Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 3, May 2021

Our roundup of the progressive news the media missed.

Your weekly dose of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. The unemployment rate for black and minority ethnic workers has surged to nearly nine percent over the last year.  

The figures from the Office for National Statistics find that one in 11 people from ethnic minorities are now unemployed, compared to fewer than one in twenty white people.

The TUC has called on ministers to act now to tackle structural discrimination in jobs market, off the back of the findings.   

The unemployment rate for black and minority ethnic (BME) workers has risen at three times the speed of the unemployment rate for white workers, according to TUC analysis of the stats.

Over the same period the unemployment rate for white workers rose from 3.6% to 4.1%, an increase of 14%. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone deserves a decent and secure job. But Covid-19 has shone a light on the discrimination in our labour market. 

“BME workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They’ve been more likely to work in industries like hospitality and retail that have been hit hard by unemployment. 

“When BME workers have held on to their jobs, we know that they are more likely to be in low-paid, insecure work that has put them at greater risk from the virus. This structural discrimination has led to a disproportionate BME death rate from coronavirus.  

“Now we are emerging from the pandemic, we can’t allow these inequalities. Ministers must hold down unemployment, create good new jobs and challenge the systematic discrimination that holds BME workers back.” 

9. Unions representing 750,000 council and school support staff across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have slammed a 1.5% pay offer made by the Local Government Association.

GMB, Unite and Unison submitted a joint pay claim to the local government employers in February for a 10% pay rise.

The unions say their joint claim represents a decent wage rise that’s both necessary to put a stop to poverty pay in local government and schools, and to recognise the crucial role played by staff during the pandemic.

Unison head of local government Jon Richards hit out at local government’s 1.5% offer as ‘disappointing’: “Council staff will feel that their efforts over the past 15 months haven’t been recognised.

“Unions will now discuss the offer with their national local government committees before formally responding. It’s likely they’ll want the employers to think again and come back and negotiate an offer that better reflects the worth and value of the dedicated school and council workforce.”

8. Bus drivers at Go North West in Manchester have defeated attempts to fire and rehire them, agreeing a deal which will end one of the country’s longest-running industrial disputes.

The deal was presented to a mass meeting of the drivers, members of the UK’s leading union, Unite, this Monday at the company’s Queens Road depot.  This was followed by a workplace ballot where the union’s members voted overwhelmingly to accept the negotiated agreement bringing to a close the 85 day strike.

Crucially, the company has agreed to Unite’s demand that it will never use fire and rehire in any form, a move that will safeguard pay and conditions for thousands of employees across the Go Ahead Group.

The deal was struck following negotiations led by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey with senior company representatives at Go North West’s parent company, Go Ahead Group.  The drivers now no longer stand to lose thousands of pounds in wages every year.

The drivers began all-out, continuous strike action on Sunday 28 February, and stayed out for 82 days. The strike, which saw the union deploy its expert organising team, drew support from across the North West, including from mayor Andy Burnham and former Coronation Street actor Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Outgoing Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is a tremendous victory by Unite’s members at Go North West who through their dedication, solidarity and commitment have defeated the attempt to fire and rehire them.”

7. MPs on the International Development Committee have questioned why aid programmes aimed at boosting girls’ education in low income countries appear to have been slashed, despite being described as one of the government’s top priorities.   

Girls’ education is one of seven priority areas for UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending, with a budget of £400 million for the year 2021-22. This figure was announced in a written ministerial statement and contained in a letter to the Committee from the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab MP, on 21 April.  

In April the Foreign Secretary was asked to verify whether girls’ education programmes for 2021-22 had been cut by 40%, compared with the average spend over the last four years. The Foreign Secretary did not contradict this information in his answer but failed to provide more detail.

The Committee has also called for much more information on the overall cut in foreign aid from 0.7% of annual UK earnings (officially known as the ‘Gross National Income’) to 0.5%.  

The Committee condemned the cuts and added that it could not fulfil its job of scrutinising foreign aid programmes because the government appeared to be hiding the detail of its spending plans. 

Committee chair Sarah Champion MP, said: “It is ridiculous that the government trumpets its commitment to girls’ education but then appears to cut the programmes in this area by 40 per cent. But it could be even worse than this – we don’t know because the government won’t give us the figures when we repeatedly ask. We’ve been given a mishmash of numbers and percentages which just don’t add up.”

She added: “What we can see is that the overall cut in overseas aid spending – from 0.7% of national income to 0.5% – is roughly the same as an increase, at the same time, for defence spending. Why is one affordable and the other not?”   

6. Legal campaigner group Good Law Project Today has set out ‘shocking’ revelations from its High Court legal challenge over the government’s award of PPE contracts.

In a statement to supporters, they set out three findings from Tuesday’s hearing: “[The] government prioritised companies because of who they knew and not what they could deliver. Take Pestfix and Multibrands. Both suppliers emailed the senior official in charge of NHS procurement explaining their ability to supply PPE. Multibrands did so on 20th March 2020, a week before Pestfix. Multibrands received no response. 

“By contrast, Pestfix’s email resulted in their allocation to the “VIP lane”, where companies were fast-tracked to lucrative contracts. Why? An ex-director of PestFix was an “old school friend” of the official’s father-in-law. 

“Secondly, ministers did not want their political contacts to have to wait in line with everyone else. Evidence read out in Court revealed “…ministers and senior officials sometimes introduce offers of PPE and want them personally handled rather than going through surveys and bulk routes. Some of these contacts simply flatly refuse to proceed via a webform…..”  

“Thirdly, the banks were so concerned about government’s lack of due diligence on  companies who had been handed huge contracts that they halted payments. An email from a civil servant stated “It is… imperative that we rectify the with supplier due diligence to ensure we do not leave ourselves at unacceptable risk of fraud/loss.”

5. Labour have responded with shock after the UK government offered a funding settlement for Covid-hit Transport for London of just ten days.

Following talks between TfL and the government, London Assembly Member Elly Baker said a ‘fair deal for TfL’ is crucial for the capital and the country: “Since its fares revenue plummeted by 90% when the pandemic first hit, passenger numbers have struggled to recover and this has had far-reaching consequences for TfL’s financial future.

“It is important to remember that before the Covid-19 outbreak, the Mayor had slashed TfL’s operating deficit by 71% and increased its cash reserves by 13%.

“A clear case has been put to Ministers that TfL needs a multi-year emergency funding settlement to not only keep transport services running, but to also safeguard jobs and the future of key infrastructure projects.

“Short-term, sticking-plaster agreements with any number of strings attached simply won’t do. The Government must use the next ten days to come to the table with TfL and the Mayor to offer long-term support,” Ms Baker said.

4. Liberal Democrats have called on the government to scrap its controversial planning reforms, announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The Local Government Association (LGA) and Shelter both gave evidence against the Government’s proposed reforms to Permitted Development Rights in Parliament on Monday.

The reforms will make it easier for developers to convert properties to housing without consulting the local community, as well as get out of affordable housing commitments. Developments delivering fewer than 50 units will have no requirement for affordable homes.

Liberal Democrats Spokesperson for Housing, Communities and Local Government Tim Farron MP said the planning reforms will ‘rip powers away from local people’ and give them to wealthy property developers.

“The government seems to think that the reason houses are not being built is because local communities have too much say over planning. That isn’t true. There are hundreds of thousand new properties with planning permission that developers just haven’t built,” he said.

Farron added: “The Conservatives are looking to silence local people and create a developer-led planning system for their corporate property mates. Communities must have the power to decide what gets built, where and that we get the homes we need – not just those that the developers want to build.”

3. Unlock Democracy has proposed an ‘alternative Electoral Integrity Bill’ to counter the Tories’ mandatory voter ID plans.

In a petition against the government’s proposals, the group said: “The Government’s ‘Electoral Integrity’ bill announced in the Queen’s Speech has nothing to do with electoral integrity.

“At its heart is a costly and unnecessary requirement for voters to present photo ID at polling stations – a voter suppression tactic imported from America. The bill also includes plans to make all elections in England use the unfair First Past The Post system.

“In short, this Bill has little to do with safeguarding our elections, and everything to do with changing the rules to help the Conservative Party.”

Unlock Democracy’s alternative bill includes plans to keep the Fixed Term Parliament Act, launch a voter registration drive, introduce PR for Westminster, and limits political party spending.

2. Campaigners have hit out after culture secretary Oliver Dowden suggested that Channel 4 could be privatised in the next three years.

Cat Hobbs, Director of We Own It – which pushes for public ownership – said ministers were ‘threatening our public service broadcasters’. Government sources have previously briefed that they wanted to ‘whack’ the BBC.  

“First it was ‘whacking’ the BBC, now it is talking about selling off Channel 4. With the impending launch of GB News our broadcast media is set to become even more biased. So it’s absolutely vital that our public service broadcasters – like Channel 4 – remain well supported in order to inform the public, entertain us and hold the government and the powerful to account,” Hobbs said.

She added: “From Gogglebox to Peep Show, Countdown to Green Wing, Channel 4 has consistently played a central role in shaping our cultural life. The government should be cherishing, protecting and defending this – not threatening to sell it off. Channel 4 should remain in public hands, where it belongs.”

1. Over 50 Parliamentarians from all parties and both houses have written a joint letter urging the Prime Minister to take immediate action and lift the EU Settlement Scheme deadline, which is fast approaching on June 30th.

MPs and peers say the Home Office’s outreach campaign has failed to reach sufficient numbers of EU citizens amidst a pandemic that has severely disrupted support services.

Parliamentarians say that unless the deadline is lifted and the cliff-edge removed, significant numbers of EU citizens will be forced out of status and rights overnight. If even 1% of the estimated four million EU citizens resident in the UK are unable to apply, tens of thousands of people will become undocumented and left vulnerable to Hostile Environment policies, including detention and removal.

Neale Hanvey MP, who coordinated the cross-party letter, added: “Some of the most vulnerable EU citizens who chose to make the UK their home now face an utterly intolerable situation. One that the Prime Minister personally promised would not come to pass.

“These people – our friends, family and neighbours – will become fair game for the kind of impersonal and aggressive approach of this Government’s hostile environment fostered upon them by the Home Office.

“Last week in Scotland we witnessed the very best of community spirit when ordinary people stopped the Home Office as they attempted to remove two people from their homes in the heart of the Glasgow Muslim community during the holy month of Ramadan. The more than fifty parliamentarians who have signed my letter now call on the Prime Minister to urgently remove this arbitrary and inhumane deadline and grant automatic settled status to all EU citizens resident in the UK as a matter of urgency.”

Research shows it is the most vulnerable EU citizens – such as looked-after children, Roma communities and the elderly – who are most likely to slip through the cracks. Recent research from the Children’s Society found that only 39% of identified EU looked-after children and care leavers have submitted applications to the EUSS, and only 28% have secured their status.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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