Asbestos Alert – Crisis is Looming

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Health and Safety Legislation is not ‘Red Tape’ – or unnecessary bureaucracy as David Cameron has claimed, as he boasted he intended to remove it. Removal of vital health and safety legislation, cuts to public funding and an inability to keep building regulations were factors leading to the Grenfell fire which shocked so many of us. But for that awful tragedy, many of us would still be unaware of the risks caused by ‘Red Tape’. It is imperative that professional expert advice and adequate funding is made available for public buildings, homes and workplaces to be safe.

Now is not the time for complacency. The biggest killer in the workplace is asbestos.

In June, Unite reported that the Conservative Brexit negotiations could put the safety of children, workers and parents at risk of mesothelioma as a result of weakening of health and safety legislation.

Unite, the UK’s largest union, has revealed that newly appointed Brexit minister Steve Baker MP, has lobbied the government to weaken asbestos laws. Unite is demanding that the government now provide ‘cast-iron guarantees’ that asbestos regulations won’t be watered down.

Much of the existing legislation, which bans the use of asbestos and controls how the substance is removed, is governed by European Union legislation. Mr Baker’s appointment raises concerns that when the so-called ‘Great Reform Bill’ becomes law, he will be able to use his position to weaken asbestos laws, bypassing effective parliamentary scrutiny.

The three main types of asbestos – blue, brown and white asbestos – can still be found in the workplace. There is no safe level of exposure and all types are dangerous. (TUC guidelines) Unison provide a useful Q and A information  sheet, available here.

Widespread use of asbestos in schools, and the failure for this to be removed because of poorly maintained buildings and underfunding over decades now leaves a crisis and more lives at risk.

Earlier this year the NUT invited members to complete an on-line survey for management of asbestos. The NUT Asbestos Survey Report is shown here. Not everyone responded to the survey, but there is overwhelming support  calling for the government to commit to a phased removal of asbestos from schools.

Shockingly, nearly 50% of all respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. This is concerning given that the majority of schools (86%) do contain asbestos. Less than 5% of respondents had been told that their school did not contain asbestos; therefore the majority of respondents either knew that asbestos was present in their school, or had not been told either way.

  • Of the 46% of respondents who had been told that their school contained asbestos:
  • Half had not been told where the asbestos was located. If staff are not given this information they cannot take steps to avoid disturbing it and they are at risk of exposure, as are pupils.
  • Nearly 75% said that the asbestos was in accessible locations, such as floors, ceilings, and window frames. Schools are unlike the majority of other workplaces in that the majority of their occupants are children, who engage in normal but boisterous behaviours that are likely to disturb asbestos.  It is known that children are more at risk because of the long latency period of asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma.
  • Three quarters said that staff had not been provided with asbestos awareness training.
  • Only 2% of respondents said that parents had been given information about the presence of asbestos in the school.
  • The majority of respondents (85%) had not been shown their school’s asbestos management plan.
  • Over three quarters were aware of incidents of potential asbestos exposure in their school.
  • Nearly half of all respondents were unaware of Health and Safety Executive advice that no World War One or Two gas masks should be worn or handled in schools because of the potential risk of asbestos exposure. Nearly 100 respondents said that such gas masks were still worn or handled in their school, with some respondents reporting that they had been used recently on school visits.

On the 4th July, a Joint Union Asbestos Committee ( JUAC) held its first national conference.

Management of inspections in schools must be informed, comprehensive and safe. One teacher in the UK is dying each month. The video clip demonstrates the NUT questionnaire was inadequate, referring to inspections in SE England.  In the SE only a handful were inspected, and there were problems in all.

The information here collates UK schools which contain asbestos, but this is not complete, but shows the scale of the problem as 86% of schools in this study contact asbestos. This does not mean other schools are safe.

As there is a mass academisation of schools as they move away from Local Authority Control, there is a concern that expert advice and knowledge is not at hand leaving schools isolated. Furthermore cuts to funding, involvement in private companies with conflicting interests adds to concerns. There is no place for competition between schools who strive to make profits for Academy chains.

We need transparency about asbestos in our schools and public buildings. This is a very grave and dangerous issue. The DfE has said that  legislation “does not require schools to inform parents about the presence of asbestos in their children’s school.”

The Labour Party Manifesto makes plans for increased funding in schools, while redressing the historical underfunding in some schools and will invest in new schools, including the phased removal of asbestos in existing schools. All schools will be democratically accountable including appropriate controls to ensure they serve the public interest.

The Labour Party Manifesto rejects the “Great Repeal Bill”, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections as a result of Brexit.

A message for Mrs May re: DUP Agreement

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Mrs May, please note: While we do not begrudge an end to austerity for any people in Northern Ireland, we do object to you risking its security and their safety by breaking the Good Friday agreement. 
We demand an end to austerity in England , Scotland and Wales too. We reject privatisation of our NHS while you cling to power. We reject your expensive and dangerous wars while you sell arms to Saudi. If you can fund the army in NI , why are we facing cuts to police on our streets? Why are our hospitals closing, and our schools underfunded? We reject that our young people are entering adult life without jobs, without affordable housing and paying £9000 a year for an education our generation had for free, and with maintenance grants.
You take money out of public funds to give to NI – not out of concern for anyone living there but merely so that you Tories can stay in power long enough to gain possession of public assets and help yourselves, like vultures to the remains of our public services and hand out to your chums.
Shame on you, Mrs May and all who keep you in power. You are despicable.

Two key reasons for Corbyn’s stunning advance

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By Tom O’Leary
Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party has staged a stunning revival, prevented Theresa May achieving a landslide which she would have claimed as a mandate for ‘Hard Brexit’ and has caused a crisis of Tory government which will make it harder to make new cuts in public spending, apart from rising inflation. None of Corbyn’s opponents could have possibly achieved that outcome.
This point can be factually established in two ways. First, there is the record of the election campaign itself. None of Jeremy Corbyn’s internal or external opponents would have conducted anything like the same campaign or written anything similar to the manifesto that was produced. On the contrary, the tactic of Corbyn’s opponents was to ‘give him enough rope to hang himself’,believing that his programme would prove massively unpopular.
The Labour manifesto was leaked on May 11. It was probably not the intention of the leaker(s) but the effect was that Labour was able to have two launches and close examination of what proved to be a very popular manifesto. The polling effect was clear. On May 11, Labour was 14 points behind the Tories at 32% to 46% in the average of polls. On June 8 that lead had been cut to 2 points.
No doubt some of the narrowing was due to the Tories’ own manifesto, which in the words of one commentator ‘promised permanent winter but never Xmas’. But in the event the Tory support only fell by 4 points overall despite the dementia tax, axing free school meals, ending the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, no new money for the NHS and much else besides. Evidently, the main motor of the narrowing of the gap was Labour’s own platform aimed at defending living standards. 8 of the 12 point narrowing in the Tory lead was due to Labour’s campaign.

Chart 1. UK Poll of polls 2017
Source: Guardian

Secondly, there is comparative data to draw on. The Dutch general election and French Presidential elections have already taken place this year. The Labour Party has sister parties in both countries, the Dutch Labour Party the PvdA and the French Socialists, Partie Socialiste. They both stood on platforms that were at odds with the Corbyn manifesto. In both cases they accept and even embrace austerity. They also have policies which are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. Corbyn’s Labour had none of these. The result is a full justification of the superiority Corbyn approach in electoral terms.

Chart 2. European Left Vote in 2 Elections

For a number of years numerous commentators and academics have claimed that UKIP primarily took votes from the Tories, that Labour was therefore ‘unelectable’ and even that UKIP ‘posed an existential threat to Labour’. All this was done to support the reactionary claim that Labour could only advance by being anti-immigrant, as this reflected the views of its core supporters. As the election result shows, none of this was true.
Labour primarily advanced because it promoted policies to defend living standards when they are falling once more and the Tories plan to deepen that. Labour eschewed all blame on migrants for the crisis, and the manifesto only had warm words for the contribution that migrants make to the economy and to society more widely.
Partly as result, where 41% of voters cited immigration as a key issue in 2015 only 6% thought it was a key issue in 2017, according to Ashcroft’s exit polls. In 2015 Labour had a ‘zero-based spending review’ and pledge to cut net migration but in 2017 it had policies to defend the living standards of the overwhelming majority and only warm words about migration. Labour rose by almost 10% in 2017.
As the economic crisis deepens and real wages continue to fall sharply the Tories will attempt to deflect the blame for their policies onto migrants once more. Labour is currently on course to win the next election because it has policies that defend the material interests of most people. Labour looks for solutions to the crisis from those who have caused and benefitted from it, big businesses who refuse to invest and the rich whose incomes have risen even in economic stagnation. In stark contrast to the Tories, Labour has not sought scapegoats. This is a winning formula.

Posted previously  by Socialist Economic Bulletin

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What does Inequality Look Like? 

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Bryan Gould, was a Labour  MP, and now lives in New Zealand.

What does inequality look like? In a society where the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly, what evidence of that gap would one expect to see?
A dramatic and painful answer to that question was provided to us this week with the shocking image of the burning London tower block. If we ever wanted evidence of how – even in a society that is relatively affluent – the poor can be disregarded while the rich pursue their own interests, this was it.
The “towering inferno” occurred in one of London’s most affluent boroughs. While around 120 poor families were crammed into Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block, most of the borough comprises leafy suburbs and million-pound houses.
The borough’s elected local authority apparently saw it as its first priority to lift property values in the borough and, as a necessary step to that end, to corral the poor into limited locations, getting them off the streets, out of sight and out of mind. The residents of Grenfell Tower, it seems, sensed that this was the case – a perception borne out when the concerns they repeatedly expressed about the safety of the tower block were ignored.
We all saw the consequence of that neglect. It is already clear, even before the necessary inquiries into the tragedy have been set up, that the building was unsafe and had been from the moment that the first tenants had taken up residence.
There were, it seems, no fires sprinklers. The fire alarms were inadequate. The building design made no attempt to inhibit an outbreak of fire and on the contrary ensured that flames would spread rapidly. Worst of all, it seems that the cladding attached to the building when it was refurbished a little time ago was of “limited combustibility” – and we now know that any degree of combustibility was too much.
These manifestations – literally of “care-lessness” – reflect an order of priorities that should have no place in a civilised society. The local authority seems to have been more concerned with saving the ratepayers money, avoiding “unnecessary” regulation, and promoting the interest of the wealthy in seeing property values rise, rather than in providing a safe living environment for those who could not afford to buy their own homes.
We might have hoped that the democratic process would have ensured that the interests of the poor could not have been so easily swept under the carpet. But, sadly, the western world offers many instances of how democracy can be diverted to serve the interests of the already powerful. In Donald Trump’s America, for example, the President is celebrating his “achievement” in denying health care to 23 million Americans so that he can deliver billions of dollars in tax relief to big corporates.
In New Zealand, we like to think that we are spared such excesses. We know, because we read about it, that there are people who are homeless – living in cars and garages – and that there are many children growing up in poverty, suffering ill-health and inadequate education as a result.
We read about it, but it fails to make an impact on us, because our own lives are relatively comfortable. It is someone else’s problem – the government’s – and when we cast our votes to elect a government, we are more concerned with how much tax we pay than about the cold, damp rooms, the overcrowding, the wheezing lungs and the empty tummies.
Thankfully, these attitudes do not produce by way of consequence – or have not done so far – anything remotely as dramatic as a flaming tower block. We do not, after all, have many tower blocks available to test out degrees of combustibility – or culpability.
But the damage we do to ourselves – as a society and to its individual members – can be just as serious as the fire at Grenfell Tower. The flames that engulfed so many were a demonstration – cinematic in its power and intensity – of what inequality can mean. We have persuaded ourselves that we can live with the less dramatic but no less lasting penalties that we choose in effect to impose on our fellow citizens.
We may not force them to jump out of burning windows. We simply condemn them to a lifetime of disadvantage.
Bryan Gould 16 June 2017