Radical roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – 9th 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].org

10. A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report has found that half a million children are experiencing extreme hardship, with a huge rise in economic difficulties for low income households over the past two years.

Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Reynolds MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “No child in Britain should be hungry or without essentials. The Government must do more to support struggling families who are facing real hardship this winter. They must see sense and scrap the planned cut to Universal Credit, which will take £20 a week from 6 million families. 

“We urge the Government to end the disastrous five week wait which is pushing people into debt, as well as increase support for those on legacy benefits, such as carers and disabled people, who have had no additional support throughout this crisis.”

9.  Cargo workers at British Airways have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, in a bitter dispute over the company’s plans to ‘fire and rehire’ its entire workforce and re-employ them on inferior terms and conditions.

The workforce, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading aviation union, recorded a 98 per cent yes vote in favour of strike action. The union represents over 800 members in BA’s cargo handling business.

Unite will delay immediately announcing strike dates, in order to give the company a final opportunity to reach a fair resolution and agree changes with its workers.

Unite says BA is attempting to force the cargo workers to accept new contracts which will result in many of them experiencing pay cuts of between 20-25 per cent, with the entire workforce experiencing significant reductions to its terms and conditions.

Unite has reached agreement with British Airways in all the other sections of the company where it represents workers, to mitigate its proposals to slash workers’ wages, but has been unable to do so for the cargo workers due to the continued intransigence of management.

8. The SNP’s Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry QC MP has expressed serious concern over the UK government’s intention to review the Human Rights Act (HRA).

The MP is warning that the plans risk going beyond the HRA to threaten human rights protections in Scotland, as well as weakening citizens’ rights across the UK post-Brexit.

In a letter to the MP, the Conservative government’s Justice Secretary outlined plans to create the Independent Human Rights Act Review which allegedly seeks to reform the Human Rights Act 1998 and review the “relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights.” 

Joanna Cherry has now called for urgent clarity from the Justice Secretary over the scope of the review and whether it will respect the position in Scotland.

Commenting, SNP Shadow Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry QC MP said: “The UK government’s proposed plans to review the Human Rights Act raises serious concerns over its intention, scope and impact on devolved matters and Scotland’s separate legal jurisdiction.

“Human rights are not a reserved matter, and the Scottish Government has an advisory group on human rights which has already made recommendations on how Scotland can continue to lead by example in the field of human rights.”

She added: “In Scotland we are committed to standing up for human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights is hardwired into the Scotland Act – any plans from the UK government to bypass the devolved governments or water down protections must be challenged.”

7.  Nearly half of the British public say their confidence in the government decreased because of its handling of claims of bullying directed against Home Secretary Priti Patel, according to new polling.

In late November the findings of an investigation into claims of bullying by Patel, which the government appeared to have withheld from publication, were leaked. The report had concluded that Patel was guilty of bullying and of breaching the Ministerial Code. 

Following the leak, many expected Patel to resign. She refused to do so, however, and the PM as well as dozens of Conservative MPs publicly defended her.

The survey, carried out by Opinium for Compassion in Politics, suggests ‘the public may not be so forgiving’. 43% agreed that the saga had dented their confidence in the government, while over a quarter (28%) said it had done so significantly. Most worrying for the government, 1 in 5 Conservative supporters (16%) admitted that confidence in their own party had been reduced by the publication of the report.

Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said: “In any workplace, an individual found guilty of bullying could expect to be shown the door. As such it is no surprise that many people have felt so let down by the government’s handling of this affair.”

She added: “This episode reveals the wider and serious problems we have with our politics. An overly combative, competitive, and aggressive culture has sucked the humanity out of the system and encouraged bad behaviour. We need deep and effective interventions aimed at creating a system which values compassion, respect, and inclusion.”

The group is calling for a new and enforceable code of conduct for parliament, the introduction of ‘compassion training’ for all MPs, and bringing an end to the tradition of booing and jeering in parliament.

6. More than half the country wants Chancellor Rishi Sunak to continue permanently with the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit (UC), due to end in April 2021, according to a survey carried out for Unite the union.

The survey carried out by Survation revealed that 54% of those polled wanted the £20 boost to Universal Credit, already claimed by six million people in the UK, to be extended beyond next April.

The survey shows that 40 per cent of Conservative supporters back the uplift, with 70 per cent of Labour supporters in favour of the increase. Over half (51%) of those earning £40,000 and over annually are also supportive of the rise being made permanent.

5. Firefighters are ready to assist the UK’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, after an agreement was reached between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the fire and rescue service employers.

The agreement allows firefighters to assist other public sector organisations with track, trace, and isolate measures, and to check that potential higher risk premises are Covid-secure.

Firefighters will inspect workplaces where relevant authorities have raised concerns about Covid-security, notably identified in Leicester garment factories. The FBU is encouraging anyone concerned about workplace Covid-security to raise it with their local council in the first instance.

The FBU and National Employers said fire and rescue services are open to assisting with the vaccine rollout if requested by Local Resilience Forums.

Firefighters will have to wait three days and receive a negative Covid-19 test before returning to fire and rescue service premises when returning from pandemic duties.

Firefighters’ work responding to the pandemic was previously permitted under a tripartite agreement involving the National Fire Chiefs Council, but the FBU and National Employers said in a joint circular the temporary agreement had become “much longer term than originally envisaged” and needed refreshing.

4. The Green Party has set out a climate programme of real ambition, as the UK government ‘continues to fail to deliver on its promises’ ahead of the five year anniversary of the Paris Agreement this Saturday.

The plan includes proposals to:

  • Introduce a carbon tax of £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide rising to £500 by 2030
  • Develop offshore and onshore wind to provide at least 100 GW of electricity by 2030. This should provide around 70% of the UK’s electricity demand by this time
  • Government investment to improve the insulation of every home that needs it and provide major heating upgrades and the highest standard of energy efficiency for one million homes a year.
  • Stop all airport expansion, apply carbon tax to aviation fuel and introduce a Frequent Flyer Levy as part of a drive to reduce air miles by 70% by 2030.
  • Cancel the hugely carbon intensive road-building programme including the A303 at Stonehenge and the Lower Thames Crossing, take all fossil fuel cars and vans off the road by 2030 and invest in public transport, active travel and support for disabled people to reduce car miles by 50% by 2030
  • Increase land for forests and woodlands by planting 700 million trees by 2030 and encourage the restoration of peatland through new subsidies to capture carbon and protect nature

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said: “This is what real climate ambition looks like.”

3. The Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight MP has expressed concerns following the publication of documents giving details of a meeting between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the DCMS Secretary of State in May 2018.

Zuckerberg reportedly threatened to pull investment from the UK.

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said: “Two years ago, when Parliament was seeking to hold Facebook to account, we now know that the Government was holding its own private talks with Mark Zuckerberg.

“Numerous invitations to appear before our predecessor DCMS Committee in its investigation into fake news went unanswered by him. It is of concern, that as has been reported, he met the then DCMS Secretary of State to express concerns about the tone of Government policy towards online regulation.

“We are looking forward to seeing the Government’s long-awaited online harms legislation in the coming weeks.”

In completely unrelated news, this week we learnt that the Government plans to water down proposals to hold tech bosses to account for online harms.

2. Trade justice campaigners have reacted with anger to the news that Trade Secretary Liz Truss has appointed a raft of ‘ultra-free marketeers’ to the board of the trade department.

Former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell has joined the board, alongside figures such as Dambisa Moyo, who sits on the board of oil giant Chevron, and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner Dominic Johnson.  

Leah Sullivan, Senior Campaigns Officer (Trade) at War on Want, told Left Foot Forward: “The appointment of a new cohort of free-trade ideologues to the DIT is a disappointment but not a surprise coming from a government embarrassingly deluded with the UK’s place in the world and with ambitions to recreate ‘Empire 2.0’ through a raft of new trade deals…

She added: “Facing a world of multiple unprecedented crises, we need a government that listens to people, and enshrines in law the transparency, democracy and accountability of our trade deals in the Trade Bill – not cronyism and free-market fundamentalism.”

War on Want says that Rees-Mogg and Johnson’s Somerset Capital Management has made huge profits from the pandemic, and ‘openly uses imperialist imagery’ to symbolise its investment work across the Global South.

1. The Government has completely failed to support workers to self-isolate with decent sick pay, according to the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The lack of decent sick pay has been a gaping hole in the government’s Covid strategy.  Asking workers to self-isolate on £96 a week is not viable – especially when many don’t have savings to fall back on.    

“This problem needs fixing urgently. Until people are given sick pay they can survive on they will be forced to choose between following the health advice and paying their bills.    

“Nobody should be plunged into financial hardship for doing the right thing. Sick pay should be raised to at least the rate of the real living wage and everyone should be entitled to it. It’s not right that two million workers are excluded from it because they do not earn enough.”  

TUC polling published in September revealed that more than 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on SSP.     

Special mention: Local government thinkers have called for a ‘rethink’ of the role of the state.

East Ayrshire Council’s Katie Kelly explained how the council has reimagined their relationship with local residents, while Adam Lent from New Local has argued ‘community power’ is the future of public services, in an appearance on Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reasons to Be Cheerful podcast.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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