tsar boris’ britain heads for destruction

Lancet warns of massive resurgence of coronavirus after UK school reopening
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Aug 5 2020

A modelling study published in the Lancet, “Child And Adolescent Health,” warns that the UK’s testing and tracing for coronavirus is inadequate to prevent a “rebound” of the epidemic once schools are reopened next month. One author, Chris Bonell, professor of public health sociology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warns:

Reopening schools fully in September, alongside reopening workplaces in society, without an effective test, trace & isolate (TTI) strategy could result in a second wave of infections, 2 to 2.3 times the size of the original wave.

The study modelled an “optimistic” scenario, assuming 68% of contacts of people testing positive could be traced, in which “an epidemic rebound might be prevented.” However, the current level of coverage is closer to the study’s “worst case” scenario, which assumed only 40% were traced. Bonell explains:

Looking at the NHS reports from the TTI system, it looks like it’s about 50% coverage.

Without an improvement, the government is “likely to induce a second wave that would peak in Dec 2020 if schools open full-time in September.” This warning comes as a resurgence of the virus is already underway. According to the Office for National Statistics, 4.2k people are being infected with coronavirus every day, up from 3.2k the week before and 2.5k the week before that. But the government’s response to the Lancet study has made clear its determination to reopen the economy in the interests of big business, whatever the cost to the population. Simon Clarke, minister for local government, told Sky News:

One thing is clear: schools are going to reopen in full in the autumn. That is not up for debate.

He described the NHS TTI system as a “massive success.” On Saturday, the government’s modelling expert Professor Graham Medley suggested that pubs and restaurants might have to be closed as a “trade-off” to allow schools to reopen. He said:

Closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities, may well be required to enable us to open schools. It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other, and then that’s a matter of prioritising: do we think pubs are more important than schools?

Even this entirely misguided “trade-off” was rejected. After PM Boris Johnson’s spox played down Medley’s suggestion, the Guardian reported:

English pubs are likely to be spare any new restrictions. We are committed to supporting the hospitality industry, which has had a very tough time.

Last week, Johnson met with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to discuss ways of avoiding a second UK lockdown in the event of a resurgence of the virus later this year. Their overwhelming concern is to maintain the flow of corporate profits. This precludes any serious public health measures, leaving only piecemeal interventions which cause serious distress to working-class households while doing nothing to substantially address the threat of the virus. These sociopathic priorities led to the absurd situation last week when several million people in the north-west of England and Leicester were placed under additional public health restrictions at less than an hour’s notice, and mandatory mask wearing was extended, just one day before more than 2m medically vulnerable people were told to stop shielding and return to work if ordered to. As millions of people were prevented from visiting the gardens of their relatives, they were encouraged, along with the rest of the nation, to “Eat Out to Help Out” in pubs and restaurants. The slogan refers to a government scheme subsidising 50% of the cost of food and participating cafes and restaurants, up to £10 per head, for three days a week. Several pubs across the country have already been responsible for clusters of COVID-19 cases.

Britons also continue to be encouraged to travel for their holidays, yesterday EasyJet reported it was increasing its number of flights above expectations to cope with increased demand, even as countries like Spain and Luxemburg are suddenly removed from quarantine exemptions, Greek flights are cancelled, and French and German authorities warn of a second wave. The new laws on wearing masks, which will not be properly enforced, follow months in which the government cast doubt on their effectiveness. According to a survey of 70k people by University College London, just 45% of adults in England feel they understand current government guidelines, compared to 90% in March, during the period of stricter lockdown. The danger is that this confusion, combined with the government and media’s relentless boosterism and lying complacency, will dull popular consciousness of the danger posed by the pandemic, facilitating the spread of the disease. Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior consultant in Communicable Disease Control at the University of Exeter, told the Independent last week:

When the prime minister lifted lockdown, I said it was unbelievably premature. There were mixed messages. That public health message of ‘go carefully’ just isn’t there.

Dr Gabriel Scally, President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine and member of Independent SAGE, explained:

If there are too many local flare-ups of the virus, the capacity at a local level won’t be able to deal with them and they will emerge as a wave.

A major resurgence of the epidemic will bring tens and possibly hundreds of thousands more deaths. The longer the virus is left uncontrolled, the more damage will be done by the ongoing disruption of people’s lives. The Tory government’s cynical invocation of children’s welfare notwithstanding, it is undoubtedly the case that world capitalism’s shambolic response to the pandemic, necessitating the long-term closure of schools and other services, has caused a “generational catastrophe” for young children, in the words of the WHO. The ruling class know that they are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of unrest and are reaching for a military & police solution. A “major incident” has now been declared in Manchester, giving local police a freer hand to deploy national resources. Early in July, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) heard a report, “Public Disorder and Public Health: Contemporary Threats and Risks.” Using the threat of “disorder facilitating the spread of the disease” as a cipher for mass social opposition, the report states:

There has been a step-change in threat levels since the last sustained period of serious rioting in the UK in 2011. The police are in a far weaker position in terms of capacity. They would be likely to require military support.

Among the risks it foresees over the coming months are:

  1. The beginning of protests planned during the lockdown, including anarchist and anti-capitalist groups seeking to frustrate a ‘return to normality,’ and
  2. Rising unemployment and/or anxiety about employment as furlough is wound down.

On Jul 22, Lt-Gen Douglas Chalmers, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Military Strategy and Operations), told the House of Lords’ Public Services Committee that the military was wargaming scenarios for a four-way winter crisis of a coronavirus resurgence, winter flu spike, Brexit disruption, and national flooding. This is a development of the “Operation Yellowhammer” strategy formulated last year to suppress discontent, supposedly in the wake of a hard Brexit. Once again it proceeds with the full support of Labour and other “opposition” parties. The British ruling class are in an unprecedented state of crisis, which they hope to escape through an equally unprecedented exploitation and endangering of the working class, enforced by military-police repression. The working class must respond with their own perspective and programme, based on an international struggle for socialism, for the eradication of the virus and the safeguarding of all jobs, wages and social services.

UK teachers’ pay award: A shoddy deal for all
Tom Pearce, WSWS, Aug 5 2020

The Conservative government is hailing as a major advance Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a pay-rise for teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The offer is divisive and paltry. It will not be funded by the government, but out of already chronically under-funded school budgets. The deal is being sold as a “generous offer,” aimed at resolving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, but does not come close to resolving the strains of a sector on its knees. Only newly-qualified teachers will get the headline 5.5% pay rise, with more experienced teachers being offered 2.75%, equating to a measly 3.1% increase overall. When inflation is factored in, schools are left where they were 13 years ago. Young people are being enticed into a profession at breaking point. The statistics are stark. There was a 4.6% increase in teacher vacancies last year, with almost 1.3k more vacancies advertised by schools in 2018-2019 than in 2017-2018. The Dept for Education (DfE) reported:

Almost a third of teachers leave the classroom within five years of qualifying.

The overall number of teachers has not kept pace with increasing pupil numbers, and the ratio of pupils to qualified teachers has increased from 17.8 in 2011 to 18.9. According to the House of Commons Library:

Around 42k full-time equivalent qualified teachers left the state-funded sector in the 12 months to Nov 2018, a “wastage rate” of 9.8%. The wastage rate has ranged from 9.1% (2012) to 10.3% (2015) since the current series started in 2011. 32.3% of newly-qualified entrants in 2016 were not recorded as working in the state sector five years later. This is the highest five-year wastage rate on the current series, which dates back to 1997. Overall pupil numbers are expected to continue rising, driven by a projected 15% increase in the number of secondary school pupils between 2018 and 2024.

The environment that newly-qualified teachers will find is one of constant surveillance and pressure. UK teachers work 47 hours a week on average, according to a study by the UCL Institute of Education. A third of teachers work over 60 hours a week and during the “holidays.” These long hours are unsustainable and a major reason why teachers are fleeing the profession. Since 2014, teachers have had to deal with performance-related pay. This has been used to cap teacher pay, as schools are now allowed to award increases or not at their own discretion. The 2.75% pay rise sanctioned by the DfE for 2019-20 was not implemented across all schools. The National Education Union surveyed their members and found that out of 25k responses, only 49% received the pay award. Overseen by the unions, workers have experienced pay freezes and cuts in pay for over a decade. This amounts to a 15% loss of income over the last 15 years for workers in education. The new pay deal does not come close to addressing this shortfall.

A decade of underfunding and budget cuts has seen school funding cut by 8% in real terms in the last decade, and sixth-form funding by 21%. In the last three years alone, £5.4b has been lost from school budgets, affecting 91% of schools in England. Headteachers have had to make desperate decisions about staffing redundancies and curriculum provision to balance their budgets. Schools now rely more and more on teachers and parents to plug deficits due to crippling budget cuts. The pay deal will add to financial difficulties as schools will have to find the money themselves at a time when the funding situation is exacerbated by the costs of COVID-19. Schools are having to buy signage and cleaning resources out of existing budgets. In Sep 2019, £7.1b was promised to schools over three years. The government has also promised a £1b catch-up plan for children affected by the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. £650m will be shared across state primary and secondary schools and a £350m National Tutoring Programme is being set up. This is paltry compared to the hundreds of billions in bailout funds handed to big business.

The unsafe reopening of schools in September will elevate the crisis. That many older teachers will retire early, concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their health, is also a factor in the carrot of enhanced payments for new starts. The stick will follow the carrot. The stress levels involved in attempting to teach while keeping “bubbles” of up to 240 children and themselves safe with no protective measures, such as social distancing and masks, will weigh heavily on the mental health of staff. The teaching unions are not opposing the unsafe opening of schools, and have refused to mobilise the broad-based opposition among staff. They welcomed the government’s empty promises for newly-qualified teachers, saying they were merely “disappointed” that the deal did not reward experienced staff. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said:

Whilst this announcement recognises the importance of pay levels in making teaching more attractive to new teachers, the Government also needs to do more to retain experienced teachers in the profession.

Making no reference to how schools would find the money for such a raise, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, referred to the government’s move as a “curate’s egg,” saying:

Raising starting salaries by 5.5% should make the profession more attractive to graduates. But the prospect of salaries tapering off as they progress through the profession means that progress made in recruiting teachers will not be sustained in retaining them.

The NEU, after only asking for a 7% pay rise for all teachers in their own ineffectual campaign and having again been ignored by the government, responded by glorifying the pay deal for new starts! This is consistent with their response to the coronavirus crisis, to demand the government incorporate them in their decision-making as the best-placed institutions for imposing the government’s pro-business agenda. The NEU called yet again “to establish, in consultation with the teacher unions, a timetable for further above-inflation teacher pay increases beyond 2020.” It then lists, without irony, the major defeats teachers have experienced under the watch of the unions in the last decade:

The dismantling of the national pay structure, imposition of PRP and real-terms funding cuts have resulted in many teachers not getting the cost-of-living increases announced in previous years.

The pandemic will only intensify the attacks of recent years. The billions handed out by Sunak to big business will be clawed back from the working class. Teachers need new rank-and-file organisations based on unifying workers in a struggle against the profit system, as the only way to secure a decent education for children and good working conditions for staff.

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