities to decide on rules around outpatient appointments. Many NHS authorities continued to prevent partners from attending scans, leaving expectant mums in some parts of the country to attend important pregnancy appointments alone.

Last month Blake told a Westminster Hall debate she had raised concerns about the issue on behalf of her constituents in June. “Little did I know that I would be experiencing a miscarriage in August and having to go through some of the issues that my constituents had raised with me,” she said.

“Going to A&E, my partner having to wait in the car park, getting confused and muddled about my dates, being unable to have a hug, someone to hold my hand or support to hear the news that I was having a miscarriage. Receiving bad news on your own is not only incredibly traumatic and challenging, but then having to go and repeat that news to your partner in a car park is another level of difficult. No-one should be put in that position but too many people have been.”

9. Rail fares are set to rise above the rate of inflation again from March.

Commenting, Cat Hobbs, Director of public ownership campaigners We Own It, said: “Raising fares above inflation at a time when our railways are facing their biggest crisis in history is a baffling and self-defeating move by the Department for Transport. The idea that you can simultaneously increase passenger numbers while charging them even more is absurd.

“To make this all the more galling, private rail companies have already received multi-million pound bailouts from the government during the covid crisis. Now passengers are being expected to pay again just to protect the rail industry’s bottom line.”

She added: “Coronavirus has exposed the utter farce of privatised rail, where private companies are allowed to rake in profits in the good times and are paid by the state to run empty trains in the bad times. It would be much simpler, cheaper and more efficient to bring the whole railway into public ownership, which would deliver a rail network that’s reliable, integrated and fit for the 21st century.”

8. The government’s “test-to-release” plan, designed to reduce the quarantine period, looks in danger of collapse within hours of its launch.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This vital service appears to be descending into chaos. The Conservative Government has had months to get this system right and Labour has been calling for action on this critical issue. Failures are incredibly damaging to our economy and people’s plans. They urgently need to get a grip.”

7. Unite the union, which represents over 100,000 health workers, has backed a call by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that the government’s plans to relax social distancing rules over Christmas should be dropped, to help ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed in the new year by a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Unite is highly concerned that hospitals are already running close to capacity and that they threaten to be overwhelmed by a surge in Covid-19 cases. Problems of demand could be made even worse if there is a sustained period of bad weather. Unite members are already reporting long waits occurring at A&E departments.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “No one wants to be a Grinch at Christmas but relaxing the rules for five days is a dangerous folly.

“If the government goes ahead with its plans all the hard work will be thrown out of the window and a surge in Covid cases could result in the NHS being overwhelmed.

“January is always the busiest time of year for the NHS and if action is not taken now, Unite members working in the NHS do not believe it will be able to cope. The blame for this looming fiasco must fall at the door of the government,” he said.

6. The Tory government has come under fire over its move to yet again roll back on Lords’ amendments that sought to protect the devolution settlement and prevent the Tories from grabbing devolved powers and hoarding them in Westminster.

In the House of Commons, the UK government reinserted wrecking ball amendments on Tuesday – despite suffering another round of defeats in the House of Lords.

SNP MP Drew Hendry said: “The Tory government detests devolution and any pretence otherwise has been swept away by this power grab bill, as it puts into action the casual contempt it has for the devolved Parliaments.

“Yet again, the Tories ditched key Lords’ amendments and ploughed ahead with plans to impose a bill which seeks to bypass the devolved governments, spend in devolved areas, and force them to accept standards set by Westminster in devolved policy areas like public health measures, the environment, and food safety.

He added: “Despite the Bill being torn apart in the Lords and rejected by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, the Tory government has railroaded ahead regardless. The Internal Market Bill is a democratic disgrace, and the devolution demolishing Tories know it.”

5. Unemployment is on the rise, and now sits at 4.9% – with hospitality the worst-hit sector.  

Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “These figures are a condemnation of this Government’s failure to get a grip on the pandemic’s impact on jobs, leaving far too many families worried about how they are going to put food on the table this Christmas.

“The Chancellor’s constant chop-and-change approach to the furlough scheme and his inability to put together a comprehensive plan to save jobs is taking a huge toll.

“The Government must ensure furlough stays in place until at least June – and extend support to the three million people who still remain excluded from any support whatsoever. Just as crucially, Ministers must ensure there is an Adjustment Period for businesses before new trade rules begin, to avoid a second spike in redundancies.”

4. Figures published by National Records of Scotland reveal that there were 1,264 drug related deaths in 2019, a record high.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP described the findings as “heart-breaking”. He said: “When the 2018 statistics were published, revealing a record 1,187 drug deaths, many thought that would be a wake-up call for government. Yet the 2019 figures are even worse, showing a heart-breaking 1,264 deaths.

 “1,264 lives have tragically ended because of a shameful failure of leadership. 1,264 families have lost a loved one because rather than take decisive action, our two governments continually pass the buck to one another.

“Scotland’s current approach to drug deaths has demonstrably failed. It fails families every day and if that approach isn’t changed it will continue to fail, with tragic consequences. Carrying on as we are now is intolerable. It’s clear that Scotland cannot arrest its way out of a drug deaths crisis.”

3. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are dying disproportionately from Covid-19 because ‘structural racism is deeply embedded in our national and global economic and social systems,’ Christian Aid has warned.

Responding to a new report on the unequal impact of coronavirus on BAME people by the women and equalities select committee, Jennifer Larbie, Christian Aid’s UK Advocacy and Policy Lead, said:

“This report highlights what we have known since the start of the pandemic: Black and brown communities are dying disproportionately from COVID-19 – and there is a reason for it. Racism. Structural racism is deeply embedded in our national and global economic and social systems.

“Poverty, insecure livelihoods and marginalisation renders people more vulnerable to catching the virus, especially where health systems are already overstretched and underfunded.”

2. The UK will end support for fossil fuel projects around the world, the PM has announced – but green campaigners warn fossil fuel projects may be rushed through in the months before the ban on public finance ends.  

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “It is good to see the Prime Minister have such a dramatic change of heart…When I asked him in Parliament to end UK Export Finance’s support for fossil fuel projects overseas, he maintained that hydrocarbons ‘remain a significant industry’ for a number of countries around the world.

“This is a long overdue policy shift from the Government and a victory for all who have campaigned for change. As hosts of COP26 it was untenable for the UK Government to continue fuelling the climate crisis by pouring taxpayers’ money into fossil fuels overseas. 

“That said, it’s vital that there is a moratorium on any future funding for fossil fuels overseas until the results of the consultation are known, so that new projects aren’t rushed out of the door in the next few months.

“I hope the Prime Minister will also urgently have a similar change of heart on the Government’s climate-wrecking £27 billion road building plans, and their continued subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”

1. Two Australian PMs have branded an ‘Australia-style’ Brexit deal – the Tories’ preferred language to describe No Deal – as “not good” and with “no advantages”.

Kevin Rudd, former Labor Prime Minister of Australia, told John Pienaar on Times Radio that a no deal Brexit is “not good for Britain’s long term economic interest” and that the “Australia option” has “not, frankly, helped overall export efforts into the European Union”. He added that “many of us fear a diminished Britain in the future” with no deal.

It follows Malcolm Turnbull, former Conservative Prime Minister of Australia telling Times Radio Breakfast that there is “no such thing as an Australia type deal” and such a relationship has “no” advantages – he added that “the only benefits would be the political ones”.

Plus: The latest Reasons to Be Cheerful podcast looks at where power lies in Britain. Local government guru Tony Travers, Sarah Longlands from IPPR North, and Neil McInroy from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies discuss why government is so centralised in the UK.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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