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.
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.”
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:
Ensure that Local Authority Directors of Public Health have access to all Coronavirus test data, including the postcodes of all positive tests.
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.
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.
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.”
Commenting on the second report published today (Tuesday) by Public Health England (PHE) on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black communities, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“The government must act now. Words and promises to do something in the future won’t cut it any longer.
“The pandemic has brought home just how many frontline care and health employees are from Black communities. They’ve suffered a heavy toll and need better protecting now, before the almost inevitable second Covid spike.
“The government’s failure to release the PHE data and recommendations together was a huge mistake. It’s caused further mistrust and damage to the Black community at a time when people need reassurance, not dither, delay and excuses.
“More thorough risk assessments, targeted testing and moving vulnerable workers out of reach of the virus are paramount. That means recommending the use of masks and face coverings in care homes and schools too.
“People will also want to see exactly how structural and institutional racism in all areas of employment, housing, education and every other aspect of life in the UK are to be eradicated.”
Talks between Unite and Rowan foods regarding health and safety issues and the payment of staff self-isolating due to the Covid19 outbreak on site, have broken down. Unite has been seeking assurances around improved health and safety measures on site to prevent further outbreaks of coronavirus amongst the workforce. It has also been seeking full pay for staff who are being required to self-isolate though Covid19.
Dave Griffiths Unite Regional Officer commented:
“Unite is extremely disappointed by the manner in which Rowan Foods have conducted themselves during discussions with us, both during and prior to the Covid19 outbreak at the plant.
Our members employed by Rowan are extremely concerned that the company has not taken the health and safety concerns that Unite has been raising since early June, with the urgent attention that they demand. Workers who are frightened for their own, and their family’s safety, must be reassured that no stone is being left unturned in the efforts to further protect them from contacting Covid19 whilst at work.
Rowan Foods should immediately introduce full pay for workers who are off work due to either having Covid19 or self-isolating after being contacted through Welsh Governments Test, Trace and Protect system. For workers already suffering from low pay it is morally bankrupt to then ask them, through no fault of their own, to self-isolate and survive on SSP. The simple fact is that some workers will continue to come to work and ignore the guidance if they are suffering financial detriment.
Protecting workers and the general public cannot be done on the cheap. Rowan Foods, who are an extremely profitable company, supplying some of the biggest names in the UK food industry have to step up to the plate. They have to put the appropriate health and safety measures alongside adequate financial support for the workforce, if they are to get themselves out of the current crisis that has enveloped them”.
Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, responding to the latest test and trace statistics, said:
“To have a quarter of those who test positive not contacted three weeks in to the ‘world beating’ system is not good enough and urgently needs to be addressed.
“Expert opinion shows that to defeat this virus we need a fully functioning test and trace system, so these latest figures still raise major concerns the week before lockdown measures are eased further, especially without a working app.
“It is staggering that hundreds of people are not submitting their details into the system in the first place. Surely that should be one simple thing that can be fixed.
“Ministers need to level with the public about how they are going to tackle these real and serious issues as a matter of urgency.”
The Labour Party is calling for a new resourced plan for the NHS so that services can re-open quickly and safely.
In an Opposition Day Debate in the house of commons, Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, will force a vote calling for a plan to deal with the backlog of care currently building up in the NHS, routine weekly testing programme for NHS and Social Care staff to enable routine NHS services to safely resume, and a functional, national test, trace and isolate system to be operational ahead of the upcoming busy winter period.
Labour has previously called for testing to be expanded beyond symptomatic carriers, so that all NHS and care staff are regularly tested once a week to help infection control and so services can be safely reopened.
The call comes as new analysis from the Labour Party highlight the increasing backlog of care building up in the health service, with an increasing number of patients waiting too long for life saving scans and tests.
Figures published by NHS England show that of the 840,742 people waiting for diagnostic tests, 468,622 are waiting more than 6 weeks for diagnostic tests. More than half, (55.7 per cent) of patients were waiting longer than six weeks for vital diagnostic tests in April 2020. In February 2020, before the pandemic hit, this was 2.8 per cent (29,832 people).
Between February 2020 and April 2020, the figures show that the number of patients waiting over 6 weeks for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), used to detect tumours throughout the body, increased by over 70,000 people. The number of people waiting for an MRI increased from 5,733 to 78,932, an increase of 1,277 per cent since February 2020.
Likewise, the number of patients waiting over 6 weeks for:
· A Colonoscopy, used to detect bowel cancer, has increased by 520 per cent (5,234 to 32,430)
· A Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, also used to detect bowel cancer, has increased by 722 per cent (1,820 to 14,957)
· A Cystoscopy, used to detect bladder cancer, has increased by 545 per cent (1,270 to 8,190)
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:
“Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests.
“Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.
“It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non Covid-19 care. A vital component would be the introduction of weekly routine testing of all NHS staff to keep them and patients safe from Covid-19 while receiving treatment. We’re calling on MPs to support this motion to tackle the rapidly growing queues of their constituents waiting for treatment”.
Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, commenting on data published today that shows one quarter of people who tested positive for coronavirus have not been contacted by Test and Trace, said:
“Expert opinion shows that to defeat this virus we need a fully functioning test and trace system, so these latest figures are hugely worrying.
“Having a quarter of those who test positive not contacted is a gaping hole in the system that urgently needs to be addressed. And questions still remain about how the app was hailed as a vital part of the system at the outset, but is now just the ‘cherry on the cake’.
“Ministers need to level with the public about how they are going to tackle these real and serious issues as a matter of urgency.”
To be frank, Rt. Honourable Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, illustrates the whole hypocrisy of the Johnson government. She patronises her constituents by saying how proud she is of them but then she is supporting the Immigration Bill which, in effect, classifies those ‘heroes’ as ‘unskilled’ and that those hard-working immigrants who provide 20% of care staff have no right to reside in this country.
Then there is the Conservative Party’s and its propaganda machine’s (The Daily Mail, Daily Express et cetera) demonising of our children’s teachers and their Unions because they question the decision to open schools gradually. Even Michael Gove cannot guarantee that it will be safe for teachers and children to return to school.
The Conservative Party and your media also has completely misrepresented what teachers are really doing to maintain education during lockdown. What is of major concern is that the government has no idea of what goes on in schools or probably ignores this and is failing to protect children, parents, and teachers by not providing any extra resources in the way of protection. Elizabeth would probably reply that this is the responsibility of the local councils or educational trusts, but they have had their budgets cut over the past 10 years. The government’s concern for the less well off families is hypocritical because in the first place most poverty has been caused by the policy of austerity for the most vulnerable, and secondly, if such concern were genuine they would fund computers and internet access for poor children. What I understand by these attacks on teachers is the beginning of an attempt to undermine the role of Unions in the workplace.
As for your staged plan to reduce lockdown, it is clear that the Johnson government has learned very little from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries. The best one can call it is ‘dithering’ and the worst ‘herd immunity’. Instead of ‘test, track, trace’ there was an amazing Trump-like indifference as shown by Johnson failing to attend four Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) meetings. The testing is failing to meet its targets daily. The failure to respond to the crisis in residential and nursing homes beggars belief.
The consequences of all this, are that:
the UK has the highest death rate in Europe
thousands are losing jobs and many more thousands are living on subsistence levels
many industries big and small are collapsing
councils are losing commercial funds hand over fist
consequently services are likely to be cut.
The constant broadcasts about Covid-19 are annoying because most of the time it is pure and simply brain-washing, trying to persuade people that Johnson has a grasp on the situation (that fake news would be funny were it not proving to be fatal). It is a ‘drip drip’ of questionable information with little challenging by truthful experts. Certainly, the Tories are using the tactics of Hitler’s Nazis: constant propaganda, after their campaign against Democratic Socialism in the anti-Semitic slurs, and now attacks on Unions. What next? The burning of Das Capital and other books they don’t like the cover of? I use my, up to now, right to turn them off. Am I being caustic? But they let the cat out of the bag with their ‘herd immunity’. It illustrates what Hitler thought: the need to purge the population to purify it. To confound matters, there are reports that to pay for the Johnson government’s incompetence or wilful inaction (Herd immunity theory), taxes for the many are to be raised while taxes for the rich are to be lowered.
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love. Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbours across the globe, and future generations.
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide.
The Covid19 pandemic cannot be treated as a trivial matter, despite Prime Minister Johnson’s indifference to it at the beginning: some of his early brush-offs have proven fatal for tens of thousands of people and a danger to the health of hundreds of thousands who became ill with the virus and put millions into isolation. Hopefully an independent inquiry will investigate the government’s handling of the response to the pandemic.
Rt. Honourable Elizabeth Truss, President of the Board of Trade, is setting up trade deals with the Trump administration. These will include bartering the NHS, of which you say you are so proud and undermining our farming industry, for deals that include products from the USA that would be banned in the UK and the EU. The Trade Bill sets out to introduce trading unfettered by our government’s intervention whatever the colour of the government. We already know that our farmers will be ruined through international dumping of food that currently does not meet our standards of production produced by practices that are banned in the UK and the EU. This will apply to all UK industries. As for the NHS and our welfare system, both will become market places with the emphasis on profits not caring. Sir Captain Moore has raised £33million and in the future most of that will end up in the pockets of directors who ‘help’ to administer these types of funds. I admire Sir Tom for what he has done but in a sense he is an indication of how the funding of our health and welfare is heading: to charities, lotteries and directors pocket, and eventually to global insurance. Should a private company lose out in a tendering process, they will get their smart suited lawyers to demand compensation. Virgincare did this and got £300k+ from the taxpayer because they did not succeed in getting a contract.
Forget about the sovereignty of the UK. By promoting ‘free trade’ it is ‘no holds barred’. Parliament will lose its ability to protect us citizens from unsafe practices, poor production values, dangerous goods with no right to reply. You get a dodgy T.V., too bad. The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The History of Economics 1991, ch. 21: ‘The great dialectic of our time is not…between capital and labour; it is between economic enterprise and the State. It looks as though Ms. Truss is in the vanguard for economic enterprise. Underneath it all, our ‘Heroes’ are being left stranded. ’ We have given up the protection of the EU, to a situation in which anything goes. UK sovereignty is now a thing of the past.
One of the blessings of living in this country is that we have one of the best farming communities. I have watched on various programmes on TV how our farmers valiantly try to produce food, acknowledging the need to be ecologically progressive as well as maintaining high standards of meat and vegetable production.
But not just maintaining but also pushing up the standards through well-grounded research.
It is our fortune to be recipients of this ever-improving industry.
This is against a background of global retailers like Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, and so on forcing down their costs so that farmers have to subsidise promotions by these supermarkets.
However, this is not the end of their trials. Unfortunately, for centuries the UK has had to import a lot of its food, but now, because of the need to offset the damage that will be done by Brexit, this government will have to make trade agreements as a junior, begging partner, with countries that will swamp our markets with food of an inferior standard: beef full of antibiotics and other chemicals, chicken washed with chlorine, vegetables grown in fertilisers banned by the EU and the UK.
Now, there is the leaked government report that forecasts that the UK economy will be badly damaged Post-Brexit which the Brexiteers are trying to dismiss but tried to keep it secret and want to pursue it until they have fixed it to their liking.
Yet, we have people like Edward Wheatley, the resident Kipper, who, living in a Ukip fantasy land Walt Disney would have be proud to draw, says that the UK economy is growing and that unemployment is at a low level and that everything is Brexit hunky-dory.
What he doesn’t say is that the growth in the UK economy is the slowest possible and this against a background of global economic buoyancy.
Countries that once were deemed economically backward have better growth than the UK and it is not Brexit time just yet! Just one industry, car manufacturing, in the UK is 3pc down.
As for unemployment figures, they are of people who are registered unemployed.
However, employment figures do not account for the increase in homelessness, up triplicate in East Anglia, increasing poverty and de-valuing of wages and pensions, private companies exploiting public services, and leaving large debts for the public purse to pick up while shareholders and executives avoid paying taxes.
If the economy is doing so well, how come the NHS and social welfare services, the police, fire and ambulance services, the prison, probationary, and border services are in crisis?
Meanwhile Tory politicians can increase their expenses well beyond the rate of inflation? Come on. Ted, prick your Ukip bubble, stop blaming everything on immigrants, and face the neo-liberal reality forced on UK citizens.
As for the future, I believe that the (Labour) Party and the Local Party should take a radical approach that needs to be worked out according to local conditions. It is not a matter of obtaining power but of fighting to improve the lives of Norfolk people. What we need to do is try to understand how those being canvassed perceive it.
We tell the issues and we tell them the solutions!
What if before canvassing we asked them what concerns them. Some of the answers will not be palatable, but along with acceptable answers, local parties can respond in a way relevant to local issues. This was used in Chipping Barnet and the Party won Thatcher’s local authority, her seat, and two other seats in London Borough of Barnet.