6 Bits of Bad News: Tories' Half-Term Recess Slip-Outs
In the final days before MPs break up for parliamentary recess, the Government often seizes the opportunity to bury undesirable news. Amidst ongoing controversy, Rishi Sunak faces criticism for his refusal to apologize for a transphobic remark made during PMQs, even as the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey was present in Parliament, and her father called for an apology.
While attention is diverted, ministers have been quietly releasing concerning updates, including revelations about a crisis in crumbling concrete in schools and a concerning surge in children requiring rotten tooth extractions. As the Government attempts to leverage 'Take Out the Trash Day', The Mirror has compiled a roundup of today's adverse developments to prevent the Tories from evading accountability.
The Department for Education announced that an additional three schools have been identified as having crumbling and unstable concrete, known as RAAC, bringing the total number of affected schools and colleges in England to 234. Furthermore, 119 schools are now included in the School Rebuilding Programme due to the extensive or complex nature of the remediation work required.
The announcement drew criticism from the Liberal Democrats, with Education Spokeswoman Munira Wilson describing it as a "national scandal" and emphasizing the significant disruption faced by children in affected schools. Wilson urged the Conservative Government to expedite the rebuilding program to minimize the impact on students' education.
Meanwhile, newly released Ministry of Justice data revealed a sharp increase in repossessions following no-fault evictions, allowing tenants to be ousted without cause. Accelerated possessions totaled 26,311 from the second quarter of 2019 to the end of 2023, with 9,457 occurring last year alone—a 49% surge from 2022.
These developments underscore ongoing challenges facing the education system and housing sector, prompting calls for urgent action and accountability from the Government. As MPs prepare to depart for recess, scrutiny remains high, emphasizing the importance of transparency and effective governance in addressing pressing national issues.
Despite initial promises made by the Tories in April 2019 to abolish section 21 notices, the legislation aimed at achieving this goal has faced repeated delays and setbacks, still navigating its way through Parliament. Labour's shadow minister for housing and planning, Matthew Pennycook, criticized the Tories' failure to follow through, highlighting the significant increase in section 21 notices served last year and the detrimental impact on renters.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, condemned the government's inaction, accusing them of prioritizing vested interests over the well-being of renters. She emphasized the need for accountability, noting that renters will remember who stood with them come the next election.
In a troubling trend, new data revealed a sharp rise in the number of children requiring tooth extractions in hospitals, reaching 48,000 cases last year. The surge in teeth removals, particularly among under-18s with multiple teeth affected by decay, reflects a collapse in access to NHS dentists. Disparities were evident, with youngsters in poorer areas, where NHS dentist availability is scarcer, being disproportionately affected.
The Mirror's campaign for universal access to NHS dentistry has gained significant traction, with an online petition expected to surpass 100,000 signatures within 24 hours. Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association (BDA), warned of the widening oral health gap among young patients and criticized the government's approach, urging a focus on proven interventions rather than political posturing.
Additionally, the government backtracked on plans to relax rules for landlords renting homes to asylum seekers, following accusations of allowing migrants to reside in sub-standard housing. The decision to abandon the proposed changes, including the exemption of certain properties from registration as homes in multiple occupation, came amid concerns about the welfare of vulnerable individuals.
These developments underscore ongoing challenges facing renters, children's oral health, and asylum seekers, highlighting the need for effective policy implementation and a commitment to safeguarding the well-being of all citizens.
Draft legislation aimed at exempting landlords from certain licensing requirements for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for two years if they rented to asylum seekers was challenged by eight asylum seekers. On Wednesday, the Government withdrew the plan, citing success in maximizing the use of existing sites and delivering alternative accommodation, making the removal of licensing requirements unnecessary. A Government spokesman emphasized progress in transitioning asylum seekers out of hotels, which cost UK taxpayers £8.2 million per day, with the first 50 individuals already returned to their communities and more expected to follow in the coming months.
However, a controversial set of new rules preventing firefighters from going on strike has ignited fury. Policing Minister Chris Philp announced minimum service levels during industrial action, mandating that forces crew 73% of fire engines and requiring employers to issue 'work notices' to staff on strike days. Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack condemned the move as an authoritarian attack on the right to strike, predicting dire consequences for firefighters' pay and conditions. TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak echoed Wrack's concerns, denouncing the laws as undemocratic, unworkable, and potentially illegal, with no resolution to industrial disputes.
Moreover, the appointment of Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery to advise ministers on compensating victims of the contaminated blood scandal has raised eyebrows. Families affected by the NHS's worst treatment disaster expressed reservations about Sir Jonathan's chairmanship at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and his membership of Bayer's bioethics council. These developments underscore ongoing controversies surrounding governmental policies and appointments, prompting calls for transparency and accountability in decision-making processes.
The Factor 8 campaign group has raised concerns about the appointment of Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery to advise ministers on compensation for victims of the contaminated blood scandal, particularly given his role as chairman of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. According to the campaign group, the Oxford NHS Trust played a central role in the infected blood scandal, while Bayer manufactured and supplied many of the contaminated Factor VIII products during the 1980s, leading to thousands of patients being infected with HIV and hepatitis C.
Jason Evans, the director of the Factor 8 campaign group, expressed worries that ministers might be attempting to dilute the recommendations of the Infected Blood Inquiry regarding compensation. The scandal has plagued the UK healthcare system for decades, with victims and their families demanding justice and appropriate compensation.
The Government's handling of compensation for those affected has faced criticism in the past, with accusations of delays and inadequate support. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced heckling during his appearance before the inquiry last year, where he pledged to expedite compensation payments. However, the Factor 8 campaign group's concerns highlight ongoing anxieties surrounding the government's commitment to addressing the needs of victims and their families in the aftermath of one of the NHS's gravest treatment disasters.
In conclusion, the concerns raised by the Factor 8 campaign group regarding the appointment of Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery and the government's handling of compensation for victims of the contaminated blood scandal underscore the ongoing challenges and injustices faced by those affected. The tainted history of the Oxford NHS Trust and the involvement of pharmaceutical companies like Bayer in supplying contaminated products highlight the magnitude of the tragedy that unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in thousands of infections with HIV and hepatitis C.
The reluctance of the government to swiftly and adequately address compensation issues has been a source of frustration for victims and their families, who have long awaited justice and support. Despite promises from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to expedite compensation payments, doubts persist about the government's commitment to fully implementing the recommendations of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
As the inquiry continues and the quest for accountability and restitution continues, it is imperative that the government prioritizes the needs of those affected by this devastating scandal and takes decisive action to ensure that justice is served and appropriate support is provided. Anything less would further compound the suffering of victims and undermine trust in the healthcare system and government institutions.