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

Our roundup of the progressive news you might have missed this week…

Your weekly dose of under-reported news, in no particular order… 

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10.  A new Ipsos Mori poll for Scottish broadcaster STV puts the Scottish Greens on 12% for the regional list vote.

It would see them heading for a record 11 seats, with a pro-independence majority in Holyrood.  

Green co-leader Lorna Slater said: “This poll tells us that the Scottish Greens are set to have a record number of MSPs in Holyrood and could yet play a crucial role in securing a pro-independence majority in May. I’m also proud that if this poll turns into votes we will have eight women and three men as our Scottish Green MSPs.

“We’re asking people to vote like our future depends on it, and it’s clear that our plans for a green recovery and to tackle the climate emergency are connecting with voters.”

9. Teachers have called for action on workers’ excessive workloads, at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually.

In a statement after members backed a conference motion hitting out at excessive workloads for  teachers, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “What has been clear over the past 12 months is that the workload facing staff in schools and colleges remains stubbornly high. Even in normal circumstances, teachers work some of the longest hours of any profession, and certainly in excess of the recommended maximum of 48 hours per week set out in the working time regulations. The Department for Education’s own research bears this out.

“Our members tell us that keeping workloads at an acceptable level is absolutely essential to rebuild from the past year. 85% of the 10,000+ members responding to our latest survey put it at the very top of the agenda. (1) They are crying out for the space to concentrate on their essential role, not the endless demands of a data-obsessed government. In many workplaces members have come together in order to challenge the causes of high workload – but not all of it can be resolved at school or college level.

The union argues that real-term cuts to education over many years have caused damage, “forcing class sizes to increase, subject options to narrow, buildings to fall apart and staffing levels to drop.”

8. A new project brings together drug legalisation campaigners and black communities to feed into the London Mayor’s proposed ‘cannabis commission’.

The partnership between the Social Action Network BLAKSOX and Transform Drugs Policy Foundation will amplify the voices of black communities as drug reform comes to Europe and the UK.

The project, funded by Trust for London, will build on previous work with black communities across the capital to ensure local voices take centre stage in the debate on drugs policy and reform.

Organisers say it will provide ‘vital insights’ for London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s proposed commission on cannabis. 

In London, Black men are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white men. Over a third of all stop and search is for suspected possession of cannabis. 

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary recently concluded that ‘drug enforcement, mainly through stop and search, contributes to ethnic disproportionality, despite evidence there is no correlation between ethnicity and rates of drug use.’

Recent developments in the US and Canada have shown that legal cannabis markets can promote social justice and racial equality, but only if they are designed carefully.

States such as Michigan, New York and Nevada have legalised cannabis in ways that effectively promote social inclusion, after extensive engagement with communities previously most badly harmed by criminalisation.

Viv Ahmun, BLAKSOX founder and Black Men 4 Change Strategic Lead said: “Partnering with ethical allies like Transform will enable us to further amplify our community’s diverse voices and help bring to an end a 50 year old racist drugs policy that has driven oppressive and disproportionate policing in our communities. We will also be working with the Black Men 4 Change Network which is already delivering leadership programmes across London in partnership with the Mayors Office and more than 20 Black lead initiatives across London.”

7. Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner met Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething to set out Labour’s plans for a fair deal for our care workers on Tuesday.

Welsh Labour has promised to give care workers a pay rise to the Real Living Wage.

Rayner, who was a care worker before becoming an MP, set out the pay rise as a ‘clear demonstration of the difference between Labour in power in Wales and the Conservatives in power in Westminster. She added: “When we clapped for our carers we meant it.”

Rayner and Gething met care workers to hear about their experiences on the frontline and set out Labour’s plans to give them a pay rise to the Real Living Wage.

Speaking ahead of her visit Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader, said:  “When we clapped for our carers we meant it. The Tories clapped for the TV cameras but claps don’t pay the bills and the Tories won’t put their money where their mouth is.

“In Wales a Labour government will deliver the pay rise our care workers heroes deserve after all they have done for us. This is personal for me – I know the hard graft care workers do because I did it. I worked side by side with care workers who would do anything for the people they looked after and who didn’t get the pay or recognition that they deserved.”

Vaughan Gething, Welsh Labour’s Health Minister, said:  “Our social care workers deserve more than just our applause – they deserve a pay rise.”

6. Three in five people (58%) would like international agreements on climate change to become legally enforceable according to polling released.

The research, carried out by Opinium with Compassion in Politics, found that one in three (34%) strongly agreed with the idea. Only 11% opposed.

The proposal also has cross-party backing – 47% of Conservative, 73% of Labour, and 68% of Liberal Democrat voters support the idea.

When it comes to the policies that the public would most like the government to pursue in order to meet its climate obligations, investment in green jobs came out top, with 50% of people supporting this policy. Nearly half (47%) also said they would like to see greater subsidies for electric vehicles and 46% support the creation of a carbon tax.

One in three also said they would like to see the introduction of an optional four-day working week with a basic income provided to those who work reduced hours as a result.

The polling comes as government ministers prepare to host the latest round of UN negotiations on climate change – COP26 – which will take place in Glasgow in November.

Campaigners say this is a vital opportunity for governments to agree an ambitious plan to create more ‘planet-friendly economies’ as the world emerges from the Covid pandemic.

5. Private renters in nine London boroughs face paying half of their income or more on rent, analysis by campaign group Generation Rent has found.

Rent on the typical two-bedroom home costs 45% of a full-time salary in London.

Campaigners say this pushes families into poverty and financial stress, and makes it harder to save or to start a family. Paying more than a third of your income in rent is considered unaffordable.

Generation Rent is calling on the next Mayor of London to lead a campaign to demand powers from the government to reduce rents. Measures would include freezing rents within tenancies, to give tenants more certainty, a rent control system that aims to reduce rents overall, and tough penalties for landlords who break the rules, overseen by a city-wide Rent Control Board.

In March 2020, the rent on the median 2-bedroom home in London was £1450 and the median full-time salary was £38,592. That would mean that a single-earner family with a baby would be spending 45% of their earnings on rent.

The situation is worst in inner London, Newham and Haringey where this figure is above 50% and reaches 76% in Westminster. The most affordable borough is Bexley, with median rent worth 33% of the median full-time salary.

However, affordability has improved over the last five years, with just five boroughs – Camden, Greenwich, Havering, Redbridge, and Westminster – becoming less affordable since 2015.

Alicia Kennedy, Director of Generation Rent, said: “High rents force people into poverty and make it almost impossible to save towards the future. No one should have to spend more than 30% of their income on rent, yet this is a reality for most Londoners who are stuck in the private rented sector.

“Londoners urgently need bold action to make renting more affordable. Investment in housebuilding is needed to make renting more affordable long-term, but rent controls would offer immediate protection and relief.”

4. Seven women from Extinction Rebellion cracked the glass in the windows of Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf, London, on Wednesday.

The women wore patches reading ‘better broken windows than broken promises’ and placed stickers on the windows of the bank reading ‘in case of climate emergency break glass’ before carefully hitting the glass with hammers and chisels.

They then sat down next to the broken windows and waited to be arrested. The action, part of XR’s ‘Money Rebellion’, aims to use nonviolent direct action to draw attention to banks’ fossil fuel records.

It is the latest action in protest at the bank’s continued investments in activities that XR says are directly contributing to the climate and ecological emergency.

In a statement, XR said Barclays is the biggest funder of fossil fuels in Europe and has increased spending on fossil fuels in the past year, ‘meaning its current trajectory runs counter to what is needed to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement’.

In an article in the Guardian this week, a spokesperson for the bank said: “We have made a commitment to align our entire financing portfolio to the goals of the Paris agreement, with specific targets and transparent reporting, on the way to achieving our ambition to be a net zero bank by 2050 and help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.” 

However, a report published this March showed Barclays increased investment in fossil fuel expansion, fracking, coal, arctic and offshore oil and gas, and tar sands last year.

3. The Lib Dems have slammed Tory plans to introduce ‘vaccine certificates’ as ‘anti-freedom’.

Responding to new the government will introduce so-called vaccine passport trials. Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said: “By rolling out ID cards in the form of a vaccine passport this Government is following a dangerous path. These ID cards risk being a wrecking ball not only to our sacred freedoms but also to businesses on the brink. 

“This risks creating a two-tier society, leaving the those unable to take the vaccine and young people barred from theatres and cinemas relying on them for survival. 

“This announcement raises more questions than it does answers. Based on their past attempts, the thought of a Government controlled app holding your most personal details and acting as your passport to freedoms should worry us all. Liberal Democrats will oppose these anti-business and anti-freedom ID cards.”

Labour has also suggested it will vote against the plans.

2. A racial justice group has reported the UK government to the United Nations over its new race report that denied institutional racism exists.

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health UK CIC (BLAM UK) has triggered the ‘Urgent Action Communication’ procedure in the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The charity argues that this report violates several of the UK’s legal obligations under International Law.

The racial justice civil society organisation warns that the report will be used to justify and further racially discriminatory outcomes against Black, Brown and racialised groups in the UK.

After the publication of the report, BLAM stated: “We do not need a report from a government rooted and built on anti-blackness to confirm our realities as directly impacted persons.”

The non-profit has taken its concerns to the United Nations’, highlighting issues such as Black ‘generational trauma’, the alleged dismissal of the atrocities of the Transatlantic slave trade by the Government, and the controversial Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to illustrate the UK’s ‘institutional and systemic racism’.

1. Wales’ Plaid Cymru has announced proposals to create a national energy company – Ynni Cymru – to help the nation reach its climate change targets.

Ynni Cymru, an energy project development company, would follow a model similar to Transport for Wales or the Development Bank for Wales, under proposals outlined for Plaid Cymru’s May election campaign.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said Wales has huge potential in zero carbon electricity generation, and that the new body would spearhead such developments, bringing benefits to local communities and Wales as a whole, whilst helping us meet our environmental obligations.

The Plaid Cymru Senedd candidate for Ynys Môn [Anglesey] added that a Plaid government would commission a national inventory of green energy potential – an ‘Energy Atlas’ – to identify possible new projects and developments. 

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “Wales has a vast amount of natural wealth but we need to reap those benefits for local communities, for Wales and for our environment… 

“Tidal energy, off our southern and northern coasts, including the exciting projects off the Anglesey coast, would form a major part of this, as well as mapping green hydrogen potential and increasing offshore wind generation.

“A Plaid government would also be committed to ensuring all new renewable energy projects are at least partly owned by the local community.

“These are ambitious but workable plans that will help Wales tackle the climate emergency whilst creating high-skilled, well-paid jobs as part of a sustainable economic recovery.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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