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‘I live in a flammable box’: cladding scandal threatens to overshadow Johnson’s levelling up agenda



levelling up

‘I live in a flammable box’: cladding scandal threatens to overshadow Johnson’s levelling up agenda

Anastasia Frost often wonders why she listened to the Tories when they talked about aspiration, the benefits of home ownership and levelling up. She lives in a two-bedroom flat in the Ancoats area of Manchester with her husband and their 11-week-old son. “We put trust in this system. We were told you must buy a flat, you must get on the property ladder, but what good is it really?” she says.

The Frosts spent 10 years saving up and finally were able to buy their home in 2015. But then, in 2017, came the Grenfell Tower disaster and, more than four years on, as they wait for their block to be declared safe – if it ever is – their home is worth nothing.

It is not fit for sale. No purchaser could get a mortgage to buy it. Insurers run a mile. The Frosts have already spent £7,000 of their own money paying the safety fees demanded of leaseholders, including those for waking watchmen who patrol the block in case of fires, and special alarms. It is money that Frost, a housing resettlement worker, wishes she could have spent on her first child.

“It has been very stressful. When you are pregnant, you don’t need any extra worries. You don’t need the constant reminder that you are living in a flammable box. It is not what I had hoped for. I would rather have spent the money on my son,” she says.

On Sunday, as the Conservative party hits Manchester for its first full conference since it won an 80-strong majority in the 2019 election, having broken through the red wall and taken dozens of former Labour seats in the north and Midlands, Frost will address a parallel conference in the city centre on the cladding scandal.

It could hardly look worse for Boris Johnson’s government. The meeting, organised by the Manchester Cladiators, a voluntary group formed by residents in early 2019 to pressure government “to protect innocent people fully and fairly from exorbitant costs to fix the collective state and industry failure”, will also be attended by the bishop of Manchester, David Walker, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and, the organisers hope, a number of worried Tory MPs in northern seats who were part of the 2019 intake.

While the cladding issue is a national one, those MPs know the struggles of low-income homeowners do not sit well with the government’s mission to “level up” the country, revive deprived urban centres and advance home ownership and the one-nation cause.

Robert Jenrick, the cabinet minister who was, until weeks ago, in charge of housing (he was replaced by Michael Gove in the recent reshuffle), set up a national £5bn fund to help those hit by the knock-on effects of the Grenfell disaster, but it was too late, and nowhere near enough, said Frost.

Manchester is known as the cladding capital of the north, with the biggest number of high-rise flats and applicants to Jenrick’s building safety fund of any region outside London. Many people affected say they applied for help but have not heard back.

One is Tom Brothwell, who bought a flat in 2017 a stone’s throw from where the Tory conference will open on Sunday. “We had the survey … [and] applied to the building safety fund in September 2020, and have heard nothing,” he says. Brothwell works in a bank but also spends 30 hours a week of his own time trying to help those who are facing the nightmare combination of having to pay huge bills to make their homes safer, while being unable to sell them.

Lucy Powell, the shadow housing secretary and MP for Manchester Central, says the area has 15,000 residents caught up in the crisis and says data from the Land Registry shows sales of affected buildings in Manchester have plunged to almost zero. Those who are able to sell are finding they can only do so to cash buyers – and at a substantial loss.

“They were promised as leaseholders that they wouldn’t have to pay for fire remediation costs, yet the bills just keep coming, adds Powell. “The new building safety bill makes the situation worse, and the government’s fund just isn’t working. It’s time to assess, fix, fund and certify every tall building and put in law that leaseholders won’t pay.”

More broadly, the presence of Johnson and his party in Manchester has turned the focus on to the prime minister’s agenda of “levelling up” the country. Conservative MPs who represent seats behind the “red wall” know that their chances of retaining them at the next general election, which could come as early as spring 2023, will depend on him putting flesh on the bones of what many think is still a mere slogan.

In private, many Conservatives complain that there is no detailed plan. “The fact is that the government and the prime minister don’t really understand how people outside the prosperous south live,” said one former minister with a northern seat. Increasingly, they are using the phrase “southern privilege” to describe an attitude and a national divide that is not being bridged.

The recent announcement of an increase in national insurance and the Tories’ commitment to end the £20 a week uplift in universal credit are both causing deep unease in sections of Johnson’s party, as fears grow of cost-of-living and fuel crises caused by labour shortages.

At Labour’s conference in Brighton last week, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves announced that it would scrap business rates and undertake the “biggest overhaul of business taxation in a generation”. Plenty of Tories want their party to offer some relief.

Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary, said last week: “Reducing business rates for retail would have a significant impact on those areas of the country most in need of levelling up. Cutting the ‘shops tax’ would unlock investment, create jobs and grow local economies.”

Today Bright Blue, an independent Tory thinktank for liberal conservatism, publishes new analysis, entitled Beyond the Safety Net? showing that a quarter of universal credit claimants, more than 1 mllion people, were receiving informal financial support from family and/or friends in the early stages of the pandemic. Ryan Shorthouse, its chief executive, said: “The Conservative government cannot really represent left-behind places and people if it now makes the biggest single cut to working-aged benefits ever seen.”

John Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Carlisle, is one of many northern Tory MPs who also question the £20 universal credit cut and how it sits with promises to level up. “Universal credit has actually been a real success. I just think it slightly undermines what we’ve achieved because of the loss of £20.”

“In the wider context, complacency in any political party is a danger. Speaking for my northern colleagues, I do not think there’s any complacency among us at this moment in time. We realise that we made a substantial breakthrough in the last election. You’ve got to consolidate that. The only way we’re going to consolidate that is to demonstrate to the voters that it’s worth voting for us in the first place. That’s got to be showing things happening in your locality, your community, or across parts of the north.”

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Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds




Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55% since 2000.

That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.

The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.

When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.

Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.

“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.

“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and the chemical pollution, still going up.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, researchers said.

“They are preventable deaths. Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what it attributed to pollution, that the real death toll is likely higher.

The certificates for these deaths don’t say pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues and diabetes that are “tightly correlated” with pollution by numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then put these together with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure response calculations derived by large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. It’s the same way scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.

“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “That’s how we do it.”

Five outside experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press the study follows mainstream scientific thought. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room doctor and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study, said “the American Heart Association determined over a decade ago that exposure to (tiny pollution particles) like that generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal for heart disease and death.”

“While people focus on decreasing their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that the removal of air pollution is an important prescription to improve their heart health,” Salas said.

Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”

In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.

That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reconfirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation is increasing, said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

“This data is a reminder of what is going wrong but also that it is an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.

Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.

“This problem is worst in areas of the world where population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched thin to address a host of challenges including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who wasn’t part of the study.

In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.

Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.

In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.

Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries.

The study authors came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.

“We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is political will.”

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Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases




Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases

Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus.

Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which recent research shows is possible.

They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals weren’t included in the study.

Researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.

The study highlights two global crises — climate change and infectious disease spread — as the world grapples with what to do about both.

Previous research has looked at how deforestation and extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there’s less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission, the researchers said at a media briefing Wednesday.

“We don’t talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonoses” — diseases that can spread from animals to people, said study co-author Colin Carlson, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study … brings together the two most pressing global crises we have.”

Experts on climate change and infectious disease agreed that a warming planet will likely lead to increased risk for the emergence of new viruses.

Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book “The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease,” said the study acknowledges the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.

“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential” emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change, said Brooks.

Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the impact of warming on infectious disease emergence.

“Of particular note is that the study indicates that these encounters may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.

Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is likely already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.

“It is not preventable, even in the best case climate change scenarios,” Albery said.

Carlson, who was also an author on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said we must cut greenhouse gas and phase out fossil fuels to reduce the risk of infectious disease spread.

Jaron Browne, organizing director of the climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian nations.

“African and Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure, once again illustrating how those on the frontlines of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change,” Browne said.

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Nigerian govt rules out completion of Ogoni clean-up under Buhari




Nigerian govt rules out completion of Ogoni clean-up under Buhari

The Minister of Environment, Hassan Abdullahi, said on Thursday the Federal Government cannot complete the ongoing Ogoni clean-up project before the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure next year.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) had in its 2011 report recommended the clean-up of the heavily polluted Ogoni land.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the project in June 2016.

Abdullahi, who disclosed this to State House correspondents in Abuja, however, noted that 10 sites had been remediated under the project.

The minister said: “There is nothing miraculous about our approach to the clean-up operations. It is going to be a very pragmatic, practicable and quick-win solution. First, as I told you earlier, is to ensure that there is a multi-stakeholder agreement in terms of what we’re supposed to do, and where we’re going.

“Then secondly, we’ve taken very strong steps to address the concerns bordering on procurement, on project management, on fund management and so on, so that all stakeholders will be on board.

“So, I can assure you that if these issues are resolved within the next couple of weeks, we should be focused on immediate procurement processes that will ensure that the projects are implemented as at when due.

“However, they are phased projects, we do not envisage that we can finish the entire project within the lifetime of this government. However, the process that we can do at the moment, the procurement that we can do at the moment, to ensure that there is immediate irrigation, water projects to ensure that there is clean water provided for the people and that other sites, will begin the remediation process.

“This is done in liaison with UNEP and our sister agency, NESDRA. So, we are on course, we’ll do the best we can and I can assure you that we will cover some mileage in the process.

“So, there is no magic or miracle about it, we are focused on what we want to do. Like I told you, Mr President said our eyes must be on the ball and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I had the opportunity to present to Mr President, in accordance with the key priorities of the ministry, certain key projects that are undergoing some sort of review and seeking direction from Mr. President.”

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