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

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10. The Green Party of England and Wales has strongly criticised the ‘negligent and short-sighted’ policy shift in government Covid policy this week, with plans to abandon social distancing and make mask-wearing voluntary.

Green Party public health spokesperson Peter Cranie said: “With a 70% rise in cases last week, the government’s decision to abandon social distancing measures is grossly irresponsible. They are not being driven either by data or by dates but by their own ideology of self-destructive individualism.

“While it is true that the vaccination programme has loosened the link between infection and death, we are dealing with a new virus, which we have already seen has the capacity to mutate. We need to continue to take a cautious approach based on science, rather than libertarian ideology. 

“Forty per cent of the population have received no vaccination at all 2 and are still highly vulnerable to this infection. Although in smaller numbers, some children do fall seriously ill and the incidence from Long Covid is still not clear.

“This Darwinian policy is fundamentally discriminatory since we know that certain groups in the population have lower rates of vaccination and so we are condemning them to higher rates of Covid infection, hospitalisation and death. In a strong society we would show solidarity with the most vulnerable rather than throwing them to the wolves.”

The Scottish Greens have urged the Scottish Government to make home working default for the rest of the year as one way to mitigate Boris Johnson’s ‘dangerous policy to infect as many people as possible with Covid’.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Scottish Government public health adviser Professor Devi Sridhar called the lifting of restrictions “an experiment” and called for “realism”.

9. Hard-right political activist Darren Grimes has been met with backlash after urging people to “unmuzzle” themselves and return to offices – live from his mum’s house in County Durham, the London Economic reports.

His intervention comes after Boris Johnson announced that office employees will be able return to work full-time from 19 July on Monday.

The self-styled “not-yet-cancelled conservative commentator”, who has become a mainstay on GB News, said to talkRADIO: ““We need to unmuzzle ourselves and get back into our offices. For people of my age coming up through the work force it’s so important to have that office atmosphere…We’re losing part of our humanity.”

He was mercilessly mocked on Twitter, with one user noting: “Commentator Darren Grimes says working from home has to end…Says Dazzy, condemned to five minute talking head slots on fringe far-right radio, whilst living back at his mam’s and broadcasting from his “studio” broom cupboard under the stairs.”

8. The University and College Union (UCU) has welcomed an agreement reached with the Open University (OU) to ensure improved pay and job security, as the university moves more than 4,000 associate lecturers onto new contracts.

After originally agreeing new contractual terms for associate lecturers in 2018 for implementation in autumn 2021, in March OU backtracked and announced a delay.

Following extensive negotiations, UCU and the university have now signed a legally binding agreement which came into force on Tuesday 29 June. This ensures the OU will implement the new permanent contract in August 2022 and puts measures in place so that associate lecturers don’t lose out from the contract delay.

The interim measures OU has agreed mean that from October 2021 associate lecturers will benefit from the main elements of the permanent contract. These include a 10-15% uplift in pay including additional annual leave and staff development allowance, an annualised salary that includes all elements of work, not just module teaching, and no redundancies or loss of duties before being moved onto the new permanent contract in August 2022.

This contract agreement is a crucial step in ending casualised work. OU was founded in 1969 and is the largest university in the UK for undergraduate education. It offers flexible part-time study, supported distance and open learning for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

OU UCU branch president Caitlin Adams said: “After the university’s sudden announcement of a contract delay in March, this legally binding agreement will ensure more than 4,000 associate lecturers do not suffer any detriment and can rely on the university’s promise to implement the permanent contract in August 2022.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘This is a significant moment which is down to a sustained and monumental effort from UCU staff and members who haven’t shied away from demanding security for associate lecturers.”

7. Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has hit out after the government confirmed it will remove the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift in September.

Jonathan Reynolds MP said: “The Government’s plans to cut Universal Credit will hit the lowest paid hardest and hurt our economic recovery. Six million families are set to lose £1000 a year while out of work support will be left at its lowest level in decades. 

“There is near universal opposition to this cut, including from prominent Conservatives. It is time the Government saw sense, backed struggling families and cancelled their cut to Universal Credit.”

 Speaking in front of the Work and Pensions Committee this morning, Therese Coffey MP confirmed that the UK government, from late September, will “phase out” the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift, and will not extend it to legacy benefits despite calls from numerous anti-poverty charities.
The SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson, David Linden MP, has slammed the decision, urging Boris Johnson to reconsider or face “monumental consequences”.

6. The takeover of GP practices in London by US health insurance giant Centene Corporation could be the subject of a judicial review, Unite the union has said.

Campaigners, including members of Doctors in Unite (DiU), have crowdfunded about £40,000 towards a possible judicial review regarding the recent takeover by Centene’s UK subsidiary Operose of the privately-owned AT Medics set up in 2004 by six NHS GPs and which runs 37 GP practices across London.

The campaigners are waiting to hear if all the legal hurdles have been crossed and the case can proceed on the basis of the lack of transparency.

To drive the message home, campaigners staged a socially-distanced demonstration over Centene’s takeover outside the Department of Health and Social Care, this Monday, marking the NHS’ 73rd birthday.

Former Labour leader and MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn and Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy attended.

Doctors in Unite chair Jackie Applebee said: “Ministers and senior NHS executives have repeatedly mouthed the mantra that the NHS is not being privatised, but that is patently not true as the awarding of lucrative contracts to private healthcare firms continues apace.

“We are now hoping to test this policy with a judicial review as to why a huge swathe of English general practice, including the data of nearly half a million patients, was handed over to US health insurance giant Centene – with a breath-taking lack of transparency and openness. We have been told by the lawyers that we have a strong case.”

5. Over a thousand of people in London alone are at risk of returning to sleeping rough in the coming weeks, with homelessness charities warning of uncertainty around the ending of the ‘Everyone In’ programme.  

New figures published by Homeless Link show that 2,512 people are currently in emergency accommodation in London. Many could end up returning to sleeping rough when the ‘Everyone In’ programme ends, in addition to the 577 people currently sleeping rough in the capital. This story is not just contained to the capital, but is likely to play out across the country.  

As of January this year, official figures showed over 11,000 people were housed in hotels in England. Meanwhile, according to the ONS, 2,688 people slept rough on a single night in 2020 in England, down by 37% on 2019 due to the policy responses brough in in reaction to the pandemic. Rough sleeping in the England peaked in 2017, with 4,751 people sleeping rough on any given night.  

Rick Henderson, CEO at Homeless Link, the national membership body for frontline homeless charities, said:  “Between 2019 and 2020, rough sleeping fell by 37%, with the huge achievements of the ‘Everyone In’ programme demonstrating how effective collection action and universal, unconditional support is in reducing homelessness.

But he added: “However, without swift action the excellent work of the past 15 months risks being undone.” 

4. The Mayor of London must make proper workers’ rights a condition of taxi firm licenses, says the GMB union.

In the wake of GMB Union’s historic deal with Uber, all private hire operators licensed by TfL should provide proper worker rights 

Following years of court hearings, Uber drivers are now legally classified as workers. GMB recently signed an historic recognition deal with Uber that will allow at least 70,000 drivers to join the union. 

Mick Rix, GMB National Organiser said: “In the wake of GMB’s historic deal with Uber, not only should all ride hailing companies be providing worker rights but other private hire operators that are licensed by London regulator TFL.   

“We believe the Mayor and TfL should take steps to make better workers’ rights a condition of an operator’s license to all private hire operators.   

“Unfortunately, some private hire companies just won’t do this unless they’re forced to do so, and that is where the deputy mayor and the regulator TFL must step in.” 

3. The Welsh Labour Government is “ducking scrutiny” by refusing to launch an independent Welsh Covid inquiry, Plaid Cymru has said. 

Plaid Cymru Deputy Senedd Leader and Health Spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said the Labour Government should be ready to be judged on its actions, “good and bad”.

Mr ap Iorwerth said that new research by Welsh language news programme Newyddion S4C showing that a quarter of Welsh Covid deaths resulted from infections contracted in hospital was reason enough to merit a Welsh-specific inquiry.

Mr ap Iorwerth revealed fresh demands from doctors, allied heath professionals and others calling on Welsh Government to immediately set up a Welsh-specific Covid investigation, to properly scrutinise decisions taken so lessons can to be learnt “right now”. Two days ago the Royal College of Nursing joined with the GMB Union and others to call on the Scottish Government to launch a separate Scottish inquiry.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously announced that a full public inquiry into his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will begin in spring 2022. Mr ap Iorwerth said that Sir Robert Owen, the judge who chaired the public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko had recently written about the needs to begin immediately, saying that a long-delayed report ‘ceases to form a useful function”.

Plaid Cymru Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “For over a year Plaid Cymru asked for a Wales-only public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. The Labour Government has instead opted to have a Welsh chapter in a UK-wide inquiry.

“That opens them up to a charge of ducking scrutiny. If they take responsibility, they have to be ready to be judged on their actions, good and bad. And by refusing a Welsh-specific inquiry, Welsh Government is effectively agreeing to Boris Johnson’s delays.”

2. The SNP has challenged Boris Johnson to withdraw his “Trumpian” voter ID bill – warning it is an unnecessary policy that would disenfranchise voters from marginalised communities.

Speaking at Prime Ministers Questions, Ian Blackford MP challenged the Prime Minister to withdraw the “vote-rigging proposals”, which would act as a barrier that could prevent and deter millions of people from voting.

Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “Boris Johnson must withdraw his Trumpian Voter ID bill immediately. It is a completely unnecessary move, which would disenfranchise many voters from marginalised communities.

“The Tory government is robbing people of their democratic right to vote by introducing voter suppression measures, which would act as a barrier that could prevent and deter millions of people from voting.

He pointed to Electoral Commission figures showing 3.5 million people in the UK do not have a form of photo ID, while 11 million people do not have a passport or driver’s licence.

“It’s not just the SNP saying this, members of the Prime Minister’s own party have called his plans “an illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem,” Blackford added.

1.  Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners from across the UK are uniting in a grassroots-led campaign to resist the ‘racist provisions’ in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

This Wednesday at 1pm campaigners gathered peacefully in London’s Parliament Square to launch a Summer of Discontent against the Bill and its intention to ‘completely outlaw’ nomadic Gypsy and Traveller cultures across the UK.

The launch of the Drive 2 Survive campaign comes as the Bill continues its way through parliament.  The People’s Assembly said in a statement: “Opposed by the Labour Party because of the way it restricts the right to peacefully protest, it is highly likely that because of the government’s parliamentary majority within an outdated electoral system, that the Bill will progress into legislation.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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