Radical roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – 6th 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 Liberal Democrats have called for teachers to be vaccinated against coronavirus after the government admitted schools were the epicentre of high community transmission.

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education, has written a letter to Gavin Williamson and Matt Hancock to ask them to vaccinate teachers as part of category seven.

This would make them a top priority after everyone working in the NHS and social care and those most at risk by virtue of their age, being clinically vulnerable or having an underlying health condition. 

It comes as the Secretary of State for Education announced that teachers’ estimated grades will replace GCSE and A-level results. 

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Education, said: “Teachers and school staff have put themselves at enormous risk during this pandemic in order to keep schools open.

“Now that the Prime Minister has finally admitted that schools are at the epicentre of high community Covid transmission, teachers must be given priority access to the Covid vaccine.”

9. Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said she is ‘relieved’ the Government has cancelled SATs in England.

Commenting on the confirmation in the Commons that SATs this year are not going ahead, the union leader said: “Teachers and parents will be relieved that Gavin Williamson has faced up to reality and cancelled this year’s SATs tests. With the pressures of SATs lifted, schools will have some space to address the urgent issues of educational recovery.

“Pupils are going to need long-term support for their learning. A curriculum driven by tests was never the way to do this. Now is the time to encourage and resource schools to develop a rich and engaging curriculum.” 

8. Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, has reacted with anger to reports that the Government won’t house rough sleepers in the new lockdown.

She said: “This is shocking, and extremely irresponsible. One in 50 people in the UK have Covid-19, and rough sleepers are some of the most exposed in our society.

“Labour has been calling for protection for rough sleepers for months. The Government has asked everyone to stay at home, at the same time as they turn their back on people without a home. This broken promise will cost lives.”

7.  The SNP has challenged the Tory government to scrap its hostile no recourse to public funds  (NRPF) policy – with latest estimates from the House of Commons Library suggesting that there were likely to be around 88,000 people in Scotland affected by the policy and excluded from support. 

The policy restricts access to welfare, housing, and financial support due to someone’s immigration status.

With many people enduring a difficult year due to the devastating impact the coronavirus  pandemic has had on jobs and income, the SNP has warned that many vulnerable people  faced a “double hit” as they were also prevented from accessing crucial financial support,  including Universal Credit and housing assistance. 

Estimates from the House of Commons Library for the SNP suggested that in Scotland there  could be around 88,000 people hit by the policy – with the figure rising to around 1.36  million people across the UK.  

Recent reports have shone a light on the devastating impact of the policy, with the  Children’s Society warning that there are “thousands of children in the UK facing deep, long term poverty because of strict immigration rules, which mean their families cannot access  mainstream benefits or vital support, even in a crisis.” 

A separate report – Access Denied: The cost of ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy – found  that “not only are children from NRPF families often restricted from accessing means-tested  support such as free school meals; they are also more likely to experience homelessness and  poverty.” 

Chris Stephens MP – who has been challenging the UK government over the policy – commented: “The no recourse to public funds is a hostile piece of policy that leaves vulnerable people without access to key support to get by.” 

6. Richard Sharp, a multi-millionaire former Tory party donor and Rishi Sunak’s former boss, is being tipped to become Chair of the BBC.

He is a relatively unknown candidate, and could he clinch the £160,000-a-year job if media reports are to be believed.

City AM reports: “Downing Street had been lining up former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore — a vocal critic of the BBC — though he subsequently ruled himself out of the race.

“But Sharp is certainly not short of Tory credentials. The multi-millionaire has been a long term supporter of the Conservative Party, forking out £416,000 in donations.

“He also has close ties to the government, and since April has held an informal role as an adviser to chancellor Rishi Sunak on Covid-19.

“Prior to that, he was a member of Boris Johnson’s economic advisory council in City Hall when he was mayor of London. To top it off, Sharp sits on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies, the think tank founded by Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s.”

MPs – including Tory DCMS chair Julian Knight – have expressed their concern about the private briefings which could have come from Government.

5.  Survey results and analysis of posting data on Mumsnet illustrate the mental health effects of pandemic measures on women, and particularly those who are caring for children while holding down jobs.

In a Mumsnet survey of over 1500 women, 76% said that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their own mental health. 79% agreed that ‘responsibility for home-schooling fell largely to me’ under the last round of school closures and 77% agreed that ‘it was impossible for me to work uninterrupted’. Of those who had been in paid work in March 2020, 70% said they had struggled to balance work and childcare at home.

As one Mumsnet user said this week: “For the first time since all of this started I just sat and cried. It feels like there’s no end to any of it. I’m usually good at finding the positives but I’m struggling.”

4. Strike action involving workers employed by DHL Supply Chain in Liverpool has been suspended as an act of ‘good faith’ as the company indicated it was prepared to make ‘a significantly improved offer’.

The strike action planned for 29 and 30 December did not go ahead and the strike planned for Wednesday 13 January has also been suspended.

Talks with conciliation service Acas will take place on Tuesday 12 January but if there is not a satisfactory resolution then the strikes planned for Thursday 14 January and Friday 15 January will go ahead.

The dispute involving 120 Unite members concerns a combination of low pay – warehouse operatives will be paid just two and half pence above the minimum wage when the rate is increased to £8.91 in April 2021 – and what Unite calls the ‘systematic victimisation of workers, which has resulted in the complete collapse of industrial relations’.

The brands affected by the dispute include Wagon Wheels, Jammie Dodgers, the Patak curry range and the Blue Dragon Chinese food range.

Tensions during the initial strikes, which began on 19 December, were heightened as DHL’s local management were accused of wasting police time by calling the police to a peaceful picket line.

3. With hospital departments around the UK struggling to cope with rising coronavirus cases and winter pressures, staff are being pushed to the brink, public service union Unison has warned.

Unison is urging employers to explore every option to avoid simply making healthcare workers do further shifts. That includes calling on the thousands of former NHS staff who came forward to offer their services during the first Covid-19 wave, says the union.

Those that do extra work must be given time off as soon as possible in compensation and pay rates should be high enough to attract the widest possible pool of people.

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Coronavirus is putting untold pressures on the NHS but the health and well-being of staff is a major concern. Many are still exhausted from the first wave and are going through it all over again. There aren’t enough staff as it is, but they’re being called in to cover more and more hours.

“Employers have to dig deep and look at every possible option for cover to avoid putting the burden on those who’re already overworked. Lots of people came forward during the first wave offering to return to the NHS and everything possible should be done to ensure they can help. We know that many who offered were not used.

“Otherwise staff face burnout, soaring sickness levels and there’ll intolerable pressures on those who’re left, in a terrible spiral of decline.”

“The government must learn lessons that allowing NHS staff shortages to go unchecked causes immense damage when the chips are down.”

2. Public interest legal campaigners at Good Law Project say Parliament ‘surrendered’ sovereignty to Government in 2020.

In a statement, director Jolyon Maugham said: “Under cover of Christmas, with less than a day for scrutiny, and with No Deal as the only alternative, Parliament passed the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. The process was described by the venerable Hansard Society as “an abdication of Parliament’s constitutional responsibilities to deliver proper scrutiny of the executive and the law” and a “farce”.

“Worse even than the absence of scrutiny – of legislation published less than a day before Parliament voted on it – is what that legislation does. It gives incredibly broad powers to Ministers to make laws and override Acts of Parliament. It has been described by the doyen of academic public lawyers, Professor Mark Elliott, as “the hoarding of power by the Government at the expense of respect for any part of the constitution that threatens its hegemony.”

“Section 31 of the Act gives a Minister power to “make such provision as [he] considers appropriate to implement… or otherwise for the purposes of dealing with matters arising out of, or related to, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.” These are incredibly broad powers – given to a Minister not Parliament – to reshape every aspect of national life the EU previously touched on. And it is all but certain that Government will misuse these powers.”

Shortly before Christmas the group instructed Hausfeld LLP and leading Counsel Tim Buley QC and Yaaser Vanderman to take the first formal step in litigation, challenging the ‘abuse’ of Henry VIII powers.

Maugham concluded: “Under cover of Christmas, with less than a day for scrutiny, and with No Deal as the only alternative, Parliament surrendered vast amounts of sovereignty to a dishonest Government. We intend to guard what is left.”

1. Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer’s average net approval rating has dropped 6 points to -8, his lowest figure since pollster Savanta ComRes began asking in April.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s weekly average net approval has risen over the past week, while the Prime Minister’s weekly average net figure of -11 is fairly steady and also consistently higher than it was in the Autumn.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta ComRes said: “The jump in approval for Matt Hancock is stark, perhaps coming thanks to the start of the vaccine rollout. The remaining questions will be whether it holds throughout the vaccine roll out and who – likely between him and the Prime Minister – will benefit most if it’s seen as a success or who will suffer the most if it’s viewed as a failure.

“Keir Starmer’s latest figures will certainly concern the Labour Party and his lack of presence and opposition may start to become ever-noticeable by a public who have given him the benefit of the doubt up to now.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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