Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 1 March 2021

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

Your weekly dose of under-reported news, in no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Research by early years analysts at Ceeda shows that government’s funding changes from spring term this year amount to a £247 million cut to nurseries and childminders.

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, commented: “Nurseries and childminders have provided an incredible service remaining open to all children in lockdown, yet the Government is rewarding them with funding changes that could force a quarter of all providers to close their doors for good.

“Early years providers need targeted support to survive this crisis, not to have the rug pulled from under their feet at the height of the pandemic.

“There is a real danger that the childcare sector will collapse unless the Government rethinks these funding changes, with young children, working parents and our economy paying the price.”

9. The government must extend opening hours for polling stations in May’s local elections to prevent queues forming and implement strict safety measures to keep staff and the public safe, Unison has said.

The union has written to secretary of state for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick and the Local Government Association calling for action and assurances to ensure stations don’t become hotspots for infection spread. 

In the letter UNISON, the largest union for council staff, points out that many buildings traditionally used for voting, such as schools, will not be suitable on this occasion, as rooms are too small to ensure social distancing rules can be followed. 

In order to make new locations safe for both staff and voters, the government must issue clear national guidance for risk assessments and allow union representatives access to carry them out on-site, says UNISON. 

The letter also calls for more government funding to address staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.

8. Labour party members across London have mobilised against a controversial road development being undertaken by Sadiq Khan.

Since January LGND activists have helped pass motions in dozens of Branch and Constituency Labour Parties across London calling on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to cancel the Silvertown Tunnel, which many climate campaigners believe will encourage rising car use. Activists expect even more motions to be passed ahead of the London Mayoral Election this May.

Contrary to claims by TFL and the GLA, climate groups say the Tunnel will generate more traffic, and release more dangerous particulate matter in areas of London that are already the most polluted in the country. It would also make it almost impossible for London to meet its Paris Accord carbon reduction targets, they say.

Several London Labour MPs, including Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, who is also Shadow Minister for Climate Change, have called for the Mayor of London to cancel the project before construction work begins.

LGND spokesperson and Labour councillor, Lauren Townsend, said: “Building a massive road tunnel with a dedicated lane for lorries can never be part of a credible Labour policy on fighting climate change. Party activists across London are calling on Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan to cancel this polluting project before it’s too late.” 

7. Housing campaigners have slammed Rishi Sunak’s budget as failing to offer help to renters.

Two in five private renters are now relying on benefits and 715,000 households don’t get enough Universal Credit to cover their rent. 

“This Budget has done nothing to help those without jobs protect their homes. Today the Chancellor ignored the very real rent debt crisis and without government action renters will have no protection from eviction and homelessness. We need a Covid Rent Debt Fund to clear arrears and an extension to the eviction ban as long as restrictions are in place.

“Instead, the Chancellor has announced 95% mortgages, which is completely out of touch when 60% of private renters had no savings at the start of the pandemic and another 18% have had to use savings to pay their rent in the past year.

“The government tried a mortgage guarantee scheme eight years ago and all it did was push up house prices, while another half a million households have got stuck renting over the same period. Stoking demand with more lending and extending the stamp duty holiday will not fix the underlying shortage of homes available to buy.” 

6. A new opinion poll published by the Daily Record/Survation has the Scottish Greens set for a record result in May’s election.

The poll suggests the party could claim eleven seats in the Scottish Parliament, more than doubling its current contingent of MSPs.

The same poll found the SNP to be on course to win 67 seats at May’s election, while the Tories are predicted to lose seats. The results which would give Holyrood a large pro-independence majority.

Commenting, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Opinion polls have consistently shown that we are  on course to elect a record number of MSPs in May. This poll is hugely encouraging, but we’ll take nothing for granted, and continue to put the work in to show exactly why electing more Green MSPs will make a difference.

“It’s clear though that the public appreciate the constructive approach adopted by the Greens over the last five years and throughout the pandemic which has delivered so much for communities across Scotland.”

5. The unemployment rate for BME workers has risen at more than twice the speed of the unemployment rate for white workers, according to a new TUC analysis of official statistics published on Saturday.

The analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the BME unemployment rate shot up from 5.8% to 9.5% between the final quarter of 2019 and the final quarter of 2020 – an increase of nearly-two thirds. 

Over the same period the unemployment rate for white workers rose from 3.4% to 4.5% – an increase of just under a third. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that the unemployment rate for all workers will peak at 7.5% in the second quarter of 2021.  But the new TUC analysis reveals that the number of BME people out of work is already far exceeding this worst-case scenario prediction

The unemployment rate for Black African and Caribbean workers has risen to 13.8% – more than three times the rate for white unemployment – and 1 in 10 BME women are now unemployed. 

4. Wednesday’s budget was a ‘missed opportunity’ to sort out the failings with the largely outsourced test and trace system, campaign group We Own It has argued.

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “Increased funding for local authorities to help people to self-isolate if they’ve come into contact with someone who has tested positive is welcome. But sadly it falls far short of the action we need to fix the broken test, trace and isolate system.

“It’s all well and good giving councils the cash to help with self isolation, but without effective contact tracing, we won’t be able to find and ask people to isolate in the first place.

“That’s why this budget should have marked a whole new direction for contact tracing, with Serco kicked out of the system for its failures and local public health teams put in charge instead. This budget is a missed opportunity to take money out of the hands of failed private companies and put it into the hands of our local councils.”

3. Ikea is refusing to pay workers the Real Living Wage (RLW) – but wants to keep its status as a living wage employer, the GMB union says. 

The home furnishings giant is proudly displaying a plaque in the reception of its sites and still being listed on the Living Wage Foundation website – despite refusing to honour the 20 pence per hour increase announced by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) in November 2020.

Employers have six months to implement the change – but Ikea has indicated it will not meet this deadline and has asked the LWF foundation for its accreditation to be ‘paused’. 

Yet despite this, the Swedish company still proudly displays a living wage employer plaque in its sites.  When GMB officials asked for it to be removed, they were told by Ikea bosses the plaque would be staying. 

The union has now written to the Living Wage Foundation to report the breach and raise its concerns about the foundation allowing IKEA to remain on its website and display the accreditation plaque in its workplaces. 

2. The public overwhelmingly support interventions to reduce the number and influence of anonymous social media accounts according to new polling.

In a survey conducted by Opinium with Compassion in Politics, 4 in 5 social media users (81%) say that they would be willing to provide a piece of personal identification to a social media platform in order to receive a “verified” account.

Creating “verified” users with the option to filter out all “non-verified” users from their social media news streams is seen as one of the most effective options for curtailing the reach of anonymous accounts. According to the survey, 3 in 4 (72%) people would choose to remove all unverified user-content from their feed if that option was available.

Campaigners say that taking such a step is necessary because anonymous accounts are the source of the majority of abuse and misinformation spread on social media platforms. In one recent high-profile case, the majority of racial abuse sent on Twitter to a group of black footballers – including the Manchester United forward and school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford – was found to be from anonymous accounts.

In a further sign that the public want to see greater action taken to reduce the perceived toxicity of social media platforms, 72% of those surveyed also said that they would like social media companies to step in more often to delete or suspend more problem users.

1. The progressive IPPR think tank has warned that the economic projections that form the basis of Rishi Sunak’s budget appear overly-optimistic.

Carys Roberts, IPPR Executive Director, said the chancellor is ‘gambling’ on a highly optimistic scenario from the Office for Budget Responsibility: “It presumes that the pandemic has done so little permanent damage to the economy that it can simply bounce back,” she said.   

“This rosy view ignores the huge underlying problems we face – 40 per cent of households have lost savings and won’t return to spending as before. Some 600,000 firms don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months, and are already loaded up with debt.”

She added that the Chancellor is betting on a ‘trickle down’ recovery led by high earners and big businesses.

“He has delivered only around half the £190 billion stimulus we think is needed to ensure the fairest and strongest recovery possible – equivalent to 8.6 per cent of the UK economy, and close to the 8.9 per cent package planned by the US president. He should instead be boosting it like Biden,” she said.  

Instead, Britain risks a ‘lopsided’ recovery, where higher earners and big businesses bounce back quickly, but low earners and small businesses will feel the consequences of the pandemic for years to come.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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