From 'cancelling' Eid to fix-your-bike vouchers, 6 ridiculous mistakes the Tories have made this week

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Saturday 01 August 2020 08:00
news

Another week has passed, although perhaps you might not know it if you remain in coronavirus limbo.

But yes, seven days have come and gone, which means seven more days of opportunities for the Tories to make some pretty large gaffes and/or bad decisions.

Here’s a topline of 6 awful things the Tories have done this week that you might have missed.

And no one wants that now, do they?

1. When they failed spectacularly at launching the Fix Your Bike Scheme

When Boris announced that the government would be giving out £50 vouchers for cyclists to get their bikes fixed, as part of a wider ‘health’ drive (which we’ll get onto in a minute), it genuinely seemed like a good idea.

Cycling is eco-friendly, a cheap alternative mode of transport (once you’ve managed to get a bike) and a form of regular exercise that’s accessible to a wide range of people. However, buying and maintaining a bike is expensive. So cutting the costs of that, even a little, is a step towards making cycling financially viable for many.

Unfortunately, the execution of the idea was less well received.

The launch site for the Fix Your Bike scheme immediately crashed upon its Tuesday launch, only beginning to work at 4am on Wednesday. Then it was taken offline after the Department of Transport announced it had handed out all available vouchers at this time – with apparently only 50,000 available.

People began questioning whether the vouchers even existed, such was the rarity of successful applicants. The hashtag #FixYouBikeVoucherScheme even began trending. Not exactly the triumphant rollout Boris had envisaged.

2. When they rolled out an anti-obesity scheme that could push people into food poverty

After recovering from Covid-19, Boris Johnson says he has a new lease of life. And part of that is exercise. Johnson believes that his weight was a factor in being hospitalised for the virus and commissioned a Public Health England study that does reveal a link between “excess weight” and the risk of more serious complications from Covid-19.

The result? Johnson is taking the nation on a fitness drive. But the ‘Better Health’ scheme, as it’s been titled, has left a sour taste for many reasons. For a start, people think it’s shunting the blame for a stretched NHS onto overweight people by urging them to lose weight to reduce ‘pressure’ on the healthcare service. Secondly, the measures the scheme will bring in have been heavily criticised.

One proposed policy is mandatory calorie counting in restaurants – something campaigners for eating disorder awareness say could increase the prevalence of unhealthy relationships with food and weight for thousands.

Another is taking away 'BOGOF' offers on items “high in fat and sugar”, something which critics say could push low-income families further into food poverty. Speaking to the BBC, Sue Eustace, director of public affairs at the Advertising Association also said the measure would have “little effect” on obesity but could financially impact struggling businesses trying to recover after the pandemic.

Plus doctors are going to be given ‘incentives’ to refer people to dieting organisations, like Weight Watchers, despite dieting being proven not to work as a long-term weight loss solution – and solely targets visible fat as a metric of health, when that’s not accurate either.

What a mess.

3. When they allowed free meal vouchers to be used at Waitrose, but not Lidl

Boris and co really do seem loathe to give any inches to families struggling to feed themselves this summer. After being forced to U-turn on removing free meal vouchers altogether (which are only worth £15), it’s been revealed that the vouchers are restrictive in other ways.

MPs were accused of being “detached from reality” as it turned out initial design flaws in the scheme meant they could be used at premium supermarkets like Waitrose and M&S – but not more affordable options like Lidl or Aldi, where they could buy more.

According to a report from the Commons Environment and Food Committee, this meant that a third of children on the scheme experience greater food insecurity in the first month of it.

Stephanie Wood, CEO of the charity School Food Matters, said that:

Lots of people are really angry that DfE has defaulted to the big six supermarkets, two of which are really irrelevant when it comes to families on low income: Marks & Sparks and Waitrose.

4. When the government changed quarantine rules while lots of people were on holiday

The Tory government had made a big fuss about their ‘air bridges’ scheme, designed to allow people to travel abroad once the worst of the first wave of the coronavirus was over.

And once given permission, people leapt at the chance to get out of the UK for a holiday, particularly to popular European hotspots like Spain, which didn’t require them to quarantine for two weeks upon return.

Many Brits flocked to the Canary and Balearic Islands for a bit of sun. But with a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus hitting mainland Spain, the government decided to tighten up the rules, announcing on Saturday that any tourists currently in Spanish territories would be subject to a two-week quarantine when they returned.

The decision has been hugely criticised for blindsiding tourists who may not be able to remain at home for two weeks, due to their jobs or other factors. Ditto, there’s calls from Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez to amend “blanket’ quarantine rules for Spanish islands like Ibiza, which have been affected far less by the ‘spike’ in cases. So much for rest and relaxation.

5. When Boris Johnson repeatedly lied about child poverty levels

Prime minister Boris Johnson has been doing the rounds, claiming proudly that since he came to power, child poverty levels in the UK have gone down. Yet, according to statistics watchdog the Office for Statistics Regulation, this isn’t actually true.

Johnson has repeatedly claimed there are “400,000 fewer families living in poverty than in 2010”. But the OSR says this is “incorrect”.

In a letter to the End Child Poverty Coalition,who initially asked for the stats to be investigated, OSR director-general, Ed Humpherson said:

Our team has investigated the statements which you highlight (and has reached the same conclusion that these statements are incorrect).

Labour have since demanded Johnson “corrects” himself. Will he? Hmm, what does his track record suggest?

6. When they announced brand new lockdown rules at 9pm the night before Eid

Has anyone talked to the government about this little thing called ‘timing’? Late on Thursday night they decided to announce that large swathes of northern England – including Greater Manchester, areas in West Yorkshire and Lancashire – were going to be subject to stricter lockdown rules from midnight on Thursday. Along with Leicester, people within the highlighted areas can now no longer meet with individuals from other households indoors. That ranges from the likes of popping round for a cup of tea to not meeting in the pub.

This came into effect on Eid Al-Adha, one of the holiest days of the Islamic calendar for British Muslims, many of whom live in the affected areas. For those who need a crass comparison, it’s like telling people who celebrate Christmas at 9pm on Christmas Eve that they can’t visit people in other houses on 25 December. Devastating. And given the prior warning given to people for other policies such as compulsory mask wearing, people are labelled the move as “completely detached” from the public the Tories are supposed to be governing.

Another glorious week!

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