Radical roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – 13th January 2021

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 Greens have warned that Alok Sharma’s promotion to full-time president of this November’s COP26 climate summit gives ‘little hope’ for climate action.

The move comes almost a year since Alok Sharma was given responsibility for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP said: “The decision to put the COP26 summit into the hands of Alok Sharma, a free market fundamentalist who has repeatedly voted against climate action and backed climate-wrecking policies like Heathrow expansion, always gave cause for concern.

“His elevation from part-time front man to full time president does little to change my opinion that Boris Johnson’s government see this conference as an opportunity to sell UK plc, rather than a moment to face the need for deep economic change in the face of the global emergency.”

9. Global heating caused by human could take longer than previously thought to take effect, buying us time to adapt and develop technological climate fixes, Positive News reports.

The findings come in a study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which estimates that heating effects already caused by man-made emissions will push global temperatures to 2.3C above pre-industrial levels – but not, potentially, for centuries.

Study co-author Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, told Positive News: “The good news is [the emergence of] this committed warming is a very slow process. That means if we can get emissions to net zero soon, we can stay below 2C for a very long time, giving us more time to adapt.

“Our work emphasises the need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible in order to avoid large near-term warming.”

8. GMB, which represents many low paid NHS staff, has called for urgent investment as new figures reveal that there were almost 1,000 fewer NHS cleaners in 2019/20 compared to a decade earlier.  

And the amount spent by NHS Trusts on cleaning services fell by £38 million in real terms – a decline of 3.4 per cent.  

GMB warned that many cleaning staff have been outsourced over the last decade and are enduring inferior pay and terms and conditions, and are under pressure to complete jobs too quickly.

Covid can linger for up to 72 hours on uncleaned plastic and steel surfaces, while research suggests that the risk of catching the superbug MRSA may be 50 per cent higher in wards where cleaning services have been outsourced.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “The NHS couldn’t function without its cleaning staff. They have been saving lives, often at real personal risk, since day one of the pandemic. Our members tell us that they are overworked, underpaid, and denied access to the right PPE. Some cleaning workers are put under pressure to complete jobs without enough time or the right equipment.  

“These new figures confirm that a scandalous £38 million has been taken out of NHS cleaning budgets in real terms, while hundreds of NHS cleaners have lost their jobs. These cuts weakened the NHS and meant that services were vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic hit.”

7. Football pundit Gary Lineker, comedian Jo Brand and Hollywood star David Oyelowo are among celebrities backing a fair pay campaign launched this Monday by health unions. 

To mark International Thank You Day, the 14 unions are urging the public to use social media to champion the vital work of all health staff by supporting a decent pay rise.   

The unions – representing workers including 1.3 million nurses, cleaners, administrators, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, dieticians, radiographers, porters, midwives, paramedics, and other NHS employees – are asking people to share hashtags such as #FairPay, and to message their MPs.   

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton, who also chairs the NHS group of unions, said: “The NHS is facing the worst crisis in its history. Everyone is relying on health workers in many different roles to see us through. Clapping has been a way of showing support, but the government now needs to pay up.” 

6.  Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s has sparked concern among progressive economists after suggesting there’d be a “Big Bang 2.0” for the UK’s financial sector post-Brexit.

Miriam Brett, Director of the Common Wealth think tank, said:“It is imperative, as the Chancellor scopes out a ‘Big Bang 2.0’ for the City, that we do not default to a strategy of mass deregulation and a race-to-the-bottom in an effort to incentivise investment, which will ultimately fail to tackle today’s challenges.
“The single biggest threat facing our future is the climate crisis, and tackling it must be central to any strategy on the future of finance. Instead of reheated Thatcherism, Rishi Sunak should pursue ambitious reforms to UK finance to decarbonise the sector and support a green industrial strategy.”

5. Courts in England – which continue to operate in-person in the lockdown – are not safe, and risk being clogged up with tenants in rent arrears, according to Legal Sector Workers United, part of the United Voices of the World union.

Legal workers point out that the current ban on evictions until at least 21 February 2021 does not protect tenants with arrears equivalent to six months’ or more of rent accrued at any stage – including during the pandemic.

They are calling for a move to remote proceedings, and an extension to the government’s eviction ban, arguing: “There is increasing evidence that Covid-19 is being spread in unventilated indoor spaces such as conference rooms, judges’ chambers and court rooms. And the problem lies not only within court buildings.

“Lawyers, court staff and parties have to travel across cities on public transport to get to hearings, increasing the threat to themselves and the general public. This is made worse still by the volume of court closures seen in recent years, which has resulted in many hearings being listed miles away. If defendants decide not to risk their health to attend, then they may lose the opportunity to save their home.”

Josie Hicklin LSWU Campaigns Officer says: “This is a very intentional decision by the government to ignore the reality that people have lost income and struggled to pay their rent due to Covid-19. Continuing with evictions and leaving people at risk of homelessness whilst infection rates are rising and temperatures dropping very clearly sends the message the government does not value these people’s lives.” 

4. Research by Citizens UK has found that 45% of supermarket workers earn below the real living wage.

Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband MP said: “Every worker should be paid a fair wage they can live on. It’s just wrong that so many of our key workers, including in sectors like supermarkets and care, are being asked to survive on low pay.

“Labour strongly supports a real living wage of at least £10 an hour. As we rebuild our country and economy after coronavirus, we cannot just go back to business as usual. 

“We owe the workers of our country an obligation to enable them to be paid a wage they can live and bring up their family on. The Government must take action to move our country to a real living wage.”

It comes as Ministers demand supermarket staff enforce mask-wearing rules more strictly.

3. A Bill to give non-British NHS workers indefinite leave to remain was effectively axed by the Tory government last week.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine tabled the Immigration (Health and Social Care Staff) Bill 2019-21, which was due for its second reading on Friday.

But the Government have decided to axe all sitting Fridays until the end of March, meaning dozens of Private Members Bills will effectively be killed off.

Ms Jardine’s Bill proposed that all health and social care staff from outside the EU would be granted indefinite leave to remain, giving the peace of mind about their immigration status and granting them rights enjoyed by British citizens.

Christine Jardine MP said: “Like the rest of our wonderful NHS and care staff, hundreds of thousands of people from other countries are on the frontlines of the Covid pandemic, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure we get the care we need.

“The UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it. That’s what my Bill would do, and I am deeply disappointed that the Government is not even letting it be debated in Parliament. I am not giving up.”

2. Campaigners have called for the UK Government to halt police training programmes for repressive state forces and conduct a review of all international training offered by the College of Policing. 

Since its founding in 2012, the College of Policing has provided training and assistance to at least 78 countries, including many forces that have been accused of torture and other abuses.

The College has provided training for at least 12 countries that are listed as ‘human rights priority countries’ by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office: those countries are Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, Colombia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

There are also a number of countries listed that have police forces that have been accused of torture but are not on the FCO list: those countries include Brunei, Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and USA. All of these countries are also buyers of UK arms. 

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Many of these police forces have been accused of torture and other abuses. They use their power to uphold brutal and repressive laws. The UK should not be collaborating with them or strengthening their authoritarian rule.

“The killing of George Floyd and the repression that followed drew international attention to state violence. But it is not just an issue in the United States, it is happening all across the world. There must be an end to the hypocrisy and a full review of which police units the UK has trained and if they have been responsible for human rights abuses.”

1. The SNP has slammed the Tory government for it ‘disgraceful’ decision to leave musicians and performers off the list of workers permitted to enter the EU without a visa – despite the EU’s offer to include it in the Brexit deal.

Reports revealed last weekend that a proposal to grant UK performers visa-free tours in the EU in the Brexit deal was rejected by the UK government because they did not want to extend the same courtesy to EU artists visiting the UK.

The Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU provides exemptions to visa rules for a number of workers travelling to different European countries, but does not include artists and musicians, meaning many will have to apply for separate visas for each individual country they visit whilst touring in Europe. Many have voiced concerns that this will increase the cost of touring.

A petition launched by artist Tim Brennan has already surpassed the 100,000 signatures needed to secure a debate in the House of Commons.

Commenting, SNP MP and former band member of Runrig and Big Country, Pete Wishart MP, said: “The decision to leave performers off the list of workers permitted to enter the UK is utterly disgraceful and shameful. Not only is it another slap in the face for our aspiring performers from Scotland and across the UK after an incredibly tough year – in which they received little to no support from the UK government – but it may mean fans are unable to see their favourite bands here in the UK.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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