Day: 17 June 2021

Government Considering Making Working from Home “Default” Option

Workspace provider IWG (formerly Regus) said in March that, after lockdown, “hybrid working”, where staff work from home some of the time, will become “the norm”. With the Government confirming on Thursday that it is considering making working from home (WFH) the “default” position by giving employees the right to request it, we are a step closer to this. The Guardian has the story.

Responding to reports that ministers could change the law, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said a flexible working taskforce was examining how best to proceed.

“What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option unless there are good reasons not to,” they said. That would mirror the approach to other forms of flexible working, such as part-time hours.

However, they emphasised there would be no legal right to work from home, adding that the Prime Minister still believed there were benefits to being in the office, including collaboration with colleagues.

Business lobby groups have said many of their members are considering keeping flexible and hybrid approaches adopted during the pandemic. Sixty-three per cent of members of the Institute of Directors said they intended to shift to working from home for office-based workers for between one and four days a week.

However, the Confederation of British Industry, another lobby group, said it opposed giving workers an automatic right to work from home. “The default must remain that businesses control where work is done. While they will need to talk with workers about this, accommodate flexibility where they can and explain these decisions, it can’t be unduly onerous to do so,” said Matthew Percival, the CBI’s Director of People and Skills. “That’s why a ‘right to request’ approach is the right one.”

The pandemic [that is, lockdown] has ushered in drastically different working arrangements for many office workers, but the plan to legislate to support working from home had already been mooted in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto…

Ministers have been advised that removal of all restrictions on workplaces could be risky, according to a document first reported by Politico. Instead, the Government is thought to be considering advice for a hybrid approach, blending continued home working with some time in the office when necessary.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Downing Street has denied the story, saying there are “no plans” to make working from home the default after the pandemic or to legislate for a legal right to work from home. But many things the Government has said it has “no plans” for have subsequently turned out to be very much in the pipeline, so we shall see.

Why is Davos Man So Keen on Lockdowns?

In my column in this week’s Spectator I have tried to answer the question of why the global elite became such enthusiastic supporters of the heavy-handed, statist approach to managing the coronavirus crisis — stay-at home orders, business closures, face masks — and passionate opponents of less draconian alternatives, such as those set out by the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration. First, I summarise the explanation that my friend James Delingpole favours:

It’s because these 21st-century robber barons are making money out of the pandemic. According to Robert Watts, who compiles the Sunday Times Rich List, more people have become billionaires in the past year than at any other time in Britain’s history. The combined fortune of these Masters of the Universe has grown by more than a fifth, and the rest of the 1 per cent haven’t done too badly either, thanks to massive government expenditure. Across the developed world, central banks have pumped money into the economy, boosting asset prices and further enriching the plutocratic elite. What’s not to like?

But while I think that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the whole of the story. I think it’s also because being in favour of non-pharmaceutical interventions is a high-status indicator, a way of advertising that you’re in the same club as tech titans like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and eminent public health scientists like Anthony Fauci and Neil Ferguson.

That’s a term coined by a doctoral student at Cambridge called Robert Henderson. In an article for the New York Post, he defines ‘luxury beliefs’ as “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class”. The example he gives is the belief, prevalent in the 1960s, that monogamy is outdated and marriage a source of patriarchal oppression. That doesn’t cost the rich anything because most of them are brought up in bourgeois two-parent households and enter into stable, monogamous marriages. But as the credo of sexual liberation trickled down to the working class it has wreaked havoc, leading to illegitimacy, crime and poverty.

This is where Delingpole goes wrong, I think. The reason Davos Man has outsourced his opinions on the pandemic to the World Health Organisation is not because the policies recommended by Tedros Adhanom enrich him. Rather, it’s because they cost him nothing. He can just as easily work in the shepherd’s hut at the bottom of his garden as he can from his corner office. His children are provided with a full timetable of lessons via Zoom, courtesy of their private school, and if he feels like a holiday abroad he can charter a private jet. Becoming a cheerleader for lockdowns is a way of signalling that he is among the tiny elite of successful people for whom there is zero cost associated with them.

Worth reading in full.

Even in Ferguson’s Worst Case Scenario, the Cost of Saving One Life From Covid is a Million Pounds

We’re publishing an original piece today by Glen Bishop, the second year maths student at Nottingham University who often writes for Lockdown Sceptics about the shortcomings of the models that SAGE has relied on throughout this crisis. In this piece, he does a back-of-the-envelope calculation to work out how much it has cost the Government to save one life from Covid. Not surprisingly, it is considerably more than the £30,000 per Quality Adjusted Life Year that is the upper limit in the guidance the NHS relies upon when deciding how to allocate resources. Here is an extract:

Financially, the test for rationality of a response to public health is the one used, until the Covid hysteria, by the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE is the body that decides whether treatments, technologies and medicines are beneficial enough to warrant their cost. The upper limit the NHS and NICE are willing to pay for a treatment yielding one extra quality adjusted life year (QALY) is £30,000. If £30,000 is the accepted limit that can sustainably be spent by society on giving an individual one extra quality year of life, then have lockdowns met this test? Even with Ferguson’s projections, they aren’t even close.

As mentioned, using the 500,000 deaths projection would lead to 372,000 lives having been saved. Conveniently the National Audit Office puts the cost of measures announced by the government by the end of March at £372bn. That would be, as readers will notice, £1 million per life saved. But again, taking QALYs lost per Covid death of seven years gives £143,000.

This is a cost per year of life nearly five times more than the £30,000 the Government previously deemed an upper limit for what was reasonable and sustainable to spend on treatments such as that for children’s cancer medication. Is it the Government’s or Professor Ferguson’s position that protecting somebody from Covid is worth spending five times more than protecting someone from cancer or do they not understand the realities of the policies they are implementing?

Worth reading in full.

The 60 MPs Who Deserve Our Praise

These are the 60 MPs who voted against the extension of lockdown restrictions on Wednesday evening, plus two tellers.

Conservative

Adam Afriyie (Windsor)

Siobhan Baillie (Stroud)

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire)

Bob Blackman (Harrow East)

Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Peter Bone (Wellingborough)

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands)

Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West)

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire)

Steve Brine (Winchester)

Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge)

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds)

Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington)

Philip Davies (Shipley)

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

Richard Drax (South Dorset)

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil)

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

Chris Green (Bolton West)

Mark Harper (Forest of Dean)

Philip Hollobone (Kettering)

David Jones (Clwyd West)

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire)

Andrew Lewer (Northampton South)

Chris Loder (West Dorset)

Jonathan Lord (Woking)

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet)

Karl McCartney (Lincoln)

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)

Esther McVey (Tatton)

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle)

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)

Mark Pawsey (Rugby)

John Redwood (Wokingham)

Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Greg Smith (Buckingham)

Henry Smith (Crawley)

Julian Sturdy (York Outer)

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)

Sir Robert Syms (Poole)

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire)

Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne)

David Warburton (Somerton and Frome)

William Wragg (Hazel Grove)

Labour

Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish)

Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields)

John Spellar (Warley)

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton)

Derek Twigg (Halton)

Democratic Unionist Party

Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry)

Paul Girvan (South Antrim)

Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann)

Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim)

Tellers

Steve Baker (Conservative, Wycombe)

Jackie Doyle-Price (Conservative, Thurrock)

You can use the WriteToThem website to easily contact these MPs and thank them for their vote.

Hairdresser and Plumbers Working in Care Homes Also Face Mandatory Vaccination

The Government has confirmed that people who visit care homes for occasional work – including plumbers, hairdressers and inspectors – also face mandatory Covid vaccination alongside regular staff. The Sun has the story.

Downing Street said that everyone working in a home will have to be double jabbed under new laws set to kick in in October this year.

The new law applies to everyone working at a care home – including plumbers, healthcare workers, beauticians, hairdressers and inspectors.

Ministers are consulting on plans to also make the jab mandatory for NHS staff as well.

While Number 10 is also considering making the flu vaccine compulsory for health and social care staff.

Boris Johnson is backing hugely controversial plans to make it illegal for care home workers to refuse the jab amid growing alarm that so many are refusing.

The scope of forced vaccination is likely to be extended soon, according to the Gov.uk website.

The responses to the consultation [on the mandatory vaccination of care home staff] made a case for extending this policy beyond care homes to other settings where people vulnerable to Covid receive care, such as domiciliary care and wider healthcare settings.

Based on this evidence, the Government will launch a further public consultation in due course on whether or not to make Covid and flu vaccination a condition of deployment in health and care settings. This is a complex issue and the Government is looking for a wide range of perspectives from across the health and care sector about whether this should be introduced and how it could be implemented.

The Sun report is worth reading in full.

AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine Recommended Only for Australians Aged 60 and Over

The Australian medicines regulator has recommended that the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is only used in those aged 60 years and over amid further reports of blood clotting following vaccination, as well as reports of a link between the AZ vaccine and an illness that can leave patients paralysed.

Five out of the 12 confirmed and probable new cases of blood clotting following vaccination are actually in people over the age of 60, according to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). A further four cases are in people less than five years away from turning 60. All remaining cases are in people above the age of 50.

The Guardian has more.

Pfizer will be the preferred vaccine for eligible people under 60 following a recommendation from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). However, people who have had their first shot of AstraZeneca will be advised to have their second shot of the same vaccine.

The Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said the opening of Pfizer to people aged 50 to 59 would mean that the 2.1 million people in this cohort who have yet to have the AstraZeneca shot will receive the Pfizer vaccine instead.

The TGA reported on Thursday there were a further 12 reports of blood clots and low blood platelets assessed to be confirmed or probable cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past week.

The new cases include three confirmed in 55 and 65 year-old women from Victoria and a 53 year-old woman from NSW. The nine new probable cases include: a 54 year-old man from the Northern Territory, a 65 year-old woman from Tasmania, 50 and 56 year old men and a 69 year-old woman from Victoria, a 58 year-old woman from South Australia, 59 and 80 year-old men from Queensland, and a 67 year-old woman from NSW.

It takes the total of Australian reports of TTS following the AstraZeneca vaccine to 37 confirmed and 23 probable.

The estimated risk of TTS following the first dose is 3.1 per 100,000 for people under 50, 2.7 for people between 50 and 59, 1.4 for people between 60 and 69, 1.8 for people 70 to 79, and 1.9 for people over 80 years of age.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said the new cases had “changed the rate” for those between 50 and 59, changing the risk profile more in line with those under 50. There have been two deaths in Australia linked to TTS, and Kelly stressed it remains a very rare condition.

“Remember this remains a very rare but sometimes serious event; we’re picking it up much more commonly than other countries because we’re looking more fully,” he said. 

“For most people, they’ve been diagnosed early, there was a large proportion of those with a less severe form of this rare syndrome, and most of those have been discharged from hospital already.”

Last week, the Italian Government also restricted the use of the AZ vaccine to people over the age of 60 after the death of a teenager with blood clots following vaccination.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

Education Charity Finds that School Closures Hampered Students’ Learning

When it comes to school closures, the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker codes countries on four-point scale from 0 (“no measures”) to 3 (“require closing all levels”). This measure is accompanied by a “flag” indicating whether closures were required in specific regions or the entire country.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK has spent 253 days with a rating of 3. This means there have been 253 days on which schools at all levels were closed in at least part of the country. The only European country with more days of school closures is Italy. How have such closures affected students’ learning? 

I’ve already written about two studies which found sizeable negative effects. One, based on data from the Netherlands, found that students made considerably less progress in 2020 than in each of the three preceding years. Another, based on Brazilian data, found that the change in dropout risk was substantially higher in 2020 than in 2019. But what about the UK? 

The Education Endowment Foundation – a charity founded in 2011 – has collated all the best studies on the impact of school closures on students’ learning. As it stands, their list includes six UK studies and seven international studies.

According to the charity, research to date “shows a consistent pattern”. Specifically, students have made “less academic progress” than in previous years, and the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students seems to have grown. 

As to the UK itself, “Studies from NFER, Department for Education and GL assessment show a consistent impact of the first national lockdown with pupils making around 2 months less progress than similar pupils in previous years.”

However, this figure may understate learning losses, given that the relevant studies only examined the impact of the first national lockdown. Looking at the Blavatnik School’s database, the UK has spent more than 100 days with a rating of 3 since October of 2020. 

Why might the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students have grown while schools were closed? There are a number of possibilities, including differences in parental support, access to technology (e.g., high-speed broadband) and the use of private tuition.

Overall, the studies reviewed by the Education Endowment Foundation call the Government’s policy of school closures into serious question. Although there are plans to extend the school day by 30 minutes as a way of helping pupils catch up, it’s unclear whether this will be enough to correct the learning losses that have already been sustained. 

News Round-Up