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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.On March 3 2020, Boris Johnson made that now infamous remark at his No.10 press conference that he was at a hospital with coronavirus patients “and I shook hands with everybody”. As Chris Whitty’s eyebrows headed northwards, the PM hastily added: “Washing your hands is the crucial thing.”Exactly one year and well over 100,000 deaths later, the PM has tried to wash his hands of most of his government’s failures on Covid. And as Rishi Sunak presented his Budget, it was clear the chancellor too wanted to present a sanitised version of his own record over the past year.There was no mention of Eat Out To Help Out, no mention of him repeatedly having to amend his furlough and other job plans, no mention of Sage’s calls for better self-isolation payments to tackle the pandemic in deprived areas. No mention either of the OBR’s warning last year that the PM’s thin Brexit deal would knock 4% off GDP, bigger even than the hit to the economy caused by the pandemic.What Sunak did have, however, was good news on lower than expected unemployment and higher than expected growth, as well as a big new package of Covid support that takes the total spending to a huge £407 billion. He also had a plan to take us to 2026: two years of tax cuts and spending rises (worth £67bn), followed by three years of big tax hikes (worth £66bn).With many Tory MPs allergic to taxes, it was perhaps no coincidence that Sunak took a big gulp of water just before he set out the sharp corporation tax increase. And although he claimed “honesty” was his watchword, he then rattled quickly through freezes in thresholds for personal taxes on income, pensions and inheritance, all effectively tax rises by stealth.There was studiously no mention of the extra £4bn in spending cuts for public services, on top of the £10bn extra announced in the spending review, and on top of many billions during the austerity years of Cameron and May (and still baked into some Johnson plans too). Treasury officials were open about this cut afterwards, but the chancellor himself clearly didn’t think it was worth a line in his speech.In one of his best Commons outings to date, Keir Starmer tried to demolish Johnson and Sunak’s fiction that this was a brand new government divorced from its Tory predecessors, pointing to the decade of cuts that have taken place since the 2010 election.With an eye clearly on Sunak becoming his regular opponent across the despatch box one day, Starmer even suggested the chancellor was personally responsible for the second wave of the pandemic – and all the economic damage that flowed from a longer lockdown – thanks to his opposition in Cabinet to a circuit-breaker in September.Starmer landed some punches on Sunak’s lack of any climate change stimulus, the total absence of social care funding or housing help. He was quick to note too that 2.4 million self-employed would continue to be excluded from government support. Jibes about the sheer self-regard of the chancellor’s Instagram game had more than the usual bite.The Labour leader was also keen to stress that for all Sunak’s talk of tax rises, the real agenda was one of tax cuts on the eve of the next election. Starmer said the proper basis for tax decisions was “the economic cycle, not the electoral cycle”. Add in all the pork barrel spending on freeports, towns funds, levelling up funds (including Sunak’s own well-heeled constituency) and this did look like a Budget with politics at its heart.But the problem for Starmer is that the electoral cycle really does matter. And the point about pork barrel spending is that it often works (look how impossible it has been to abolish Gordon Brown’s tax credits or winter fuel allowance). A cynic would suggest that the Conservatives welcome the Labour attacks because it reminds the voters of spending, not cutting. In former “red wall” seats, arguably neglected for years by all parties and Whitehall, ex-Labour voters may see this not so much as pork barrel but as payback for lending their votes to Johnson.My instant thought on seeing Sunak’s timetable for fiscal balancing today was that a 2023 general election looked more likely than ever. That’s the year that corporation taxes kick in, allowing the Tories to say they’re making the very rich pay for the aftermath of the pandemic (in a way the rich never did after the 2008 financial crisis). But it could also be the year that the “fiscal drag” of frozen personal taxes is suddenly halted.Sunak said he was “going long” on help for the pandemic recovery, yet the pressure will be to go short on the political recovery. Chatter about 2023 is rife among some Tory MPs (though with the boundary review that will net them extra seats due in June that year, maybe a September election is on the cards?).The real power of Sunak’s corporation tax hike is that it robs Labour of its own magic money tree, as much of the party’s spending plans since 2017 have been predicated on reversing the Osborne tax cuts to business. Labour would again be asked by the voters: well how will you pay for your promises then? (One small example: Starmer today said Labour would keep the uplift in Universal Credit “until a new, fairer system can be put in place”, without saying how he’d fund it).Starmer is also making a big bet that Sunak will somehow revert to Tory type. He claimed “one day we’ll all be able to take our masks off – and so will the chancellor”. But Sunak may be much smarter than that, delaying spending cuts until after an early election while taxing the richest. Tony Blair once anticipated Ed Miliband’s (and Corbyn’s) defeat by saying when a traditional leftwing party competes with a traditional rightwing party you get “the traditional result”. That result is even harder when a growth-and-spend Labour party faces a growth-and-spend Tory party.With a love of Brexit often the only thing that unites Johnson’s coalition of former Labour and traditional Tory voters, the yo-yo dieting on business tax announced by Sunak (big tax cuts for two years then a whopping rise) felt very much like a government desperate for firms to invest as soon as possible to make up for the hit to trade from the PM’s thin deal with Brussels.At least Starmer began today to spot that he could make headway by arguing for a “smarter Brexit” that better protected jobs and businesses. And although Sunak is popular now, if his own gamble on a sustained recovery is blown off course, rising unemployment and continued stagnant wages could mean big drops in Tory support. Boarded up shops on high streets could become the 2020s equivalent of derelict 1980s factories.Government incompetence is still Labour’s best shot at winning the next election, but it will also need “lockdown fatigue” to be replaced by “Tory fatigue”, a sense that after 13 or 14 years it’s time for a fresh start and a new party in power. Rishi Sunak signalled in this Budget that he’s ready to do “all that it takes” to prevent that from happening.Related...5 Announcements In The Budget That Rishi Sunak Won't Be Mentioning On InstagramRishi Sunak’s Own Well-Off Seat Prioritised For Levelling Up Cash In BudgetBudget 2021: Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal Will Shrink UK Economy By 4%, Watchdog Says
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The World Health Organisation has urged politicians to act urgently on obesity after a new study found a “dramatic” correlation between Covid death rates and excess weight.The research by former Public Health England and WHO adviser Dr Tim Loebstein reveals that coronavirus deaths are 10 times higher in countries where more than half the population is overweight.Published to mark World Obesity Day on March 5, the study shows that 2.2m of the 2.5m (90%) Covid-19 deaths are in nations with high levels of obesity.The World Obesity Federation, which commissioned the study, said that the “dramatic” correlation showed “hundreds of thousands” of deaths could have been avoided with better public health policies.The UK has the third highest death rate in the world and the fourth highest obesity rate (184 deaths per 100,000 and 63.7% of adults living with obesity according to WHO data), followed by the United States of America (152.49 deaths per 100,000 and 67.9% living with obesity).By contrast, Vietnam has the lowest death rate in the world and the second lowest proportion of its population overweight (0.04 per 100,000 deaths from Covid and 18.3% adults overweight, according to WHO data).Not a single nation with low levels of obesity had more than 10 deaths per 100,000 people, while no country with death rates above 100 per 100,000 had less than 50% of their population overweight, the report said.The new analysis also shows that overweight populations are much more susceptible to respiratory diseases generally, with outcomes significantly worse for people living with obesity during the MERS and H1N1 epidemics.WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the evidence was now “clear and compelling” and the report “must act as a wake-up call to governments globally”.Writing for HuffPost UK, former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said that the “landmark” report showed that Boris Johnson had to devise long-term programmes to tackle deprivation, strengthen regulation of the food industry and boost public health policies.Watson said that for too long politicians had treated the issue as a matter of personal responsibility versus “the Nanny state”.“The root causes of obesity are complex: just telling people to eat less and move more won’t cut it. The drivers are often deprivation, affordability of food, genetic and mental health factors, lack of healthy food choices and lack of nutrition education,” he said.“With a food industry intent on marketing and selling as much lousy fat and high sugar products as they can get away with, it’s up to governments to use the levers that only they have to address the root causes.”Age has been the predominant focus of analysis of risks of hospitalisation and death to date, but the Lobstein report shows for the first time that overweight populations come a close second.Professor Lobstein said: “We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen.“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea where they have very low levels of Covid-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity. They have prioritised public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.”Around one in three UK adults is clinically obese with a BMI (body mass index) over 30, one of the highest rates in the western world.Boris Johnson has declared that he was “too fat” and “way overweight” when he was admitted to intensive care last April as he battled Covid-19 and was put on oxygen. He has since launched a new obesity strategy but critics say it still fails to go far enough.The study by Lobstein analyses the latest mortality data from Johns Hopkins University and WHO Global Health Observatory data on obesity.Following speculation about the difference in death rates between Asian and western countries, as well as low income and high-income countries, the report suggests that healthy weight is a common denominator in keeping death rates low – and that any excess body weight is likely to impact the severity of Covid-19 in a patient.It also reveals the economic costs of preventing health services being overrun through lockdowns could have been significantly mitigated if governments had tackled population weight issues before the pandemic.Of the $28tn (£20tn) IMF projected global cost in lost economic output worldwide up to 2025, at least $6tn (£4.3tn) will be directly attributable to the issue of populations living with excess weight.“This report must act as a wake-up call to governments globally,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.“The correlation between obesity and mortality rates from Covid-19 is clear and compelling. Investment in public health and co-ordinated, international action to tackle the root causes of obesity is one of the best ways for countries to build resilience in health systems post-pandemic: we urge all countries to seize this moment.”Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation, said: “Old age is unavoidable, but the conditions that contribute to overweight and obesity can be highly avoidable if governments step up and we all join forces to reduce the impact of this disease.“The failure to address the root causes of obesity over many decades is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of preventable deaths.”Related...Boris Johnson Focusing On Obesity Over Women And BAME People Because He's Obese, Says Labour MPPeople Are Being Offered Jabs Because The NHS Has Got Their Heights Extremely WrongThe UK Has Stopped Talking About All The People Dying Of Covid
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A new release of Android 12 in a Developer Preview version 1.1 was delivered today, March 3, 2021. This release was given build number SPP1.210122.022, complete with emulator support including x86 (64-bit), and ARM (v8-A) just like its predecessor. This release includes a March 2021 security patch and Google Play services 21.02.14. This version of Android 12 includes a collection … Continue reading
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The vaccine might offer a way out of the pandemic, but it won’t repair our fractured society. After a year when we have seen progress towards women’s equality undermined, we needed a Budget that would ensure a sustainable and equal recovery. Sadly, this year’s fell short of what was needed. As with previous government announcements over the last year, the needs of women have been sidelined.When lockdown first began last year, the implications for women were instant: over 36% of young women employed in shutdown sectors like hospitality, leisure and tourism. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuing labour market shock, young women were already facing a gender earnings gap(32.8% for 18-21 age group and 19% for 22-29 age group), discrimination and sexual harassment. The lockdown hit young women particularly hard – overall, women were more likely to be furloughed, taking a 20% pay cut, in 72% of parliament constituencies across the UK.At home, women across England saw a rise in unpaid work as schools and nurseries closed. Lack of available support has meant an increased amount of unpaid work and multitasking duties, severely impacting women’s time for paid work. Consequently, 46% of mothers being made redundant said that lack of childcare was a factor in their selection for redundancy. We needed a Budget that would take immediate action to mitigate the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on different groups on women. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s mental health too. Mothers are facing the brunt of increased workload with twice as many reporting they would have to take time off with no pay due to school closures or a sick child. Some 51% of single parents are also reporting to have depression, bad nerves and anxiety (compared to 27% of couple parents).At the same time domestic abuse cases rose and cases of femicide as a result of domestic abuse more than doubled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.This is all to say we needed a Budget that would take immediate action to mitigate the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on different groups on women. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got.The Chancellor extended the furlough scheme until September, which will protect many jobs in the short term. However, many of those currently furloughed are likely to be worrying if they will have a job once the scheme ends. Women have been furloughed in greater numbers than men during the pandemic, and the gender furlough gap is higher for younger womenthan older women. This isn’t surprising when you consider the sectors that women are more likely to work in.The Chancellor also extended Universal Credit for another six months. Although this is welcome, it is only a short-term fix that risks pushing families into debt and undermining the recovery. The government clearly recognises that UC is not enough to live on at the moment – benefit levels in the UK have been cut over the past ten years, and even with this uplift to UC they are still low compared to other countries. As our research with the Runnymede Trust showed, these cuts disproportionately impacted Black and minority ethnic women. The government clearly recognises that UC is not enough to live on at the moment.  There was nothing in the Budget to address the problems with statutory sick pay (SSP). At the moment, WBG calculations find that 15.5% of women and 10.6% of men do not earn enough to qualify for SSP. The low level of SSP was always unjust – during a pandemic it is not only bad for individuals, but also disastrous for public health. There have been widespread reports of key workers who felt they had no choice but to continue to work when they were ill, or using up annual leave, because they couldn’t afford to self-isolate. And we know that take up of community testing has been low in the poorest areas, again because people fear a positive result would mean they had to self isolate and be left unable to pay rent or bills.Nor was there anything in the budget to address the crisis in the care sector. Women are more likely to need care as adults, more likely to work in the care sector, and more likely to be the ones who have to provide unpaid care if care services are not available. Investment in care would not only be good for these women, it would create much needed jobs. Our research shows investment in the care sector could create 2.7 times as many jobs as investment in construction. So why isn’t care at the heart of recovery plans?The Chancellor did announce some additional money for the violence against women sector. But the £19 million is nowhere near the £393 million, including £173 million for refuges that Women’s Aid estimate is needed to provide sufficient funding for a ‘safe and sustainable’ national network of women’s domestic abuse services.Over the past year we’ve not only seen women suffering the worst economic and social impacts of Covid. Now the government appears to have forgotten about women altogether.Ebyan Abdirahman works with the Women’s Budget GroupRelated...Rishi Sunak's Budget Explained In Two MinutesThe chronic stress brought on by the coronavirus has left us emotionally blunted. Experts share some tips on how to cope.People Like Me Rely On The Universal Credit Uplift. Don’t Take It Away From Us
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