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Ray Collins on why the UK government must use its clout at the UN to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen

There are few countries, perhaps none, facing a humanitarian catastrophe on the scale which Yemen is now experiencing. After five years of civil war, 24 million people need lifesaving aid, and now that Covid-19 has arrived, fears have been realised that it could worsen.

The demand for humanitarian support is unparalleled, and this week representatives from 130 governments and aid agencies met to raise the required capital to fund this relief. They fell short of their target by $1bn.

As a result, the United Nations has warned that 30 out of a total of its 41 major programmes operating in Yemen may be ended or scaled back. And it has already had to suspend payments for 10,000 frontline healthcare workers, and halved food rations for 8.5 million people. For a country that has witnessed the destruction of half of its health system during this conflict and where 80% of the population is reliant on assistance, the consequences will be disastrous.

Today in the Lords, I have an urgent question to press the government to explain how it will back the global effort to prevent this cliff-edge moment. The £160 million already pledged by the Foreign Secretary is welcome, but there appears to be reluctance to utilise the UK’s influence to encourage others to follow suit.

Each and every country has a responsibility to those suffering in Yemen. But some of the key actors fuelling the conflict, such as the United Arab Emirates, are absolving themselves of responsibility. The UK must convey a message that it and others should support the aid effort.

Equally, ministers must understand that our responsibility to the people of Yemen extends beyond financial aid. For as long as the UK supplies the Saudi regime with arms to be used in the conflict, our government is allowing the war to continue.

The UK must also drive peace initiatives at the UN. As a leading contributor to its budget, and one of only five permanent members on the Security Council, few member-states hold as much clout as ours. The government must use this influence to bring about cease-fire initiatives.

To help the people of the Yemen, we must use our influence on the world-stage to both support the funding-drive and spearhead a conclusion to this terrible conflict. In responding to my question, I hope the Lord Minister will provide some detail and clarity today on the role that the UK will

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister for the UN and a member of both Labour’s DfID and Foreign Office team. He tweets @Lord_Collins

Published 4th June 2020

Finding a role

Ray Collins on why the UK government must use its clout at the UN to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen

Jack McConnell on closing educational gaps post- lockdown

Earlier this week, the government’s phased return to schools in England commenced. A welcome return for most children to the familiarity of friends and playgrounds, favourite teachers and regular routines. But for some, the lockdown will have impacted on their educational progress and mental health.

School closures will have unearthed and exacerbated tensions within many homes, but children who were already vulnerable will have been impacted the most. Even without the upheaval of the Covid 19 pandemic, a University of Bristol study last year proved yet again that children who have ever been 'In Need' or in care face significant educational attainment gaps. Absence and temporary or permanent exclusions are also shown to worsen academic performance.

Many of these children will have been “hidden” from the view of professionals and trusted adults who would normally be well-placed to identify them and provide support – including teachers, NHS staff and youth workers. The national domestic abuse charity, Refuge, stated calls to their helpline were up ten-fold. Yet figures published in April by the Department of Education highlighted that just 5% of vulnerable children entitled to a place in temporary emergency schools were turning up. So, what will the return to class mean for them and how best can we ensure the impact of the closure is minimised?

To start, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the ‘trauma gap’. alongside the learning gap. Protecting and supporting those youngsters will be crucial upon their return. Many families are under increasing financial and emotional pressure, while others may be experiencing poverty and domestic abuse for the first time. A Barnados’ report highlights the multiple pressures on mental health – from anxiety about the virus, to family conflict, to exposure to harmful materials online. Importantly, BAME children and young people are more likely to experience bereavement, to be caring for unwell relatives, to worry about contracting the virus, and to miss out on support.

Our country has celebrated the determination and effort of the NHS to get through this crisis with recruitment, volunteers, donations and a general ‘all hands-on deck’ approach. Likewise, the government’s actions to minimise the impact for businesses and self-employed earners were welcome not only for the financial reassurance, but also for the vast and robust mobilisation of multiple Whitehall departments towards a common goal. Now we need education to receive the same leadership right throughout the systems in all four nations.

We need National Plans of Action across the UK to help the most vulnerable, those that have fallen behind and those whose family circumstances may have changed for the worse during the pandemic. As Anne Longfield, Commissioner for Children in England, has stated, the Covid-19 response “shows that coordinated action and political will on funding can have a transformative impact. The 'new normal' … is an opportunity for similar brave action.”

Such plans will need to be creative and flexible, as well as strategic and targeted. But most importantly, they will need to be immediate; and implemented with the same drive and collective sense of support that many mustered when our NHS was in need and jobs were on the line.

The provision of extra classes and teachers should be explored. Additional tutoring for those who have fallen behind should be offered. Volunteers should be assembled to alleviate some of the burden from teachers and teaching assistants. Guidance and advice from third party organisations, including front line charities, should be both listened and adhered to.

We must engage creatively with these children and young people and find flexible and feasible methods to ensure their development. To do otherwise, writing them off as the ‘Covid Year’ and just deciding to reset again come September, will undermine and destabilise the entire education system for many years to come. Worst of all, it we will let down those who need our help most - an unforgivable outcome of the sacrifices made over recent months.

Lord Jack McConnell of Glenscorrodale is a Labour Peer. He tweets @LordMcConnell

Published 3rd June 2020

Don't let them down

Jack McConnell on closing educational gaps post- lockdown

John Eatwell on society and the economy, post- the Covid pandemic

We are enduring the second economic crisis in twelve years. In 2008-9, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Alistair Darling, the financial system was stabilised, and by the first half of 2010 the UK economy was growing at an annual rate of a little under 3%.

The Coalition government’s austerity budget of June 2010 killed the recovery stone dead.

We won the war. But we lost the peace.

How do we assess the cost of today’s disaster?

The cost is not the £250bn increase in the budget deficit. The true economic cost is the loss of the production of goods and services because people are forced to stay home, retail and hospitality forced to close, factories idle, demand collapsed, companies failing.

Britain faces a major recession. Once furlough funding ends unemployment will soar. The Bank of England estimates that output will fall by 14% this year. On average, a cut of something over £4500 in families’ disposable income. That reduction will not be spread evenly. The greatest cost will be borne by those who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, or lost their businesses – everyone whose source of income has disappeared.

We have learned a great deal about our economy and society in the past 4 months.

We have learned that our NHS is not funded sustainably so that it can protect us; and that our social care system is neglected, fragmented, and underfunded.

That the benefits system is unable to safeguard livelihoods when incomes drop unexpectedly, particularly for those in the gig economy or self-employed; and inequality is manifest not only in income, housing, opportunity, but in death from the pandemic.

That our system of government and politics fails to produce the cooperation needed to prepare for the next crisis.

And that we’ve been steadily removing the regulations and norms that provide protection when the lifeblood of our society is threatened — whether that lifeblood is biological, environmental, or economic. In the pursuit of short-term efficiency, we have created a world with fewer buffers to cushion those shocks.

In sum, neither our economy nor our society are resilient. An entirely new approach is necessary.

We must begin by building resilient social services, notably, but not exclusively, the NHS and social care. This will require well-trained, well-paid essential workers.

Ensuring a resilient labour force will also require immediate and medium-term action. The ‘Covid generation’ are already suffering falling real wages, fewer opportunities and stagnant or declining living standards. The Bank of England is the backstop for the financial sector. What will be the employment back stop for Britain’s youth?

Rebuilding our economy will require a resilient financial sector. Not just stable markets, but a funding system that does its proper job in supporting the production of goods and services on which our standard of living depends.

Britain is not alone in facing new economic challenges. The pandemic has exposed severe weaknesses in global production and trade, just as the crisis of 2008 exposed severe weaknesses in global finance. Countries are turning in on themselves. Twelve years ago, major cooperative efforts stabilised international financial markets. Now we need a resilient cooperative international trading system, lest Britain becomes marooned in a hostile world.

A resilient economy must be a sustainable economy. The pandemic, serious though it is, is but a warning of potential biological disasters to come. The floods of winter, the heatwaves of summer, the melting of the ice caps, the fires of Australia, are but the warnings of the ecological disasters to come. We are woefully unprepared.

Building that economy will not be easy. It will demand a new durable public and political consensus; otherwise short-term economic priorities and electoral cycles will soon get in the way. We must win the war, and, this time, we must win the peace.

Lord John Eatwell is a Labour Peer

Published 2nd June 2020

 

 

Rebuilding and resilience

John Eatwell on society and the economy, post- the Covid pandemic

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