Rent payments, Belly Mujinga and Wellcome

Authors: Jack Maycock
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: May 18, 2020

| Precarious times for renters

New research from Citizens Advice has revealed that 2.6 million renters have already missed a rent payment, or expect to do so as a result of COVID-19. This comes shortly after the New Economics Foundation (NEF) found that a minimum-wage worker who loses their job and has to rely on universal credit will have their income cut by 45%. This leaves the 4.5 million families living in private rented accommodation in a potentially precarious position once the government’s pause on possession action ends in just over a month on June 25.

In response, the London Renters Union (LRU) have teamed up with a number of other housing unions to start the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign, encouraging tenants to withhold rent if it means not being able to buy essentials such as food. The campaign has a number of demands for the government outlined in an open letter, including a suspension of rent for 12 months with no rent debt, making the existing eviction ban permanent for at least 12 months and the introduction of rent controls in London. The open letter was signed by a number of workers and housing unions, MPs, think tanks, academics and charities. 

Elsewhere, Generation Rent, the UK’s leading campaign for private rented housing, has launched Vent Your Rentan online portal aimed at giving tenants a voice, and create a movement based on people’s lived experiences.   

| Justice for Belly Mujinga

Last week, the UK took a collective gasp as the story of Belly Mujinga emerged in the national media. While working on the platform at London Victoria station, Belly—who had underlying respiratory problems—was spat on by a man who was knowingly infected with COVID-19. She died in hospital weeks later from the virus.   

Since then, over 230,000 people have signed a petition demanding justice. The petition calls for two actions to be taken:

  1. Govia Thameslink must provide an explanation as to why Belly was working in direct contact with the public, with no PPE, given her employer was aware of her condition.
  2. For the British Transport Police to swiftly investigate and identify the perpetrator to ensure he faces legal repercussions. 

52 transport workers have now died from COVID-19 despite transport workers warning their employers of their vulnerability at work without the appropriate PPE. 

As lockdown restrictions began to ease last week to allow those that can’t do their jobs from home to return to work, Stand Up To Racism has warned the easing of restrictions will increase the use of public transport, impacting BAME communities harder, especially if not protected by their employers.  

Last week, we highlighted the calls for an independent enquiry into the disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities.

| Former Prime Minister appointed Chair of the Wellcome Trust

Last week, the first female Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was appointed the new chair of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s biggest charitable foundation. Gillard, who was Australia’s Labor Prime Minister from 2010-2013, is set to become the first non-UK head of the charity’s governing board when she assumes the role in April 2021.

The appointment highlights Wellcome’s growing ambition to address the health challenges facing the world through science, particularly in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Gillard noted that

It really is a dream come true to have the opportunity to chair Wellcome. I will relish supporting and speaking up for scientific research into key health challenges.

The deputy chair of the Wellcome Trust, Michael Ferguson of Dundee University, echoed the sentiment and said:

We wanted someone who could help Wellcome establish its place in the world.

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The Great Adaptation 

Last week, we launched the #GreatAdaptation, a series of fireside discussions with social impact leaders, NGOs, institutions, and humanitarian organisations on some of the most pressing issues facing the sector and how we can build resilience for the future. 

We launched the series with ’Fixing furlough & the route to universal basic income’ with representatives from New Starter Justice, UK Hospitality and universal basic income campaigners. Our speakers provided an insightful view into the loopholes with the government’s Job Retention Scheme and how to better advocate and protect those hit hardest by new COVID-19 measures. You can watch the webinar here

This week’s fireside discussion, ‘New narratives | international organisations and NGOs beyond the pandemic’ takes place on Thursday, 21 May at 5pm. Register your interest here.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week (18-24 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is kindness, chosen by the Mental Health Foundation because of its ability to unlock our shared humanity. The Foundation advocates for kindness as it strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity which is especially powerful in unpredictable times like these.

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