Tag Archives: Co-operative Party

We must harness the hard work and creativity of Scottish communities to end inequality and build a fair economy

Richard Leonard – Co-operative Party

Just as Scotland was unprepared for this public health crisis, so too are we unprepared for the upcoming crisis in our economy.

Just as our country was unprepared for this public health crisis, so too are we unprepared for the upcoming crisis in our economy. The underlying weaknesses in the Scottish economy have not been tackled.  The Scottish Government should have been taking action to diversify and strengthen the Scottish economy and to narrow inequality – but it has not done so. But it’s not too late for us to take bold, decisive action.

Merely tinkering with these problems will not do.  As the Co-operative Party’s new Owning The Future report suggests, we must harness the hard work, creativity, and dedication of people and their communities to end inequality and build a better economy.

Thanks to polling conducted for the Co-operative Party, we know that in Scotland 59% of people feel that they do not have a say in the economy. That disconnect speaks volumes. But Scots also know the answer: 65% of us feel the economy would be fairer post-coronavirus with more co-operatives at its heart.

Scotland should seek to be the Mondragon of the north.  We should seek to at least double the size of the co-operative sector in Scotland.  As part of this, we would review the working of Co-operative Development Scotland – giving it the resources it needs and put it on a statutory footing.

I am a strong advocate of a Scottish Marcora law: workers should have the right to buyout the business they work for at a time when it might be sold or close.  But co-operation shouldn’t just be a measure of last resort: we need to look at ways of promoting employee ownership across the economy and giving employees a say on company boards.

If we truly want a level playing field in Scotland, we must make sure everyone pays in fairly. Along with Co-op MSPs, I have been arguing that no bailouts should go to companies continuing to avoid paying tax.  Co-operative MSP Rhoda Grant has led on this in the Parliament over a number of years, and never has the case for us all pay our fair share been stronger.

We know that a fairer economy must also be a greener economy – I know that Co-operative MSP Claudia Beamish and others have been making a strong case for a co-operative green new deal.  We should be looking for ways to include common democratic ownership in the green technologies of the future.

Our financial institutions are letting us down.  Too often the big banks are abandoning our high streets and our communities.  As part of our plans to expand the co-operative sector I am keen that we look at ways in which we can empower the credit union sector.  I also want to see the new Scottish National Investment Bank make a real difference to communities across Scotland not just to shareholders’ bank balances.

There is some really interesting work going on in Scotland to promote building wealth in the heart of our communities, led by Councillor Joe Cullinane in North Ayrshire.  Place should be much more important in economic policy.  There is no one-size fits all approach for the Scottish economy: we need to empower local communities to make decisions that suit local communities and promote their economic well-being. It is communities, not corporations that have led the way during this crisis – and we should recognise that by giving them a bigger stake and say in the economy.

As I said in the Parliament recently, I appeal to all people of good will to work together, to unite to join together in a common endeavour to build a better future.  I believe that in Owning the Future, the Co-operative Party has played an important role in setting out important milestones on the road to recovery, and Scottish Labour will work with the Scottish Co-operative Party to promote these policies and it will contribute to Scottish Labour’s thinking in the weeks and months ahead.

I look forward to speaking more about this at the Scottish Co-operative Party’s Owning The Future event on Saturday – and you’re more than welcome to join me at this event to discuss these ideas over Zoom.

Avoiding an economic cliff edge means narrowing inequality. To do this, more people need a stake in our economy.

Anneliese Dodds – Co-Operative Party

History has taught us that caring for communities, tackling climate change, protecting workers and consumers, and sharing wealth more fairly cannot be left to the market alone.

Britain is the sixth richest country in the world. But this figure masks a much more troubling economic picture. When the UK’s richest six people control as much wealth as the poorest 13 million and when eight million people have trouble putting food on the table, it is clear that our economy is not working.

Covid-19 has brought Britain’s inequality problem into sharp focus. Deaths in the most deprived areas have been more than double those in the least deprived. BAME people are at far greater risk of dying from the disease than white people. The frontline workers we rely on to take the greatest risks during this pandemic experience some of the lowest pay and live in some of the most overcrowded housing.

This inequality is not caused by coronavirus, but inequality left us underprepared and vulnerable to its devastation. This crisis has exposed the precariousness of work, the strain on household incomes, the gaping holes in our safety net and the extent of underfunding of our public services. But it has also revealed our community spirit, our willingness to help a neighbour, to meet crisis with kindness. This new-found co-operation is something we must hold onto.

It is critical too that we learn the lessons of past recessions – learning not just from the policy choices made during the recovery but the causes of their onset. We entered lockdown as one of the most unequal countries in Europe – and this is relevant to our understanding of how we exit lockdown. Throughout history, recessions have been preceded by growing inequality, leaving economies vulnerable and condemning their recovery to being short-lived and weak.

The Co-operative Party’s report ‘Owning the Future’ explores reasons for this. History has taught us that caring for communities, tackling climate change, protecting workers and consumers, and sharing wealth more fairly cannot be left to the market alone. Instead, we must take measures which, if adopted, narrow inequality by widening peoples’ stake in the economy – ending the shareholder primacy that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a small number of investors and executives. Polling shows that this is something the public back: only 10% of people feel that the pre-coronavirus economy prioritised sharing wealth fairly, but two-thirds want this to be the priority in what comes next.

We cannot afford to be laissez-faire. As well as ensuring the short term measures are in place to guide the economy out of lockdown, such as assurances for workers that their workplaces are safe and for employers that the transition back to work is gradual and flexible, we must put in place the strongest possible foundations for a sustained, resilient and fair recovery.

It is clear that this cannot mean a return to business as usual. A fairer economy must be more attuned to its communities, more resilient to shocks and more productive. This won’t come about by chance: it requires proactive intervention to broaden peoples’ stake in the economy, change the way economic rewards are distributed, and shift the balance of power.

Economies characterised by a bigger co-operative sector have been shown to be more equitable, productive and accountable. Rather than simply extracting profit, co-operatives benefit the communities, consumers and employees with which they interact. They represent the kind of economy we aspire to – one where business and social responsibility go hand-in-hand.

By working together we can build new strength and new solidarity into our communities

Mark Drakeford – Co-operative Party

We must again draw on the Co-operative Party’s ideas and values if we are to re-think and re-cast the Wales of tomorrow in the face of this current moment of disruption and change.

It would have been understandable had Wales Co-operative Party members taken the decision, given the extraordinary circumstances of Coronavirus, to postpone this year’s annual conference. I am glad they didn’t because though the immediate work of responding to Covid is not yet at an end, it is time to begin to look to the future – to the recovery.

To take the lessons and the new ideas that have come out of this crisis and to begin the work of re-building our economy, our public services and our public realm in a new and a stronger way.  One in which the co-operative movement in Wales has an important role to play.

In doing that work here in Wales we have a solid foundation on which to build. I’m proud of what the Welsh Government has done in recent years to take the fantastic work of the Welsh Co-operatives and Mutuals Commission to make real the values of co-operative action across every area of government – fair shares for all.

In social care we have legislated to support the development of not for profit providers and set up the Integrated Care Fund to promote alternative delivery models. In the foundational economy we have established a new £4.5m experimental fund to test new ideas and ways of working through more than 50 pilot projects that we hope to scale up within procurement.

In housing we are testing new models of co-operative homes and communities and in education we are using co-operative ideas to help shape an exciting new curriculum for the next generation of learners.

But it’s when times get tough that principles get really tested. And over the last few weeks I have been exceptionally proud that in Wales we have had Co-operative members of the Senedd in government turning co-operative principles into practical action.

From the work we have done ensuring that vital support is available for co-operative and social enterprise businesses through the crisis; in recognising the food retail sector as key workers eligible for education and childcare support or in making sure that no companies based in a tax haven get access to support through our Economic Resilience Fund – it is no coincidence that during this crisis it has been to ideas grounded in co-operative principles and campaigns that we have most readily turned.

But perhaps the true genius of the co-operative movement lies not only in the practical change it helps us achieve today, but also in the progressive vision it helps us set out for tomorrow. As we think forward to the Senedd elections in 2021 it is to that co-operative vision of tomorrow that we must again draw strength.

We must build on the excellent work done by the Wales Co-operative Centre to promote community wealth building; we must lean on the work of the People’s Railway campaign to reshape bus and rail transport and we must use the consultation work we have already done in Wales to give the force of law to communities wanting to protect assets of local value and significance for future generations.  In each area enshrining the principle that investments made by the community should see benefits shared by the community.

One need only look back at the last century of the Co-op Party’s work to see the profound and lasting impact co-operative ideas have played in progressive change here in Wales. And it is to that reservoir of ideas and values that we must again draw if are to re-think and re-cast the Wales of tomorrow in the face of this current moment of disruption and change. Drawing on the past to look forward to the future.

An approach all the more resonant in light of what coronavirus has shown us – the need to put fair shares back at the heart of our politics, our economy and our public policy. Fair shares for all.

From Robert Owen onwards this is what has hallmarked the co-operative movement – strong principle allied to practical action.  It is to that experience of the co-operative movement, rooted in people and place, that comes out so strongly in the excellent recent Co-op Party report, ‘Owning the Future’.

That excellent report makes the point that 68% of us do not want to lose the renewed sense of community spirit which has developed through the lockdown to end and that through the institutional embedding of co-operative ideas we can build a fairer, more sustainable economy.

That’s an idea I welcome and share. By working together we can build new strength and new solidarity into our communities, by giving new opportunities to those that need it, by re-building our communities around co-operative values of social justice and fairness, and through fair shares for all.

New polling shows that people want an economy that shares wealth more fairly

Anna Birley, Co-operative Party

A huge 90% did not feel that sharing wealth fairly was given priority in the pre-coronavirus economy, and 82% did not feel that protecting workers and consumers took priority either.

We commissioned Populus to conduct polling on the economy, seeking to understand people’s values and whether they felt these were reflected in the economy – and importantly, what values they want to see in the economy as we recover after lockdown finishes.

The responses paint a clear picture: most people do not feel that the economy works for them and do not believe that sharing wealth fairly or protecting workers and consumers were priorities in the pre-Covid economy.

A huge 90% did not feel that sharing wealth fairly was given priority in the pre-coronavirus economy, and 82% did not feel that protecting workers and consumers took priority either. Over half of respondents stated that the economy is run for the benefit of private business and did not feel that they have a stake in it – by contrast, only a quarter felt that they have a stake in the economy.

The more positive news, however, is that there is broad support for change. Over two thirds of people want to give customers, communities and employees more od a say in how businesses and the economy are run. The majority of respondents believe that more businesses run as co-operatives, owned by customers, employees and/or communities instead of private shareholders would make the economy fairer. Similarly the majority support more co-operative and community banks and credit unions,  ending the use of tax havens, employees on company boards, and corporate governance reform so that companies must consider the environment and community as well as their profits.

Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) believe that mechanisms to allow employees to buyout the business they work for if the company is at risk of closing down would help to create a fairer economy –  showing popular support for a British version of Italy’s Marcora Law. This piece of legislation provides workers at risk of redundancy, when a business or part of a businesses is poised to shut down, with their unemployment benefits as a lump sum in advance to use as capital to buyout the business – as well as access to support and guidance to make it successful. Not only does this keep people in jobs and ensure businesses stay open and productive, it also means the economy can over time shift to a fairer, more democratic structure where employees have a say and a stake in their workplaces.

Something not often covered when analysing polling results is the number of people who don’t know the right answer. We think it’s important to highlight –  of our respondents, 41% didn’t know if profit maximisation should be a focus or not, and 39% didn’t know whether or not it is a good idea to pursue growth at any cost.

After a decade of austerity, a difficult few months of lockdown, and an uncertain economic future, it is unsurprising that people do not feel like they know the answers. With many in insecure work or unsure whether they will still have a job when the furlough scheme ends, ‘don’t know’ is a valid response – and also an opportunity to put forward new ideas on how we reshape the economy. At a time of deep political polarisation, results showing that people are open to different policy options should be cause for hope and a rallying call to those of us with ideas for a fairer, more equal future.

Inequality is killing our black communities – and it is time for change

Public Health England’s latest report makes for grim reading. If you are black, Asian or minority ethnic, you are more likely to die from coronavirus. It is the most tragic proof of the deeply entrenched inequality and discrimination in our society.

Michael Gove told us, “the fact that both the prime minister and the health secretary have contracted the virus is a reminder that the virus does not discriminate.” But the numbers do not lie – class and race matter to our understanding of the impact of Covid-19, and should be at the heart of our response.

Far from a great equaliser, coronavirus thrives on inequality. And Britain’s unequal system gives the virus an environment in which is can thrive and wreak havoc. Derrick Johnson, the President of the NAACP in America, wrote “Black deaths are not a flaw in the system. They are the system.”

This holds true in the UK as well as the US. The underlying condition is racism and inequality – BAME people are disproportionately more likely to live in our most deprived neighbourhoods, disproportionately represented in frontline jobs that put them at risk, disproportionately excluded from the corridors of power. And while we watch aghast at the police brutality towards Black people in America, we must remember that here too there is structural racism in our law and order: the police here are 54% more likely to issue fines to BAME people under coronavirus rules than white people and there have been reports of police heavy handedness at anti-racism protests this week.

Those who face the greatest deprivation experience a far higher risk of exposure to Covid-19. Deaths in the most deprived areas of England have been more than double those in the least deprived. Plotting Covid-19 mortality rates against levels of housing overcrowding shows a stark correlation. You cannot socially distance in cramped accommodation.

These are communities in which BAME people are overrepresented – BAME families are more likely to live in low-income households and overcrowded conditions. Levels of in-work poverty are disproportionately higher in BAME communities because of the racial discrimination in the world of work which traps BAME workers in lower paid roles and occupations. These same workers are the people we rely on to take the greatest risks during this pandemic – they are the heroes we clapped on Thursday evenings for keeping supermarkets open, caring for our elderly relatives, nursing our sick in hospitals.

These workers are most exposed to the virus – and are most likely to be living in areas of higher deprivation. Low pay, structural racism and entrenched socio-economic and health inequalities is forcing key workers to take the virus back into the communities least well equipped to withstand it.

I represent a very diverse community in Vauxhall, and we have experienced more than our fair share of tragedy here over the last weeks and months. The most painful thing that I have had to do to date as a relatively new MP is speak to the family of 13-year-old Ismail Mohammed Abdulwahab, who died from Covid-19 on 30 March.

I’m proud that the local council, Lambeth, have recognised the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities and launched their own investigation, making sure this crisis is not hidden by monitoring and tracking all equalities data of deaths registered as well as in all the services that the council offers to support communities and businesses through lockdown – for example, making sure that our BAME business community is able to access the support for business that the council has put in place.

This is right, and I am grateful for community and local government action to recognise and tackle inequality. However, we need wider structural change if we are to tackle the root causes of structural inequality. Many people have taken to social media to offer their support and solidarity with the BAME community and the Black Lives Matter movement, but we need increased awareness of people’s real life lived experiences to help bring about the long term changes we seek in our society.

As a co-operative MP, I believe that our economic system perpetuates inequality – while my communities wrestle with low pay, poor quality housing, limited access to the jobs market and discrimination, power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a small number of shareholders and executives. Until we create a system which promotes policy changes where we all own a stake and have a say, this cycle of inequality will continue.

The extraordinary kindness of volunteers shows the power we can unlock in communities

This Volunteers Week 2020 should form the basis of a new relationship, as we start to determine the future, and should provide clear vision to the path ahead.

The coming together to serve one another goes to the core of our values as co-operators. Written into our DNA is the need to work to serve the needs of our communities, to share skills, talents and resources and to speak for those who do not have a voice.

In celebrating the work of volunteers as part of Volunteers Week 2020, we put the spotlight again on the extraordinary acts of kindness of citizens to others in their community. Acts of altruism is what builds a healthy society, and over the last couple of months we have seen a regeneration of the role and value of people giving of themselves as we try to meet the ever increasing need in our communities.

The deeds of volunteers are so welcomed, not least be the beneficiaries of these, but in this week of putting the focus on volunteers, we must also value the knowledge and experience of volunteers and how this can be better captured and utilised.

This week I am calling for the Civil Society Sector to be a full partner of statutory bodies, whether local authorities, the NHS or the police to help shape society as we emerge from this pandemic crisis. We know that the need of our communities is greater than we have ever witnessed as is the uncertainty, but we also know that the solutions sit within our communities.

Many charities, social enterprises and co-operatives have not qualified for the lifeline grants and loans offered by the Government during this lockdown period, so their future hangs by a thread, however most of these organisations also provide the solutions as to how society can recover more equitably. Unless their voice is heard, and statutory bodies re-prioritise their services accordingly, we are in danger of society becoming more inequitable, more divided and ultimately millions of people will fall thorough the gap.

With funders not knowing their economic fate and fundraising activity seriously curtailed, it is vital that investment is made into voluntary and community organisations. We know that they always stretch the pound further and always deliver more holistic and comprehensive services, but they also hold the keys to unlock the latent potential in every community.

This Volunteers Week 2020 should form the basis of a new relationship, as we start to determine the future, and should provide clear vision to the path ahead. I hope that the sector is emboldened by its recent experienced to speak on behalf of their communities and articulate the provision that needs to be put in place.

As people who naturally desire to work in co-operative and collaborative ways, this is an opportunity for the co-operative movement to harness the voice of civil society and ensure that it is heard at the top tables, locally and nationally.

It is a challenging time for everyone, but the lifeblood of the sector could pave the way for a stronger and more resilient society in which everyone can play their part.

We must tackle the hidden grief crisis with a roadmap to dignity in bereavement

As talk begins of a ‘return to normal’, it’s important that we recognise that for those who have lost loved ones, there is no going back. The Government needs to provide a way forward for those left behind – and to do this, a roadmap to dignity in bereavement is essential.

The biggest impact for many of the coronavirus crisis has been the sad loss of a loved one. Each day the overall figure of those who have died from the virus across the country rises, but behind each number is a life; a person, their family, their friends, and now their grief at their loss.

To compound the difficulties for many, our ability to mourn and grieve as normal has also been affected. That’s why last month I convened a letter with cross-party support, raising with the Health Secretary the need for greater support and counselling facilities for families of those who have lost loved ones to this devastating virus. And that support is still desperately required.

Covid-19 deaths often occur in isolation, without loved ones being able to provide comfort in those final hours. Funeral services aren’t being performed as normal — an increase in demand has increased delays, and those that are taking place are affected by social distancing rules in which attendees cannot even hug family and console friends. Worst of all, in some areas mourners are banned from funeral services altogether, preventing even close family from saying a final goodbye.

The inability to grieve properly is exacerbating fresh sorrow. The immediate effects are clear, but there’s also no knowing what impact this will have on people further down the line as the crisis eases.

That’s why steps need to be taken by the Government now to address this issue and set out a roadmap to dignity in bereavement, to ensure that despite the current circumstances, people are able to process loss now and in the future.

In the short term, this means action to ensure affordability of funeral services of those who require them. Funeral providers are at the forefront of our national effort against the COVID-19 outbreak and they have rightly taken steps to reduce funeral costs, but many people are still unable to afford them.

Given the combination of falling incomes, reduced savings, and the sad fact that many of the funerals currently required are unexpected and unplanned, it’s no surprise people simply cannot afford the expense which can reach several thousands of pounds.

It’s important the Government makes sure nobody in the midst of grief is forced into debt or financial instability to afford a service.

For those who are able to hold a service, the guidance around current funeral arrangements for attendees is unclear and differs across the country. In some local authorities, funeral services are required to be attended by no more than 10 people, whereas others have banned mourners altogether.

The Government should ensure that funerals taking place here and now are consistent in their consideration of those grieving a loss, and provide dignity in death for those lost.

In the medium term, as lockdown requirements begin to be eased and larger gatherings are permitted again, those who were unable to attend funerals should be given the opportunity to mourn too.

That might take the form of a memorial service, or a ceremony reminiscent of a ‘celebration of life’, where crucially there would be no restrictions on attendees.

As well as providing an opportunity for those previously unable to attend services to say goodbye, this would allow all to mourn in a more conventional environment, surrounded by friends and family, able to console and comfort each other, and crucially grieve in a healthy way.

Here again the Government should look at options, and work to ensure all of those wishing to mourn can do so.

Finally, in the longer term, the impact of this crisis on the funeral and bereavement sector itself cannot be ignored.

The efforts taken by funeral providers to reduce costs and the huge increase in reliance on simple services has meant the funeral care sector like others has suffered severely from this crisis. Many are only just getting by, and a significant number of independent and smaller providers could go out of business. Whilst the possibility of a second wave of the virus remains, we cannot risk losing the capacity of funeral providers to support the nation if they are needed.

Without intervention, a crisis now will simply be pushed further into the future. Even as the crisis recedes, funeral services may be unavailable and unaffordable.

The Government should step in and offer support, to ensure today’s pressures aren’t tomorrow’s crisis in the funeral sector.

As talk begins of a ‘return to normal’, it’s important that we recognise that for those who have lost loved ones, there is no going back. The Government needs to provide a way forward for those left behind – and to do this, a roadmap to dignity in bereavement is essential.


We need to close the digital divide that Coronavirus has exposed

A million children across the UK are having their future chances hurt because they lack access to technology: to build a fairer future post-Coronavirus, we need to end digital deprivation.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the profound social and economic inequalities that permeate Britain in the 21st Century. It’s often been said that the Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate in who it affects, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it is the disproportionate mortality rate in BAME communities, or the ONS figures that show the death rate amongst the poorest 10% of the population is 88% higher than amongst the richest 10%. There is a stark truth that underlines the Coronavirus: the poorer you are, the less likely you are to survive.

It’s also the case that deprivation is intimately linked to people’s lived experience of the virus. For those in jobs that can be done from spacious homes, lockdown and social isolation hasn’t been easy – but it is poles apart from those living in overcrowded flats; children growing up without sufficient outside space; workers forced to put themselves at risk because they cannot work from home. Lockdown is disproportionately affecting our poorest communities.

Take education. Research by the Sutton Trust showed that 57% of private school pupils are taking part in daily online lessons, as compared to 22% in the state sector. That falls to as low as 8% in the most deprived schools. 15% of teachers feel that more than a third of children do not have suitable technology to take part in remote learning, whilst 12% feel that a third do not have a reliable internet connection. This ‘digital divide’ is having a damaging impact on the life chances of children in the communities that I represent. I’m working with local councils, schools, colleges, education trade unions and third sector organisations to close the digital divide. I’ve always said that where you grow up should not determine where you end up; but for too many young people, growing up in households with one computer between 3 siblings, or without a decent internet connection – that’s exactly what’s happening. One million children across the country will be hit by the digital divide, we cannot risk damaging their education and life chances because of a lack of technology.

I welcome the announcement by the Education Secretary that care leavers, children with social workers and those in exam years hit by the digital divide would receive free laptops and routers to learn from home. However, we must ensure that no child is left behind, starting with sustained investment into addressing digital poverty. As a Metro Mayor, I grapple with structural regional inequalities every day. The communities I represent in South Yorkshire receive less investment in transport infrastructure and Local Authority funding than other, more prosperous parts of the country. The same is true when it comes to investment in high speed broadband. It should be a fundamental right that everyone can access a decent internet connection. Whether it is applying for benefits, paying your Council Tax or doing your weekly shop – so much of our modern life requires the technology and skills to get online.

I’ve written about the lessons of Coronavirus when it comes to rebuilding and renewing our country. There can be no return to the status quo of an economy that doesn’t work for working people. That is the Herculean task facing the Labour, Trade Union and Co-operative movement as we face the future. Rebuilding and renewing our country means reconnecting with the working-class communities that felt unable to place their faith in us last December. Regaining their trust will mean changing the very way we do politics. For too long, voters in our former Labour heartlands have been moving away from us. Partly that has been a question of policy and leadership, but there has been a gradual shift in how we interact with the communities we serve. Too often, Labour has been perceived as doing things for working-class people. To regain the trust of the voters who stayed at home or went elsewhere in 2019 – and to gain the support of the millions across the country we need to form a Labour Government – we must become a movement of working-class people and communities.

Closing the digital divide is a microcosm of how that’s achieved. One of the last Labour Government’s greatest achievements was the creation of Sure Start centres. Every community in Barnsley had one: opened by Labour and closed by the Tories. The lesson we can draw from Sure Start was that this was never about doing something for working-class families. It was about supporting parents to look after their kids and giving families lifelong skills and the ability to support themselves – a hand up, not a handout. We will have closed the digital divide when we can ensure that every worker in our communities has a decent, well paid job and isn’t forced to worry about the next bill landing on the mat. When they have the technology to support the whole family and the digital literacy skills to work and learn remotely. That’s our movement’s collective endeavour.

Dan Jarvis MBE, MP for Barnsley Central and Labour & Co-operative Mayor of the Sheffield City Region

As shops re-open, better protection against violence towards retail workers is needed

With the lockdown easing and shops given the green light to re-open, retail workers across the country will return to work. Now more than ever, greater protection against violence towards them is required.

Over the weekend the Government set out the next phase of the lockdown easing, which will include the opening of non-essential shops and the return to work for retail workers across the country. What form these openings may take is still unclear, and the details of the how we may find ourselves shopping in the weeks and months to come are yet to be seen.

But what is important is that the people who ensure our shelves are stocked and shops are open do so in a safe way, with proper protections in place.

In recent months we have seen just how important retail workers are, as those in the food supply chain helped make sure we could access the supplies we needed. And I’m proud that it was Co-operative MPs in Westminster who helped ensure these efforts were recognised and retail workers were rightly included on the Government’s list of essential workers.

However since then, shopworkers have continued to face violence and aggression as they have gone about their jobs. In fact, a survey by the shopworkers trade union USDAW found that incidents of verbal abuse, threats and assaults – that were already unacceptably frequent – have doubled during the coronavirus crisis.

The statistics are shameful, but the incidents behind each figure are equally disgraceful. As shopworkers have tried to maintain public safety by requesting social distancing or asking shoppers not to panic buy, in return they have been attacked, or threatened to be spat at or coughed on.

These incidents are utterly unacceptable, and alongside the Co-operative Party and USDAW I have long campaigned for greater protection for retail workers against these acts of intimidation, aggression, and violence.

Earlier this year I brought forward legislation on the issue, and my Bill to bring tougher sentences and a greater deterrent to those committing these acts will return to Parliament next month.

And as increasing numbers of shop and retail workers soon return to work in an unfamiliar and uncertain environment, it is vital now more than ever they are given adequate and effective protection by this Government.

Four steps to listing the places that make your community special

Many of us have been reminded of the value that our parks and public spaces bring to communities in recent weeks whilst so much of our daily lives has been closed. But a new report by Fields in Trust published today, in partnership with the Co-op Group, warned that hundreds of thousands of people could be about to lose their access to green space over the next five years. 

That’s why we’re working not only to protect parks, but all the assets that make a community special, including community centres, allotments, loosand even pubs. 

Love It? List It! is the Co-operative Party’s new campaign to list new Assets of Community Value. These are the places people love that they want to preserve for the community’s use in the years to come. And here’s our quick guide on how the process works. 

1) Map your existing community assets

This is your chance to find the places your community really cares about, from pubs and playing fields to parks and community centres. Groups in England can nominate a new Asset of Community Value in the area where they live. This will mean it has some protection from sale for five years. 

2) Check with your council

Your local council will have a list of all the Assets of Community Value in your area, which you can check on their website. If the asset you want to list isn’t listed already, you’re ready to start – submit the details to us 

3) Get your signatures

We’ll create a petition page you can share with friends, neighbours, and community groups online. This will allow you to gather the 21 signatures from households in your local area, an important first step to creating a group which can list an ACV alongside filling in the required forms. 

4) Submit the names and the forms to your local authority

Summit the appropriate forms and the online signatures to your local authority, and after a quick approval process, your new listing should be added to the council’s register. Congratulations! You’ve successfully listed a community asset which gives it an element of protection for five years 

Don’t forget, just 21 people can come together to form a group who can can list as many assets as you think need protecting.