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Modern slavery reports dropped by a quarter during the coronavirus lockdown, according to Home Office figures, with fears from workers’ organisations the pandemic has provided a cover for exploitation.

New data shows 2,209 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) between April and June this year – down 23 percent on the previous three months and down a third since the last quarter of 2019.

Organisation Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) has told PoliticsHome they are worried about the drop in referrals and believe exploitative practices may have got worse as for months labour inspectors were not visiting sites or gathering intelligence.

“The number of referrals may have decreased but that’s not because there’s less cases, or people aren’t being exploited at the moment,” said FLEX officer Letícia Ishibashi.

“During lockdown there were fewer face to face inspections and fewer people self-identified even if they knew the situation they were in.

“We are hearing about unreasonable requests on workers, people failing to adhere to health and safety guidelines. This was the case in lockdown and it’s still the case now.

“The more the recession grows and the more it impacts on people the more we will see cases of people accepting exploitative conditions to work because there’s no alternative.”

Modern slavery is a term that includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour, as set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Undated handout photo issued by Lincolnshire Police of a caravan which men were forced to live in by the Rooneys, as members of the traveller family have been jailed for running a modern slavery ring.

Potential victims in the UK that come to the attention of ‘first responder’ organisations like local councils and the police are referred to the NRM and get the support of the Home Office.

Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, said they expect reports of modern slavery to rise following the end of the strict lockdown period this spring.

Housekeepers being told to isolate with their employers or risk losing their jobs, was a common theme, Valle said.

“This means they’ve had no freedom, no family life of their own,” she said.

Also, cleaners being furloughed by their bosses to the value of just two hours work a week, when in reality they work far longer hours. Bosses on furlough themselves have also used that as an excuse to pass on lower wages to staff, she said.

Between April and June the Home Office statistics show labour exploitation was the most common type of exploitation for adult potential victims and the nationalities of those most commonly referred to the NRM were those from the UK, Albania and Vietnam.

The drop in referrals comes as the Liberal Democrats have made fresh demands for labour inspectors to be classed as key workers by government so they can continue doing face to face visits to premises, and so they are more visible to people who want to come forwards.

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for the Treasury, led a cross-party campaign in Parliament earlier this year to ask the Home Secretary to make sure labour inspectorate bodies are well resourced and classified as key workers.

“We must not be fooled into thinking that fewer victims being identified means fewer people are being exploited. It means far too many victims are trapped in slavery, unable to escape or access support. And it means far too many serious criminals are getting away with it,” she said.

“Ministers must give labour market enforcement agencies the funding they need to carry out proactive inspections, and finally end the hostile environment, which prevents too many victims from coming forward.“

There are five workforce inspection bodies; those who work for the local authority and focus on high street inspections, the Health & Safety Executive who carry out inspections at factories and construction sites, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, which is part of central government, and HMRC’s minimum wage team.

1601054744 127 The Government Has Been Warned That Modern Slavery Could Be

The Home Office said the GLAA had continued inspections in high risk areas throughout the pandemic, and to help victims they stopped people leaving modern slavery safehouses between April and August to try and make sure potential victims had somewhere safe to stay.

Commenting on the reduction in NRM referals, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to tackling modern slavery and identifying victims during the pandemic and beyond.

“The labour market enforcement bodies have continued to investigate and respond to workers’ complaint and pursuing cases where there is a risk of harm or detriment to individuals during the pandemic.

“We are working closely with the police, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority to monitor and assess any emerging changes to the threat of modern slavery to ensure law enforcement activity adapts to the changing environment.”

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India’s Ranjitsinh Disale wins 2020 Global Teacher Prize and splits it with runners-up

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The award, which is run by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, celebrates “exceptional” teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the village of Paritewadi in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen as winner from more than 12,000 nominations and applications, from over 140 countries around the world.

The award recognized his efforts to promote girls’ education at the school, whose pupils are mostly from tribal communities.

The Global Teacher Prize said he learned the local language of the village in order to translate class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue.

He also created unique QR codes on the textbooks to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments, greatly improving school attendance. His QR technology is now being rolled out more widely across India.

The British actor and TV host Stephen Fry announced Disale as the winner at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday.

Rather than keeping all his winnings, Disale told Fry in an interview that he would share the prize with the other nine finalists, giving them $55,000 each — the first time anyone has done so in the award’s six-year history.

He told Fry: “I believe that if I share this prize money with nine teachers it means I can scale up their work. Their incredible work is still worthy… If I share the prize money with the rest of the teachers they will get a chance to continue their work… and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”

His actions drew praise from around the world, including from the Dalai Lama, who said on Twitter and in a statement published online that he admired Disale for sharing the money.

“Educating young children, especially from poor and needy backgrounds is perhaps the best way to help them as individuals, and actively contributes to creating a better world,” he said.

The award’s nine runners-up are teachers working in the United States, Britain, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.

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Pelosi eyes combining Covid aid with mammoth spending deal


Pelosi said the $908 billion proposal released this week by a centrist group of Senate and House members helped restart the stimulus talks, which fell apart just before the election after months of dragging on with little real movement.

“There is momentum — there is momentum with the action that the senators and House members in a bipartisan way have taken,” Pelosi said Friday, in the latest sign that negotiators are closing in on a deal. “The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he’s “encouraged” by the $908 billion proposal, framing it as the type of bipartisan work that he hopes to foster as president. He cautioned that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not going to be enough overall.”

But hurdles remain. Government funding runs out in just one week, and there are still a sizable number of issues impeding an agreement on a massive spending package that would increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year.

The sheer number of outstanding items at such a late stage makes it increasingly likely that congressional negotiators will require a brief stopgap spending bill to complete their work before leaving for the holidays. Such a decision could be made early next week if lawmakers fail to make significant progress over the weekend.

Pelosi demurred when asked about the possibility of a short-term stopgap to buy more time for talks, and dismissed the need for a longer term continuing resolution that would extend current government funding into early next year.

“We will take the time that we need,” Pelosi said, while acknowledging that a number of issues remain, including some outside of appropriators’ jurisdiction.

“Don’t worry about a date,” she added.

While appropriators in both chambers remain optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays, Republicans and Democrats are still swapping offers and arguing over details, kicking some of the most difficult items up to congressional leaders.

For example, a House Democratic aide close to the talks said Republicans want to scrub any mentions of Covid-19 from the omnibus package entirely. Earlier this year, House Democrats added coronavirus relief to their slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, while Senate Republicans have insisted that pandemic aid remain totally separate from annual appropriations measures.

Republicans are also objecting to funding for research on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities in the justice system, in addition to language that would require the Capitol Police to report on policies and procedures on eliminating unconscious bias and racial profiling during training, the Democratic aide said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of holding up omnibus talks by insisting on the removal of two Interior-Environment policy riders that have been included in annual spending bills for years. The provisions involve protections for the greater sage-grouse, in addition to a provision related to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.

“Dredging these up right now is beyond counterproductive,” a GOP aide familiar with the talks said Thursday night.

Funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall also remains a perennial sticking point — Senate Republicans have proposed $2 billion for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1. House Democrats have proposed no extra cash.

Lawmakers have also disagreed on detention beds for detained migrants in recent days, although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — the top Senate Democrat who oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security — said Thursday that issue may get solved without the help of leadership.

Also in question is whether the White House will ultimately support a package that classifies billions of dollars in veterans’ health care spending as “emergency” spending outside of strict budget limits. Both House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby are moving forward with their negotiations assuming that’s the case, since the White House has previously signed off on such an arrangement.

Pelosi on Friday also said that whatever coronavirus relief they include in the government funding bill will not be the last time Congress addresses the ongoing pandemic, which continues to devastate the U.S., killing more than 275,000 Americans and causing a sharp downturn in the economy. The U.S. saw the deadliest day ever on Thursday, with Covid-19 fatalities exceeding 2,700.

“President-elect Biden has said that this package would be, just at best, just a start. And that’s how we see it as well,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also defended her decision to hold out for months, demanding a larger deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion or more, only to agree to negotiate this smaller package now. McConnell, similarly, refused to come off his much smaller baseline over the summer — pushing a $500 billion package — resulting in a standoff between congressional leaders.

“That was not a mistake, it was a decision,” Pelosi told reporters, saying the dynamics have significantly shifted since the election of Biden and the quicker than expected vaccine development. “That is a total game changer — a new president and a vaccine.”

With cautious optimism about the prospect of passing some fiscal stimulus to buoy the American economy during a bleak pandemic winter, lawmakers remain hopeful that Congress will pull it together before leaving Washington, despite lingering omnibus headaches.

“You know this place — turns on a dime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who was elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday as the next Appropriations chair.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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Gavin Williamson Claims The UK Approved A Coronavirus Vaccine First Because It Is A “Much Better Country”

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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK is a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US

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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK’s speedy approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was due to it being a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US.

The UK become the first country in the world to approve a clinical vaccine for coronavirus on Wednesday after the medicines regulator, the MHRA, gave the green light for the jab to be rolled out from next week.

The Education Secretary said this is because the UK has the “best medical regulators”, dodging questions about the impact of Brexit on the approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking after the approval announcement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “because of Brexit” the UK regulator had been able to approve the vaccine without having to wait for the European Medicines Agency to do so.

But his claims were later contradicted by both No10 and senior figures within the regulator, with a spokesperson for Boris Johnson insisting the approval was “thanks to the hard work of the MHRA”.

Meanwhile, Dr June Raine, head of the regulatory agency said the green light to roll out the vaccine from next week was made “using provisions under European law which exist until January 1”.

But pressed on the impact of Brexit on the approval process, Mr Williamson instead suggested the approval was down to the UK having “much better” medical regulators than France, Belgium and America.

“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he told LBC

“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country that every single one of them, aren’t we.”

He added: “Just being able to get on with things, deliver it and with brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.”

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