Morning briefing: UK must “wean off” government grants

Good morning.

Ministers’ plans to wind down the grant scheme for furloughed workers are taking shape: the Treasury is considering lowering the 80 per cent wage subsidy to 60 per cent, reducing the maximum payment one person can receive from £2,500 a month, or allowing furloughed staff to work part-time with a smaller subsidy. “We’ve got to wean off it,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night. The scheme will run in its current form until 30 June. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to provide more detail on the plans on Sunday, giving larger businesses enough time to, if necessary, hold a statutory 45-day consultation before making redundancies at the beginning of July. The Times also reports that ministers might bar self-employed workers with profits of more than £30,000 from claiming government grants – currently, the bar is £50,000.

Scientists from Edinburgh University have proposed that Britain could leave lockdown by easing restrictions on more than half the population while strengthening protection for vulnerable groups. The “segmenting and shielding” plan, which suggests the elderly and vulnerable only see carers and family members, is under consideration by ministers.

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation think tank has warned that UK youth unemployment could top 1 million within a year unless ministers offer job guarantees or incentives for graduates and school leavers to continue their education. A lack of jobs for the “corona class of 2020” could see the number of unemployed people under 25 balloon by 600,000, it said.

Finally, as we reported on this blog last night, the scientist whose modelling led to the UK’s lockdown, Professor Neil Ferguson, has resigned from his position within the government’s scientific advisory group (Sage), after a Daily Telegraph investigation found he had at least twice been visited at his home by a woman with whom he was in a romantic relationship, and who lived elsewhere.

Global updates:

South Korea: The country has moved out of lockdown into an “everyday quarantine”, where people are asked to follow a detailed set of non-binding guidelines for every aspect of their lives, including eating in restaurants and taking public transport.

US: The White House has confirmed it will wind down its coronavirus task force, despite the fact more than 1,000 people are dying from the virus every day across the country. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said the economy must reopen soon, even if some people were “affected badly”.

Brazil: Brazil recorded 600 deaths in a 24-hour period, far higher than its previous recorded (474), as São Luís became the first major city in the country to enter lockdown.

Germany: The heads of German states can decide when to reopen universities, restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses, and how to limit contact between people, according to a draft government agreement. Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with leaders from 16 states today to finalise the plans, which will see lockdown measures reintroduced if the number of new infections reaches more than 50 per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period.

Italy: Italy’s latest daily tally of new infections stood at 1,075, the lowest in two months.

Spain: More than 70 per cent of new infections in Spain are among medical staff, the health ministry has said.

China: Schools in Wuhan reopened for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and Disneyland announced its Shanghai park will reopen on 11 May under “enhanced health and safety measures”.


Read more on the New Statesman:

How the UK overtook Italy to become the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe

Why the UK’s lockdown rules are too vague and risky

What does Neil Ferguson’s resignation mean?

The economy needs real reform to recover from Covid-19

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.