Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 1, January 2022

The news you didn't see this week...

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Your weekly dose of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: editor@leftfootforward.org

1.Coventry bin strikes back on after council fails to lift low pay

Coventry bin strikes began today after the council failed to put forward an offer to lift workers out of low pay during last minute talks with Unite.

More than 70 workers, who are paid as little as £22,183 a year, began 48-hours of strike action at 7am this morning. A further four days of strike action will take place from Tuesday 11 January to Friday 14 January.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our Coventry members agreed to postpone strike action over Christmas in good faith to allow further talks with the city council. Unfortunately, the council has refused to enter into meaningful negotiations and improve its offer. Coventry’s intransigence is particularly baffling considering the efforts of other councils to retain their HGV drivers in the face of nationwide shortages.”

2. Millions face being dragged into fuel poverty without immediate government intervention

GMB, the energy union, has warned that millions of energy consumers face being dragged into fuel poverty without immediate Government intervention.

Energy bills are expected to increase by around £1,200 per household, according to the Resolution Foundation. High prices are rapidly becoming a crisis for consumers and are causing already rampant inflation to rise further.

GMB believes the issue is being too big for the market to deal with and is calling for increased Government intervention to provide certainty for consumers and businesses.

Andy Prendergast, GMB National Secretary, said: “Calls from MPs to remove VAT and green levies from energy bills are a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough to resolve the huge problems facing the sector.

“It’s time to accept that this is an area that has been failed by the market, leaving to confusion and soaring bills to the public as a result.

“We need a root and branch intervention that provides long term stability for consumers and businesses alike. Whilst VAT holidays may provide some short-term protection, they will not go far enough or address long-term cost pressures.”

3. Almost 1 million Scottish pensioners hammered by Tories Triple lock scrap

The SNP has said independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s pensioners – as new analysis reveals almost 1 million Scottish pensioners have been directly impacted by the Tories’ choice to scrap the Triple Lock.

House of Commons Library research concluded 985,065 pensioners in Scotland have been directly impacted by the cut – which will see them lose £520 in 2022, and a cumulative £2,600 over the next five years.

The UK government’s Households Below Average Income (HBAI) statistics show that UK pension poverty had risen to a 15 year high under Tory rule – with 2.1million UK pensioners (18%) now living in poverty after housing costs, an increase of 200,00 on 2018/2019.

Commenting, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson David Linden MP said: “For as long as Scotland gets Tory governments we don’t vote for, Scotland’s pensioners will continue to see their incomes slashed.

“Under Westminster control, UK pensioners already have the least generous pensions in north west Europe – and things are only getting worse.”

4. Welsh Liberal Democrats call on UK Government to act immediately to prevent the expansion of Coal Mine

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have called on the UK Government to act immediately to prevent the potential expansion of the Aberpergwm Coal Mine in the Neath Valley.

The UK Coal Authority is reportedly close to making a decision over the expansion of the Aberpergwm Colliery. The potential expansion plans come despite pledges by the UK Government during the Cop26 climate conference to move away from coal. The UK Conservative Government has already faced criticism over its refusal so far to veto a new coal mine in Cumbria and the Cambo Oil Field.

Calling for the expansion of the mine to receive an immediate veto from the UK Government, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said: “This project is totally unsuitable for a modern Wales that is seeking to do its part to stop climate change and build a future that is safe and sustainable for younger generations.

“Coal remains the dirtiest form of power on the planet and a new mine will result in new emissions being released at precisely the vital moment we are urgently trying to cut them.”

5. First unpatented Covid-19 vaccine “a turning point” in global vaccination drive

Reacting to news that India has approved a patent-free vaccine from Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine for emergency use, Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “Creating a patent-free Covid-19 vaccine could be a turning point in the battle to vaccinate the world and stem the risk of new variants.

“The UK government squandered the opportunity of Oxford University’s vaccine, handing an exclusive patent to AstraZeneca who are now trying to profit from the publicly-funded jab. Unlike Britain’s so-called ‘vaccine for the world’, intellectual property should not be a barrier to accessing this life-saving drug.

“The next vital step for the Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine is sharing the technology and know-how needed to make this jab with the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) so that every safe vaccine manufacturer can start production.”

6. 99% of key workers are not included in the priority testing scheme, says TUC

The TUC has criticised the Prime Minister for not guaranteeing Covid tests to nearly enough key workers.

Boris Johnson has said 100,000 critical workers will be given daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open. However, under the government’s own definition of a key worker, 10.6 million of those employed (33% of the total workforce) are in key worker occupations and industries. The scheme will therefore guarantee daily Covid tests for only 1% of key workers.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This scheme will only reach one in every hundred key workers. It’s hopelessly inadequate.

“Key workers do their vital work in teams. Surgeons and nurses need cleaners and porters. Food supply needs producers, warehouse staff, drivers, and retailers. Ministers must explain who is left out, and what they should do if they can’t get tested.

7. NHS campaigners slam ‘short-sighted’ sell-off of vaccine centre

NHS campaigners in Oxfordshire have condemned plans to privatise the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC). The VMIC was set up in 2018 as an institution which would develop vaccines and prepare for future pandemics. VMIC is situated in Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

Presently, the VMIC has been established as a non-profit company of which the founding universities are shareholders. Reports have, however, indicated that the VMIC could soon be owned and managed by the private sector. According to the Financial Times, government officials have been examining bids for the centre.

Liz Peretz of Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire said: “The decision to put the VMIC up for sale is monumentally short-sighted and fails to learn the basic lessons of the last two years. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen countless elements of the response handed over to the private sector – whether it be side-stepping NHS laboratories to hand testing contracts to the likes of Randox, or using contract tracing to siphon millions to Serco while ignoring the expertise in our local authorities.

“The result? Private profit has been put above public health.”

8. Nearly £10 million spent on “Tory propaganda unit” in one year

The SNP has demanded Scottish Secretary Alister Jack explain why the Tory government is continuing to waste millions of taxpayers’ money on the “zombie” Scotland Office after new figures revealed nearly £10m has been spent on the “defunct department” this year.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has recommended that the role of the Scotland Office and the Scottish Secretary be reviewed and that the UK government should look at replacing it with a single department responsible for devolution.

Commenting, SNP Shadow Scottish Secretary Mhairi Black MP said: “People in Scotland will be horrified at the fact that the government has spent another year spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a zombie department that has consistently failed to stand up for Scotland in the face of an extreme Brexit and Tory power grab.”

9. TUC: We’re already at risk of falling behind the EU on workers’ rights

Commenting on the one year anniversary of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “One year on since the UK-EU deal came into force, and we’re already at risk of falling behind our EU counterparts on rights in the workplace.

“While the EU is boosting rights for platform workers, our government is pursuing a review that threatens to water down employment protection and put hard-won rights on the line. 

“That wasn’t the promise the prime minister made to us. He said he would protect and enhance labour rights post-Brexit and make Britain the best place to work in the world.”

10. Campaigners support urgent call for global ‘vaccines-plus’ action

A large number of public health experts, scientists, clinicians and medical and academic institutions have written an open letter to the British Medical Journal calling for co-ordinated ‘vaccines-plus’ action across the world to end the pandemic. The signatories include prominent academics based in the UK, as well as experts from around the world.

Zero Covid UK, which campaigns for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be suppressed and eventually eliminated through a combination of infection-control measures, including vaccination, says it supports the calls.

It says that the Government’s reliance on vaccinations alone simply isn’t working. Campaigners are calling for governments to acknowledge that Covid is airborne,  promote high-quality face-masks and facilitate enhanced ventilation.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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