The Breakfast Briefing: Grim job stats revealed, kids missing education — and fresh row over Boris Johnson’s race review
The figures cover the first two months of the lockdown. (PA)
Good morning and welcome to the PoliticsHome Breakfast Briefing for Tuesday, June 16.
▸ THE NEWSLIST
The big stories kicking off the political day
The number of workers on UK payrolls tumbled by more than 600,000 between March and May as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the economy, new figures show. New experimental data from the Office for National Statistics and HMRC show that the number of paid employees fell by 1.7% in May this year compared with May 2019, and by 2.1% when compared with March 2020. The ONS estimates that 163,000 people were no longer on payroll in May, on top of 449,000 in April — suggesting that 612,000 more people are now out of work compared to when lockdown began. The UK employment rate now stands at 76.4% — 0.1% lower than the previous quarter but 0.3% higher than a year earlier. The figures were published as Labour demanded a ‘Back to Work Budget’ in a bid to protect people from further job losses. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds urged her opposite number Rishi Sunak to press ahead with an emergency summer Budget focused on tackling unemployment. Meanwhile former Tory leader Lord Hague said the figures represented “a personal catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people”. And he warned: “Large rounds of corporate redundancies mean worse is to come."
Four in ten school pupils are not in regular contact with their teachers amid a sharp divide between richer and poorer pupils in the coronavirus lockdown, a new survey has revealed. A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals that teachers in England’s schools report being in regular contact with 60% of their pupils. But less than half (42 percent) of students returned their last piece of set work. And school leaders believe that around one third of pupils (between 29 and 27%) “are not engaging with set work at all”. The figures come after the Government was forced to shelve its plans for all primary school pupils to return to the classroom before the summer holidays, instead setting out fresh guidance on Monday to encourage schools to reopen.
Labour MPs have claimed Boris Johnson’s new commission on racial inequalities will be “dead on arrival” amid controversy over the involvement of a top Downing Street adviser who has been critical of past inquiries into the issue. The Guardian and Financial Times report that Munira Mirza, who heads up the Number 10 policy unit, will lead work to form the new review, which was announced by the Prime Minister in the wake of the global Black Lives Matters movement. Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy hit out after he pointed out that his own review into inequality in the justice system had been attacked by Ms Mirza. “My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May,” he said. “But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it. Johnson isn’t listening to Black Lives Matter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.” Ms Mirza has also been sharply critical of other previous probes into racial inequality in Britain, describing Theresa May’s race disparity audit as an example of how “anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum” in a 2007 Spectator column.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has heaped praise on the “ingenuity and tenacity of Britain’s researchers” as he confirmed that human trials have started on one of two government-backed coronavirus vaccine candidates. The Cabinet minister said the potential Covid-19 vaccine, developed by researchers at Imperial College London, showed that the UK was among the “front-runners” in the race to combat the virus. The Government has already pumped £41million of public money into the development of the Imperial vaccine, with a further £5m in philanthropic donations also boosting that work. The Imperial vaccine will be trialled in 300 healthy volunteers aged between 18 to 70, the Department for Business said, with “rigorous pre-clinical safety tests” showing “encouraging signs of an effective immune response in animal studies”. Kate Bingham, chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, said the candidate had the “potential to be a real game-changer”.
Priti Patel has condemned the “sickening conduct” of “patently racist” protesters after revealing that 137 were arrested amid violent scenes in Westminster on Saturday. Around 2,000 individuals gathered around Parliament Square over the weekend in counter-protest against the Black Lives Matter movement after some monuments were vandalised at past events. But the Home Secretary branded the counter-demonstrators “far-right thugs” and said she was “saddened and sickened” by those who came to London “on a so-called mission to protect the statue of Sir Winston Churchill”. Ms Patel told the Commons: “Those thugs, far from protecting our heritage, did all that they could to destroy and undermine those values. There is no place for their sickening conduct and hate in our society.”
Boris Johnson has urged European leaders to “put a tiger in the tank” as both sides vowed to find “fresh momentum” in stalled talks on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the bloc. The Prime Minister on Monday insisted the two sides were not “actually that far apart” after a “high level” video conference call with leaders including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The two sides remain at loggerheads on a string of issues, including access to Britain’s fishing waters after Brexit; Britain’s objections to a so-called ‘level playing field’ of rights and standards in any future trade tie-up; governance of any trade deal; and future security cooperation between the two sides. Despite spelling out the key areas of dispute between the two sides, Mr Johnson struck an upbeat tone on the prospect of achieving a deal, saying: “I don't think we're actually that far apart. But what we need now is to see a bit of oomph in the negotiations.“ And he said he believed there was “no reason” why the outline of a deal should not be “done in July”.
Explained: How Boris Johnson’s new review into the two-metre social distancing rule could save pubs from going under
▸ THE DAY AHEAD
09:30: Universal Credit statistics
09:30: ‘How Far and how Fast? Public Debt after the Pandemic’: Tony Blair Institute event featuring contributions from former Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid special adviser Tim Pitt
09:30: BBC and Channel 4 executives are questioned by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee
09:30: Deaths registered in England and Wales - weekly statistics
10:00: House of Lords EU Security and Justice sub-committee hold session with Security Minister James Brokenshire
11:00: House of Lords - corporate insolvency bill
11:30: House of Commons agenda - BEIS Qs
14:00: The security of 5G - House of Commons Defence sub-committee session
17:00: UK government - daily coronavirus briefing
18:00: 'It's Bloody Complicated' - Compass podcast recording; Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy participates
“Early indicators for May 2020 suggest that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls is down over 600,000 compared with March 2020. The Claimant Count has continued to rise, enhancements to Universal Credit as part of the UK government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) mean an increase in the number of people eligible. Meanwhile, the number of vacancies in May has fallen to a record low.” - The Office for National Statistics paints a grim picture.
▸ FROM THE HOUSE LIVE
The latest insight and opinion from parliamentarians and PoliticsHome members
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In the House of Lords, the Agriculture Bill is creating rebellion and dissent on a large scale
We are facing a national crisis – it's vital that backbenchers are able to hold the Government to account
Ian Means MP
The Environment Bill is a unique opportunity to adopt world-leading rules to tackle deforestation
Oliver Heald MP
▸ THE MORNING MUST READS
Making headlines elsewhere...
The Times: Brexit: EU preparing to row back on rights to fish in British waters
FT: Delay and confusion about finding a reliable antibody test in the UK
The Sun: Three quarters of disabled children have had all their support withdrawn during lockdown
The Guardian: Lisa Nandy raises concerns over imperialist Foreign Office murals
...plus our pick of the comment pages
Marcus Rashford, The Times: Ending child poverty is a bigger trophy than any in football
William Hague, The Telegraph: This disastrous lockdown can never be repeated, even if the virus returns
Raghib Ali, ConservativeHome: Divisions threaten our recovery from Covid-19. We must urgently act to bring the two sides together
Sienna Rodgers, LabourList: What to expect from the EHRC inquiry into Labour antisemitism
Matthew Lynn, The Spectator: Germany is picking up the tab for Brexit
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