Tag Archives: coronavirus

Trying to put the wheels back on the Inspiration Trust project

Ian Duckett – NEU

Norman King – GMB

Wendy Smith – Unite

 On behalf of East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group

On 29 June Dame Rachel De Souza wrote an article for the Eastern Daily Press, titled the ‘Norfolk Academy Trust reveals Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’.

Like all schools and academies the COVID19 pandemic has taken the wheels off Inspiration Trust’s  schools in Norwich and across Norfolk. In the article, Dame De Souza states that pupils will be returning early from the summer break to make up for lessons lost during lockdown in a desperate effort to put the wheels back on. We think that there is another road, an alternative route out of this pandemic that our schools could take and build for a better future.

We feel that this quest to reopen, particularly during a period when the Coronavirus is seen to be on the rise in some areas, in the middle of what promises to be a very busy holiday period for the region is irresponsible and short sighted in the extreme.  It is plain that hubs of infection are springing up from as close as Suffolk, and in Leicester where schools are currently closing.  During the “opening” period people from these regions will be flocking to our city and holiday destinations raising the level of risk.

We are quite sure that the fixed date return will cause huge anxiety among parents, carers, teachers and students and the wider community.  If one thing is certain, it is that we do not know what the infection rates are going to be in the future.

The coalition of parents and teachers – Parents and Teachers for Education (PTE) founded by chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, Dame De Souza, hardly inspires confidence since I feel they cannot represent the interests all concerned parents, teachers, students and the wider community.  Furthermore it is an organisation formed by the trust itself.

Of course we want to reopen schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them. We also would like to point out that schools never closed. They have been open during lockdown to provide education in a safe environment for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

The pre-conditions for a safe return to schools are: much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases; a proper negotiated plan agreed with unions for social distancing; testing, testing and more testing; whole school strategy and protection for the vulnerable. Have these tests been met? We are far from convinced that they have been. We would respectfully ask the Dame where the evidence is that the Inspiration Trust and the government has met the requirements of these criteria.

We also worry about Health and Safety Officers, who are direct employees of the trust, making these judgements. Are teachers being bullied into returning to work without adequate safeguards being in place?  Do they even know what is in place?  Have the teaching unions been involved in the discussion?

It is already known that some of the school buildings are barely suitable, being disused industrial units.  How is social distancing to be maintained in these circumstances? No doubt there is a huge amount of work to be done before schools can be reopened safely, in terms of the curriculum and the wider community with regards to containment of the virus.

However, Dame Rachel is right about one thing. There is a crisis. It is a crisis of identity and – equally one of survival – for many of our young people lost somewhere in a wilderness between education and social care. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this worse.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments stand out and are frightening: “there will be all sorts of problems in terms of social unrest, violence amongst young people that we’ve not seen before”.   This suggests that the purpose of our education system is no more than to contain the youth population.  I put it to him that many among this population are educating themselves in matters that are of direct concern.  This is witnessed by the movements that have focused on the virus, to name one, East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group who have held online meetings, written open letters and supported the Norfolk NEU petition and who are holding weekly protests at Norfolk County Hall regarding the safe reopening of schools.

Without the interventions of an emergency post-14 curriculum with slimmed down knowledge content and an emphasis on skills like communication, problem-solving, co-operation learning and employability rather than Dame Rachel’s notion of “Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’” many will not make it out of the post-COVID-19 wilderness, will have reached the point of no return and will be lost somewhere between education and social care.

Covid-19 reinforces the case for a ‘substantial’ pay rise for NHS staff, says Unite

The coronavirus pandemic reinforces – not diminishes – the strong case for the NHS workforce to receive a ‘beyond substantial’ pay rise for 2021-22, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 3 July).

Unite has joined with 13 other health unions and professional organisations to launch a campaign today to demand that pay talks start as soon as possible out of respect for the dedicated NHS staff who have battled Covid-19.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health sector, said that the last three year pay deal had started to rectify the pay deficit, but this now needs to be substantially built on.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Warm words of praise by ministers and the weeks of Thursday evening clapping by a grateful nation are only part the story – and that’s why a generous pay rise is required to repair the damage of the last decade when pay in real terms was eroded by an estimated 20 per cent.

“A ‘softly, softly’ approach will fall on fallow ground, as the Tory ‘mask’ on the NHS begins to slip away – last week some 331 Conservative MPs opposed a motion that would have led to weekly testing of NHS workers and care staff.

“This hard-faced attitude was also highlighted by care minister Helen Whately who confirmed the government had ‘no plans’ to backdate a new financial support package that is set to be introduced for students starting this autumn.

“Now the lockdown is being eased, it was clear the Tories are reverting to type when it comes to their distaste for public services, of which the NHS is ‘the jewel in the crown’.

“Doctors, nurses and health workers of all hues, including student nurses and those who came out of retirement, stepped up to the plate big-time when the lockdown was imposed in March and the NHS was under severe pressure – and, sadly, more than 300 NHS and social care workers have now died after being infected with coronavirus.

“NHS staff don’t want ministerial platitudes on pay on the eve of the NHS’ 72nd birthday on Sunday (5 July), but a beyond substantial pay rise for their commitment, especially over the last few months when they have put their lives on the line, literally.

“As society returns slowly to the ‘new normal’, the government cannot be allowed to forget the dedication of NHS staff.”

Before lockdown, NHS Digital reported that between January and March this year, there were 84,393 advertised full-time equivalents in England – these ‘recruitment and retention’ issues are still relevant and important, and need to be addressed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

An uplift in pay will start to tackle these recruitment problems.

Unite has signed-up to the plan of the joint health unions to bring about better pay for NHS staff, which Unite believes has widespread public support.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “People are fully engaged with the concept that without the NHS and its staff, the appalling death toll of nearly 44,000 would be even worse – and that the years of underfunding must cease. Increased funding must include budgets to tackle the backlog in non-Covid operations and procedures.

“Many, including prime minister Boris Johnson, owe their lives to the NHS – and now is the time to recognise that 24/7 commitment with a decent pay rise that reflects the sentiments of a grateful and relieved country.”

Many waiting longer than 24 hours for coronavirus test results – Madders

Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, responding to figures that show many are waiting longer than 24 hours for coronavirus test results, said:

“We are now three weeks into the supposed world leading test and trace system and there are still a quarter of people not being contacted. There is no doubt that this is well below the levels we need to effectively contain the virus and the Government seems to be too slow again to react to these failings.

“As we now begin to see localised lockdowns we need Ministers to be far more rigorous about getting to the bottom of why the contact rate isn’t improving. The performance so far simply isn’t good enough and far from the world leading system we were promised.

“We know for there to be an effective testing and tracing system to be in place that results need to be back quickly so it’s both disappointing and concerning that the Government is moving the goalposts on its 24 hour turnaround for tests . Ministers need to come clean about the problems meeting this target and what they are going to do to put it right. The Government has been too slow on lockdown, too slow on PPE, too slow on social care – we cannot afford for it to be too slow on this as well.”

Steve Reed calls for action to ensure local lockdowns are robust and efficient enough to prevent second wave

Labour has today called on the Government to take urgent action to ensure local lockdowns are robust and efficient enough to prevent a second wave of Coronavirus spreading across the country.

Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Steve Reed, has urged the government to take four steps to protect communities:

  1. Ensure that Local Authority Directors of Public Health have access to all Coronavirus test data, including the postcodes of all positive tests.
  2. Provide guidance on exactly what legal powers are available to local authorities to rapidly put in place local lockdowns by closing schools, workplaces or neighbourhoods.
  3. Clarify where decision making for local lockdowns will be taken, which decisions will be made by the Government, Joint Biosecurity Centre or left for local authorities to take.
  4. Keep the promise to fund councils in full for the cost of the crisis, so that they don’t have to cut the resources they need to keep our communities safe.

Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said:

“The Government made local lockdowns a key component of the exit strategy but yet again they were too slow to involve local authorities, just like they were too slow to enforce the lockdown nationally.

“The lack of a functioning test, track and trace system, coupled with their failure to give councils the power to take action quickly could lead to local outbreaks becoming deadly national ones.

“The Government must not waste any more time, we are facing the risk of a deadly second wave of infections and a second national lockdown fatal for both lives and livelihoods across the country.”

Keir Starmer: Coronavirus and Government inaction have created a perfect storm for local councils

Keir Starmer will today [Wednesday, 1st July] warn that the Coronavirus crisis and the Government’s inaction have created the “perfect storm” for local councils across the country, risking the decimation of local services.

In a speech via Zoom to the Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Conference, the Labour leader will highlight a “black hole of around £10bn” in council finances if government fails to act.

Setting out a vision to “build a new relationship between national and local government” Starmer will pledge that a Labour government would:

“Give local government a much bigger say over investment and services, not through plans devised by someone in an office on Whitehall, but ones created and rooted in communities, so that they truly serve the people.”

Starmer will also reiterate his commitment to replacing the House of Lords with “a democratic second chamber representing the nations and regions of the UK.”

In his speech to the LGA, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party will say:

“A Labour government would win power in order to hand it back to the nations, regions, cities and towns across our country.

“We would give local government a much bigger say over investment and services, not through plans devised by someone in an office on Whitehall, but ones created and rooted in communities, so that they truly serve the people.

“We would put local government, its power and its innovation, straight at the heart of Westminster by replacing the House of Lords with a democratic second chamber representing the nations and regions of the UK.

“And we would give councillors, communities and people on the front line in our public services a bigger say over the decisions that affect them.

“Because at the heart of the broken trust in national politics and politicians is a feeling that we aren’t listening.”

He will add:

“But working with you, we want to prove this wrong. And truly empower local communities.

“So, where services people use in their daily lives are no longer a source of convenience but frustration – let’s make them truly accountable to the people they serve.

“And where politics feels distant or remote or like something that is ‘done to’ people rather than ‘with them’ and ‘for them’ – let’s break down those barriers to make sure people have the power to make their voices heard.

“And where government in Westminster imposes decisions and cuts that trample on innovation, put business out of action or damage people’s lives and livelihoods without fully understanding the consequences – let’s offer a vision of a fairer Britain that will be better for everyone.”

Children’s sector joint statement – Tulip Siddiq responds

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, responding to the joint statement from over 150 charities, teachers and frontline services calling on the Prime Minister to ‘make this generation of children as central to the nation’s Coronavirus recovery plans as health and the economy’, said:

“Children seem to have been an afterthought in the Government’s response to this pandemic. We knew that young people would be among the most vulnerable in lockdown, so their wellbeing should have been one of the top priorities from the start.

“Labour and the children’s sector have warned for months about the need to prepare for an increase in demand for children’s social care and mental health services. Despite these warnings, it’s not clear that Ministers have a plan to protect those children who need it most.

“The Government must start prioritising the wellbeing of children and make sure the services that support them are properly funded.”

Starmer: Economic recovery must be built on “solid foundations” after lost decade of Tory inaction

Starmer: Economic recovery must be built on “solid foundations” after lost decade of Tory inaction

Labour leader Keir Starmer has urged the Prime Minister to deliver an economic recovery built on ‘solid foundations’ after a lost decade of inaction and broken promises under the Conservatives.

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday, the Labour leader has warned that the country cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past ten years.

Starmer cites the Tories’ 2015 ‘Starter Homes’ initiative that promised 200,000 affordable homes but failed to produce a single property.

The warning comes as new analysis by Labour reveals that under the Tories:

  • The rate of home ownership has fallen, and almost 800,000 fewer households under 45 own their own home now compared to in 2010.
  • Seven of England’s nine regions saw a reduction in public capital investment per person over the past ten years.
  • In some parts of the country, including Yorkshire, East Midlands and the South West, investment per person is still less than half that seen in London.
  • All regions have seen a decrease in both health and education investment per person.
  • Average wages last year were still lower than they were in 2010 across England.

Keir Starmer has urged the Prime Minister to plot a route to recovery that works for the whole of Britain.

Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech, Keir Starmer said:

“For much of the country, the Tories’ record on building and investment has been a lost decade.

“Much-hyped plans such as the Starter Homes initiative – which built zero houses despite having £2.3 billion allocated to it – barely even made it beyond the press release. It’s been talk, talk, talk rather than build, build, build.

“Our recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to match the scale of the challenge. It must be built on solid foundations. It has to work for the whole country and end the deep injustices across the country.

“We are on the cusp of one of the biggest economic crises we have ever seen. The Government must immediately prioritise protecting people’s lives and livelihoods. That’s why Labour has called for a ‘Back to Work’ Budget that has a laser-like focus on one thing – jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Government must protect BME people from coronavirus, says TUC

Commenting on Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups published today (Tuesday) by Public Health England, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Commenting on Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups published today (Tuesday) by Public Health England, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This report sets out the scale of the structural racism that BME people continue to face. It should never have been withheld.

“Ministers must now act to prevent more unnecessary coronavirus deaths among BME communities.

“We need a fully funded action plan to tackle the structural racism that continues to blight BME people’s life chances and health.”

Address inequality to protect Black workers against Covid-19, says UNISON

Dave Prentis writes to Boris Johnson urging immediate action on all Public Health England’s recommendations

The government must act immediately to protect Black workers from Covid-19 by closing gaps that create health inequalities and poverty and ensuring workplaces are safe, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

The union has written to ​the Prime Minister urging him to implement all Public Health England’s (PHE) recommendations such as developing comprehensive risk assessments for Black staff to reduce their chance of coronavirus exposure and infection.

It follows ​the publication last week of a PHE report ​which concluded ​that the risk of dying is higher among BAME people than in white ethnic groups – a finding ​that UNISON says needs urgent answers.

The letter from general secretary Dave Prentis calls on the Prime Minister to take action including closing ethnicity and disability pay gaps, bringing into force laws to ask public authorities to consider how their policies increase or decrease inequality, and to set up a race advisory board to inform ​government policy-making.

In the letter, ​Dave Prentis says: “Coronavirus is inextricably linked to inequality. Urgent action is needed to close the gaps in health inequalities and poverty that accelerate susceptibility to coronavirus and life expectancy.

“​Poverty is a political choice. Ending deprivation and rising inequality must be a government priority as the UK deals with the economic, health and social challenges of the pandemic.

“Black workers and communities deserve to have the PHE report acted upon and their lives valued and protected as all others.”

Downgrading of two-metre social distancing rule risks ‘more outbreaks’ for meat industry

An expected downgrading to the two-metre social distancing rule risks causing ‘more outbreaks’ of coronavirus within the meat processing sector, Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Monday 22 June).

Unite called for ‘significant intervention’ by both the government and employers to prevent Covid-19 spreading at meat processing factories to accompany any downgrading of the social distancing measures, including better health and safety regimes and improvements to testing and tracing.

The prevalence of coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories also makes it incumbent on ministers and employers to ensure that workers, who need to self-isolate, can be either paid under the job retention scheme (JRS) or have their rates of company sick pay increased, Unite said.

The union said it was ‘inevitable’ that some low paid meat factory workers on ‘exploitative contracts’, who should be self-isolating, will continue working because they are only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 a week.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Many employers are barely taking notice of the two-metre social distancing rule as it is. Any downgrade for the meat industry in the current environment will simply give irresponsible bosses the excuse they need to do away with social distancing entirely. Put simply, it will risk more outbreaks at factories across the country.  

“Before any new measures are enacted, ministers and employers need to get to grips with the spate of outbreaks that have occurred under the present two metre rule. As well as more stringent health and safety regimes in factories, systems for testing and contact tracing within the industry need to be improved. 

“Just as important is the fact that far too many meat processing workers simply cannot afford to be ill and are being forced to disregard the rules to put food on the table. We are now in a situation where the poverty pay and exploitative contracts endemic to the sector are having a direct impact on public health. 

“Ministers and employers must step up to the plate and either provide sick pay that people can survive on or allow these workers to be furloughed.”