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Education secretary under fire for opening ‘Pandora’s box’ on concrete crisis | Politics News

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has come under fire from colleagues for her “unilateral” decision to determine which school buildings need to close as part of the concrete crisis, Sky News has learned.

Ministers elsewhere in Whitehall fear she has opened a “Pandora’s box” by setting a more cautious than necessary standard that could affect a huge array of public buildings, including housing stock, local authority buildings and the military estate.

The education secretary has made clear she took the most cautious of the options presented by officials over which buildings to shut last week.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan arriving in Downing Street, London, for a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday June 13, 2023.

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Sky News understands that the decision was signed off by the education team in Number 10 with the PM’s knowledge.

However there was no cabinet office meeting and no ministerial follow-up for days after the issue emerged.

The Department for Education “belatedly” shared the technical advice on why they shut school with others in Whitehall – some of whom disagree it shows a need to shut schools

Ministers are worried they could now face massive disruption and spiralling costs if other public buildings are now held to the same precedent set in the Department for Education.

“This is suboptimal,” said a senior Whitehall figure. “She has made a unilateral decision. It’s not been resolved, and it’s a bit of a mess.”

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Gillian Keegan denies complacency

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Sources close to the education secretary say the decision was never intended to act as a precedent since the school estate is unique. “We are being over-cautious,” said an education source.

There are tens of thousands of school buildings in disparate parts of the country and often do not have easy access to estate managers, monitors or experts who can monitor the state of buildings, and the buildings themselves are unusually crowded.

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However, there is concern elsewhere that the decision by Ms Keegan may nevertheless appear like a precedent, and if other public buildings are not held to the same standard they will have to fix them or face legal risk and political pressure.

Responsibility for the issue will now fall to the Government Property Agency, but ministers are already concerned about the implications for budgets.

“There is a big fear this is going to spiral,” said a Tory source.

Education secretary in four-letter rant over lack of thanks for doing a ‘f***ing good job’ on concrete crisis | Politics News

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was caught on camera complaining about not being thanked for doing a “f***ing good job” over the unsafe concrete crisis.

After an interview with ITV News in Westminster, the cabinet minister criticised others for being “sat on their arses” and claimed the government had gone “over and above” in addressing concerns relating to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

She said: “Does anyone ever say ‘You know you’ve done a f***ing good job because everyone else has sat on their arses and done nothing.

“No signs of that, no?”

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Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s shadow schools minister, said her comments were a “staggering admission that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have done nothing to address a problem that they have known about for years”.

“The education secretary has displayed staggering arrogance for saying she deserves a pat on the back for the chaos that is gripping our schools on their watch,” he said.

“Families, school leaders and school staff deserve an immediate apology for these appalling comments.”

Ms Keegan is due to be interviewed on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge on Sky News tonight at 7:30pm.

A Number 10 source said her comments were “wrong” but the prime minister “has full confidence in his education secretary”.

Thousands of pupils face disruption at the start of term this week following a last-minute order to fully or partially close 104 schools because of concerns about RAAC.

Pupils face being taught in temporary classrooms, on different sites or even forced into pandemic-style remote lessons.

Mr Sunak has acknowledged hundreds more schools in England could be caught up in the crisis as he faced accusations he failed to fund a programme to replace ageing classrooms while chancellor.

The prime minister said that 95% of England’s schools were unaffected, leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be impacted by concerns about RAAC.

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Mr Sunak said: “New information came to light relatively recently and it’s important that once it had, that the government acted on it as swiftly as possible.

“Of course I know the timing is frustrating, but I want to give people a sense of the scale of what we are grappling with here: there are around 22,000 schools in England and the important thing to know is that we expect that 95% of those schools won’t be impacted by this.”

But critics have accused the Tories of a “shambolic” handling of the situation, saying concerns about the material have been well known for years.

RAAC is essentially a lighter-weight form of concrete, used to build roofs, schools, colleges and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s.

Experts have long-warned the material has now reached the end of its shelf life and is liable to collapse.

Earlier Jonathan Slater, who was secretary at the Department for Education (DfE) from May 2016 to August 2020, claimed the Treasury had failed to fully fund school rebuilding schemes – including during Mr Sunak’s time at the helm.

He said up to 400 schools a year need to be replaced, but the DfE only got funding for 100, despite the government knowing there was a “critical risk to life”.

Mr Sunak dismissed that criticism as “completely and utterly wrong”.

But Labour insisted he “bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle” – saying funding for rebuilding schools has been slashed over the years.

Analysis published by the party found that spending on school rebuilding between 2019 and 2020 was at £765m, but this fell to £560m the following year.

Spending dropped again to £416m in 2021 to 2022, the party said.

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RAAC: The once wonder material causing a chaotic start to the academic year

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “The defining image of 13 years of the Conservative-run education system will be children sat under steel girders to stop the roof falling in.

“Rishi Sunak bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle: he doubled down on Michael Gove’s decision to axe Labour’s schools rebuilding programme and now the chickens have come home to roost – with yet more disruption to children’s education.”

Young adults and renters among worst hit by cost of living crisis | Business News

Young adults and renters are some of the groups of people worst hit by rising prices as official figures show around 1 in 20 said they’d run out of food in the past 2 weeks and couldn’t afford more.

People who couldn’t afford food were most likely to be supported by charities, be lone parents and in receipt of benefits or financial help.

Also more likely to struggle to buy food were ethnically diverse people and black, African, Caribbean and black British adults, along with renters and disabled adults.

Those aged 25 to 34 were at greater risk of financial vulnerability than those over the age of 75, the data showed.

Renters were more likely to report difficulty paying housing costs.

While more than a quarter (28%) of mortgage holders said it was difficult to afford their mortgage, 43% of renters reported it was very or somewhat difficult to afford rent.

Compared to mortgage payers, renters were spending less on food and essentials, were more likely to have run out of food and to be behind on energy bills.

Renters spent an average of 21% of their disposable income on rent, compared to 16% of mortgage payers, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Similarly, disabled adults faced greater financial difficulties than non-disabled adults.

The ONS has published analysis on the impact of the cost of living crisis from February to the start of May, before mortgage rates began increasing in earnest.

It analysed the proportion of people affected by price rises, and the characteristics associated with financial vulnerability.

It comes as the government announced public sector pay rises of between 5% and 7% this week and official figures showed wage growth remained at record high of 7.3%, but was still outpaced by inflation.

How the government plans to address the NHS staffing crisis – from shorter degrees to extra medical school places | UK News

Shorter medical degrees, apprenticeships, and £2.4bn in funding are among the radical plans being put forward to solve NHS England’s severe staffing crisis.

The long-awaited NHS workforce plan is due to be published in full on Friday, outlining how the service will address existing vacancies and meet the challenges of a growing and ageing population.

It has been hailed as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to put staffing in the service on a sustainable footing over the next 15 years.

Staffing vacancies currently stand at 112,000, with fears shortfalls could grow to 360,000 by 2037.

The additional funding will help train “record numbers of doctors, nurses, dentists, and other healthcare staff” in England, with plans to employ 300,000 extra staff in the coming years. The funding works out at approximately £21,000 per vacancy.

Other plans include consulting with the General Medical Council and medical schools on the introduction of a four-year medical degree – one year less than the five it currently takes to complete – which, alongside a medical internship, would mean students could start work six months earlier.

Student nurses will also be able to take up jobs as soon as they graduate in May, rather than waiting until September as they do at present.

With demand for healthcare staff rising around the world, the Long Term Workforce Plan will set out a path to double medical school training places to 15,000 by 2031, with more places in the areas of greatest need.

More places will also be offered through degree apprenticeships so staff can “earn while they learn”, gaining a full degree as they work towards a full qualification. One in six (16%) of all training for clinical staff will be done this way by 2028 – including more than 850 medical students.

Officials say the plans set out, along with new retention measures, could mean the health service has at least an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 more nurses, and 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.

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NHS ‘rationing’ A&E care

Flexible working and pension reforms for staff

The NHS workforce plan comes at a time when large parts of the health service are striking over the staffing crisis, and levels of pay.

The NHS plan aims to reduce reliance on expensive agency spend, which would cut the bill for taxpayers by around £10bn between 2030 and 2037.

The plan will focus on the retention of staff, with better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working options, and government reforms to the pension scheme, which is hoped will keep 130,000 staff working in NHS settings longer.

Workers on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham during a strike by nurses and ambulance staff. Picture date: Monday February 6, 2023.
Workers on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham during a strike in February

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “As we look to adapt to new and rising demand for health services globally, this long-term blueprint is the first step in a major and much-needed expansion of our workforce to ensure we have the staff we need to deliver for patients.

“We will take practical and sustained action to retain existing talent, we will recruit and train hundreds of thousands more people and continue to accelerate the adoption of the latest technology to give our amazing workforce the very best tools to provide high-quality care to millions of people across the country each day.”

The NHS will mark its 75th anniversary on 5 July. The prime minister argued the workforce plan was a significant moment in its history.

Rishi Sunak said: “On the 75th anniversary of our health service, this government is making the largest single expansion in NHS education and training in its history. This is a plan for investment and a plan for reform.”

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, added: “Our plan will end the reliance on expensive agency staff, while cutting waiting lists in the coming years and building an NHS which can match up to the scale of tomorrow’s challenges.”

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Sunak: ‘I want to make NHS fit for the future’

‘They should have done this a decade ago’

Wes Streeting MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responded to the publication of the NHS workforce plan.

He said: “The Conservatives have finally admitted they have no ideas of their own, so are adopting Labour’s plan to train the doctors and nurses the NHS needs.

“They should have done this a decade ago – then the NHS would have enough staff today.”

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Mr Streeting added: “Instead, the health service is short of 150,000 staff and this announcement will take years to have an impact.

“Patients are waiting longer than ever before for operations, in A&E, or for an ambulance.

“The Conservatives have no plan to keep the staff working in the NHS, no plan to end the crippling strikes, and no plans to reform the NHS.”

Lisa Nandy rejects rent controls as ‘sticking plaster’ solution to housing crisis | Politics News

Labour’s Lisa Nandy has rejected the idea of rent controls, calling it a “sticking plaster” solution to the UK’s housing crisis.

The shadow housing secretary said the move – supported by many senior figures within her party – would “almost certainly” leave some people homeless.

Giving a speech in Manchester, she said: “When housebuilding is falling off a cliff and buy-to-let landlords are leaving the market, rent controls that cut rents for some, will almost certainly leave others homeless.

“It might be politically easier to put a sticking plaster on our deep-seated problems, but if it is cowardice that got us here, it is never going to get us out.”

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Labour mayors, including London’s Sadiq Khan and Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham, have called for rent freezes amid soaring costs for tenants.

Average rents for properties across Britain have reached record highs this year as demand for housing continues to outstrip supply.

Experts warn renters are being further squeezed because of the mortgage crisis, with landlords passing on rising rates to tenants.

Ms Nandy’s speech marked a shift in tone from comments she made last autumn, when she said she was “personally very interested” in the possibility of local leaders imposing temporary rent controls in their areas over the winter.

She focused instead on promises not to shy away from “difficult choices” when it comes to building more homes, accusing ministers of being “afraid of the taboo” of the green belt.

A Labour spokesperson said it was unfair to characterise her latest announcement as a U-turn, adding: “A rent freeze has never been Labour party policy” under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

The policy was, however, included in the manifestos of former leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband.

Read More:
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Plan to make buying land cheaper for councils to boost housing stock

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Answer to housing crisis ‘building more homes’

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf said it was “astonishing” that Labour is “joining the Tories” in opposing the measure.

He tweeted: “Proud the SNP-led Scottish Government not only introduced rent controls but has extended them in order to protect tenants. Labour joining with the Tories in opposing rent controls is quite astonishing. At this rate, will Labour have any promises left to break?”

However, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) welcomed Ms Nandy’s position, saying rent controls “would do nothing to address the rental supply crisis that tenants across the country now face”.

Chief executive Ben Beadle said: “What renters need is a proper plan to boost the supply of homes for private rent alongside all other tenures.

“Housing benefit rates should also be unfrozen without delay to support vulnerable tenants who are struggling to access the rental market.”

A six-month rent freeze in Scotland came to an end in April but controls are still in place, with most increases in private rent limited to a 3% rise.

Restrictions on the rent private landlords can charge tenants are being considered by the Welsh government, but no official plans are in place.

Local leaders in England have also been calling for the power to impose rent controls but ministers have ruled this out – arguing the measure leads to declining standards and a lack of investment.

Labour has outlined various schemes to improve the rate of house building in the UK, including more building on the green belt, reintroducing the housing targets watered down last year by the government, making it cheaper to buyout agricultural land for development and “tilting the power” in favour of first-time buyers.

Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesperson said one of the strengths of the devolved system is that mayors can advocate for policy they want but “ultimately it is for Keir to determine what will be in the manifesto at the next election”.

They added: “I think our position on this has been pretty clear.”

Energy crisis: National Grid to keep blackout prevention scheme for coming winter | Business News

The operator of Britain’s electricity system says it is to keep a scheme that aims to help prevent blackouts for the coming winter.

National Grid ESO said it was “prudent to maintain” the demand flexibility service (DFS), which was introduced in 2022 in the wake of Europe’s gas squeeze caused by the war in Ukraine.

The operator added that the terms of the scheme were now out for consultation.

Its early winter outlook report, due to be updated in September, expected sufficient capacity to meet demand this winter after the turmoil leading up to 2022/23 when gas flows from Russia were stopped.

But it also confirmed it expected to have less coal-fired generation held in reserve.

“We are continuing to have discussions on the availability of having two coal units in contingency contracts this winter.

“One of the units held in contingency last winter has returned to the market. The other two units have now closed”, the ESO explained.

The DFS, which was activated for the first time in January after a series of tests and false alarms, sees volunteer households paid to turn off their main appliances at times of peak demand.

The UK played a pivotal role in helping supply the continent with gas ahead of last winter amid a race to fill storage and stop the lights going out given its historic dependency on Russian gas.

The country, however, tends to import electricity during the winter months.

A relatively mild 2022/23 winter, coupled with alternative supply, meant Europe ended last winter with a record volume of gas in storage.

The report said of Britain’s electricity output: “We expect there to be sufficient operational surplus in our base case throughout winter.”

While the ESO is confident on the capacity issue, market experts still expect gas and electricity costs to go up over the colder months as demand spikes.

It could mean that household bills, through the energy price cap, start to rise again.

The cap kicks in again from July following the end of the government’s energy price guarantee that limited the wholesale prices that consumers faced.

The level of the cap, at just above £2,000 for the average annual bill, is well down on the £2,500 estimate under the guarantee.

Futures contracts for natural gas see peak prices of 149p per therm in January.

July’s contract is running at just under 100p.

Some military personnel forced to use food banks as inflation tips members of Armed Forces into crisis | UK News

Some military personnel and their families have been forced to use food banks as high inflation and rising costs tip members of the Armed Forces into crisis, Sky News can reveal.

An unofficial food bank even exists at a large Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire, a defence source said.

The voluntary facility at RAF Coningsby – home to Typhoon fast jet squadrons – was set up by an aviator to collect food donations from servicemen and women to support civilians in their local community. But the source claimed it is now being used by RAF personnel too.

The food bank serves civilians in the local community. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
The food bank serves civilians in the local community. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

Internal RAF documents seen by Sky News – as well as interviews with military sources and charities – offer a sense of the wider impact of the cost of living crisis on defence, including:

• The need for a number of service personnel to choose between “food or fuel”, with some unable to afford to drive home from their base to see family

• One aviator, a single mother, was forced to go without a hot meal for four days because she had spent her last money on baby milk formula

• The volume of enquiries to a key charity from or on behalf of military personnel seeking financial support has more than doubled

• There are individuals who can no longer even afford the price of the subsidised meals at their mess

• A sense of “discontent” at covering for striking public sector workers on better pay deals when the Armed Forces are not permitted to take industrial action themselves

While the documents referred to the situation inside the RAF, a Royal Navy source and an Army source said personnel in their respective services were also experiencing hardships.

The Royal Navy source said the Ministry of Defence was trying to do more to help, such as support with childcare costs.

“But I suspect more needs to be done,” the source said.

“I’m hearing … stories of sailors unable to head home at weekends or over leave periods due to travel costs, also service personnel using food banks or contacting service charities for assistance with debt management.”

The RAF says the food bank was not set up for its personnel. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
The RAF says the food bank was not set up for its personnel. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

‘The food bank is popular’

The UK provides its Armed Forces with a range of specific benefits such as access to subsidised housing and meals – as well as fuel grants in a bid to keep the offer to join the Army, Navy and RAF attractive and to retain talent.

The support is also in recognition of the particular hardships and inconveniences of military life, and the fact that anyone who serves has to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet analysis of morale across the whole of the RAF last year by military chaplains revealed that a limited number of personnel were resorting to food banks in the local areas.

An anonymous quote in the report read: “The food bank is popular.”

This was qualified with a footnote that warned: “Food bank use is reported across a majority of units, but nowhere is yet reporting widespread use”.

It continued: “Single figures per unit of families utilising food banks is a working estimate.”

The airbases RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire “are reporting the highest use of food banks”, according to the footnote in the report, which was entitled Chaplaincy Analysis of Whole Force Morale 2022 and dated 12 January 2023.

Overall, the report found that cost of living pressures as well as failings with military accommodation – such as faulty heating and vermin – were the biggest factors “adversely impacting” morale.

Drop-off points for donations have been set up at RAF Coningsby. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
Drop-off points for donations have been set up at RAF Coningsby. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

Separately, the defence source with knowledge of the food bank at RAF Coningsby claimed that service personnel had been using the facility “extensively”.

Asked how they felt about this, the source said: “Incredibly angry and frustrated that we had got to the point where service personnel had to rely on charitable agencies just to exist.”

A junior non-commissioned officer established the food bank – which has its own Facebook page – a couple of years ago to support the local civilian community, having been involved with this kind of charitable activity while posted overseas in the US.

According to the Facebook page, the food bank is run by a Christian group called Destiny Outreach Coningsby. It says it offers support to people living in the town of Coningsby and the surrounding villages.

“With the cost of living rising, please look out for one another. If you are in need of a food parcel then please contact us,” it said.

An RAF spokesperson made clear that the food bank was not set up by the RAF for its personnel. However, the spokesperson did not offer a comment on the record about the claim that serving aviators were using the facility.

The Ministry of Defence is understood to regard any use of food banks by military personnel as a “private life matter” and does not have any data to support claims of their alleged use.

However, officials at RAF Coningsby raised concern with Air Command last July about “a worrying increase in personnel seeking assistance and support across all welfare pillars as a direct result of the cost of living crisis”.

The warning was contained in a report, dated 22 July 2022, which was entitled Cost of Living Crisis – RAF Coningsby.

It mentioned the establishment of the food bank.

The report drew on information gathered from the experiences of four focus groups of about 150 personnel and families over a one-week period.

It listed several trends, including “pers [personnel] struggling to afford fuel to drive to work; … pers unable to travel home each week and having to stay on unit, reducing morale and wellbeing; real concern for the winter months where electricity and gas costs will further exacerbate the current situation”.

The paper suggested ways the military could offer relief, such as by increasing the rate paid for fuel use. It noted: “Personnel were having to decide whether to buy food or fuel.”

Armed Forces pay ‘an annual gamble’

The documents and defence sources said pay is another factor creating pressure for the military, especially given soaring inflation.

The chaplaincy analysis talked about a “sense of looming discontent” as service personnel may be called upon to fill in for public sector workers who are striking for better wages.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body, an independent entity, makes a recommendation each year to the government on any pay increases for the military, which the Ministry of Defence draws upon before making its announcement on what the amount will be.

This should happen before the start of each financial year but is often delayed and any increase in salary is backdated to the beginning of April.

The Ministry of Defence has yet to announce this year’s settlement, though the pay review body has submitted its recommendations and an announcement is expected soon.

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‘If my economic policies fail it’s on me’

One RAF aviator described the process as “an annual gamble on what we may or may not receive”.

Asked what message they had for the government, the aviator said: “Understand that your military deserves to be fairly compensated for the role they play in support of the UK on all fronts … We see through the words and false promises and expect to be treated fairly in return for our commitment to the crown and our country.”

Sarah Atherton MP, an Army veteran and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said the government should give the military a 10% pay rise in line with inflation.

“We’ve never had such an unstable global security situation, and we need our Armed Forces to protect us when we want them to protect us,” she told Sky News in an interview.

“We need to make sure they are valued and they feel valued.”

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Do we have an inflation problem?

Stepping in to fill the void are military charities like the RAF Benevolent Fund.

It said enquiries about financial assistance from or on behalf of serving personnel more than doubled last year to 539 cases compared with 2021.

In response to questions about the cost of living and food banks, the RAF spokesman said: The food bank at RAF Coningsby was not set up by the RAF for its personnel, and the RAF offers a range of support, such as welfare officers who can offer financial advice and access to fuel grants and hardship funds provided by the RAF, and supporting charities and associations.

“More widely, defence has created a comprehensive package of support that includes the biggest pay increase in 20 years, freezing daily food costs, providing accommodation subsidies and saving up to £3,400 per child per year by extending wraparound childcare – this is in addition to wider cost of living support provided by the government.”

Last financial year, the government awarded service personnel up to the rank of one-star a 3.75% pay rise – described as the biggest percentage uplift in two decades. But inflation has since rocketed, with consumer prices in February jumping 10.4% from a year earlier.

Doctor warns price of baby formula is ‘national crisis’ – as Rishi Sunak suggests govt is doing enough to help | UK News

The price of baby formula is a “national crisis” which could have negative effects on the health of a child throughout its life, a doctor has said – as the prime minister suggested the government is doing enough to support families struggling to afford food.

Dr Vicky Thomas, a consultant paediatrician with a special interest in growth and nutrition, made the remarks after a Sky News report revealed parents have been stealing baby formula and turning to the black market as soaring prices drive them to desperation.

New data from First Steps Nutrition shows that the cost of the cheapest brand of formula milk has risen by 45% in the past two years.

Other brands have risen between 17% and 31% in that time period.

Dr Thomas has said if parents are struggling to afford formula for their infant it could be damaging to the child’s health for “the whole of the rest of their future”.

She said: “Nutrition in early infant life is absolutely key to your health.

“That’s when you lay down your good bacteria. That’s when your gut learns how to do what it needs to do.

“That’s when you build a healthy brain and healthy body.

“[Nutrition] is key to building a healthy body and it’s the body that the child is going to be using for the next eighty years or so.

“This is a national crisis.

“It should not be falling on individual parents, who have this guilt and shame, to have this worry.

“It’s a societal responsibility to raise a generation of healthy children.”

Two parents, who wished to remain anonymous, earlier told Sky News how they had resorted to shoplifting because they couldn’t afford formula.

Asked about the soaring cost of the product, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said today: “I know the cost of living is the number one challenge facing British families at the moment… With food in particular, which is of course something we want to help with, we’ve got to recognise right now there are challenges across Europe.

“We have particular support for young families, something called Healthy Start vouchers, which provide money to young families [to help] with the costs of fresh food.

“But also the Household Support Fund is £1bn that we’ve given to local councils.

“Families can go and talk to their council about getting that extra support.”

Read more:
What you can do if you’re struggling to buy baby formula
Desperate parents stealing baby formula to feed children

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Rishi Sunak reacts to baby formula theft

Despite Mr Sunak saying the government’s Healthy Start initiative is helping families, Rhiannon Evans, head of communications at the internet forum Mumsnet, has said the vouchers aren’t enough to cover baby formula.

She said: “I think part of the problem with the increase in the price is that even the cheapest brand of baby formula outstrips the value of the government’s Healthy Start vouchers.

“If those vouchers no longer cover the price, then they’re not really fit for purpose.”

Clare Murphy, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service, added: “This is a scandal.

“People shouldn’t be facing these choices when they are simply trying to feed their baby safely… This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain.”

She continued: “It is appalling that we’re having this conversation that you are going out and finding these kind of stories.

“All these things that are happening are putting us on the brink of a public health crisis.”

Labour to turn fire on Rishi Sunak’s ‘failings’ over cost of living crisis in ad campaign blitz | Politics News

Labour will continue with its controversial attacks on Rishi Sunak by turning attention to government “failures” over the cost of living crisis.

The Labour leader has described the prime minister as the “chief architect of choices prioritising the wealthiest” as both parties gear up for the local elections next month.

In a letter to his shadow cabinet, Sir Keir Starmer said voters “must know that Rishi Sunak’s fingerprints are all over their struggling household budgets”.

In the memo, seen by Sky News, the Labour leader wrote: “With 24 days left until polling day we must continue to focus relentlessly on exposing the failures of 13 years of this divided and weak Conservative government and demonstrate how we would deliver for working people across the country.”

He added: “Rishi Sunak is the chief architect of choices prioritising the wealthiest and of the government’s failure to get a grip of the economy and get growth going.”

He accused Mr Sunak of “supplying the touchpaper for another Conservative government to blow up the economy” as chancellor and then continuing in No 10 to “make choices which loaded the costs on to working people”.

Sir Keir’s intervention comes after Labour came under fire for a series of adverts which critics have branded “gutter politics”.

The first ad, which was issued on Thursday, read: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”

Labour Party Tweet on  Rishi Sunak's record on gun crime
Labour Party Tweet on Rishi Sunak’s record on gun crime

It cited data from the Ministry of Justice showing that 4,500 adults convicted of sex acts on children avoided a prison sentence since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Despite the ensuing backlash that came from across the political spectrum, Labour issued a second tweet which accused Mr Sunak of being soft on gun grime and a third which suggested he didn’t think thieves should be punished.

Labour officials have been bullish over the weekend about the effectiveness of their ads, with briefings suggesting they would intensify their efforts despite the criticism.

One Labour source told Sky News: “It’s mission accomplished – we’ve dominated the news agenda and started a serious conversation about the Tories appalling record on crime.”

And in his letter to his top team, Sir Keir said the focus of their local election campaigning should move from crime to the cost of living.

Read more:
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The Labour leader also reiterated directly to his colleagues that he “makes no apologies at all” for the ads despite the backlash.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Sir Keir said he “stand[s] by every word Labour has said on the subject, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel”.

Labour is hoping to reap the benefits of a depressed economy in the 4 May local elections in England, as the Tories continue to struggle in the polls.

However, a new voting intention poll by Redfield and Wilton Strategies showed that Labour is on 44%, a decrease of 1% since last week, while the Conservatives are on 30%, an increase of 2%.

It marks Labour’s narrowest lead over the Tories since Mr Sunak became prime minister in October.

On Tuesday Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will highlight the party’s pledge to help more first-time buyers on to the housing ladder on a campaign visit to Brighton.

New analysis from the party shows that first-time buyers face a nearly £500 per month hike in mortgage bills in the wake of Liz Truss’s ill-fated mini-budget and interest rate rises.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.

NHS crisis: Baby had colon operation delayed because hospital ‘didn’t have enough doctors’ | UK News

Cradling her seven-month-old daughter Isabella, who is now recovering from surgery, Zsuzsanna Tandy says: “We have very mixed feelings about being in hospital.”

Isabella was born with a rare condition that affects her colon and went for an operation in Birmingham in early January.

But after she had been given the general anaesthetic, they were told the surgery couldn’t go ahead that day.

“They called us back in half an hour because they cannot proceed so we had to come back,” Ms Tandy says.

“I, as a mum, was stressed out, running back, why they cannot proceed and then finding out they didn’t have enough doctors in the house.”

On her phone, Ms Tandy has a video of her daughter waking up from the anaesthetic and a picture of her in her car seat on the way home – only to have to return for the surgery the following week.

Then, earlier this month, Isabella fell ill again and they rushed her to their local A&E in Dudley.

“Going into A&E you are stressing because what’s going wrong with your daughter who’s just had an operation?

“So we went into A&E and it’s just the constant waiting,” Ms Tandy tells Sky News.

Mum Zsuzsanna Tandy pictured with baby Isabella
Mum Zsuzsanna Tandy pictured with baby Isabella

Eventually she took Isabella back to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where she had another procedure and is now recovering.

She can’t praise the staff there highly enough, describing them as “absolutely brilliant”.

But her experiences of an NHS under pressure in recent weeks have left her concerned about the impact escalating strike action could have.

Someone needs to ‘step in and do something’

“I don’t blame the nurses, doctors, they do their job and they’re brilliant but they’re under stress,” Ms Tandy says.

“There’s already low staff in many wards. From other wards nurses come and help out. They do an amazing job and they work extra hours.

“If more staff go on strike, I don’t know how that’s going to work.

“Honestly, waiting long hours because there is not enough staff – somebody really should step in and do something because there are people and children stressing and suffering in hospitals”.

She believes nurses should be paid more.

“The government should really engage in every kind of talks because there are too many strikes,” she says.

If you are an NHS worker and would like to share your experiences with us anonymously, please email

Earlier this week tens of thousands of NHS workers, including nurses in England and GMB union ambulance workers in England and Wales, downed tools as part of the biggest NHS strike in history.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director for England, Patricia Marquis, called on Rishi Sunak to intervene but told Sky News there had been no “direct contact” from the prime minister.

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NHS workers took strike action in one of the biggest walkouts in the history of the health service

Junior doctors in England are “likely” to go on strike next month in a dispute over pay and conditions, a union spokesperson said.

Nurses from A&E, intensive care and cancer wards could also join colleagues on the picket line as the RCN becomes increasingly frustrated by the government’s unwillingness to negotiate.

They are set to join tens of thousands of workers including physiotherapists, teachers, university staff and civil servants as a winter of industrial action continues.

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A Department of Health spokesperson said Health Secretary Steve Barclay has been clear he wants to continue discussing with unions what is fair and affordable as part of the 2023/24 pay process.

This includes “concerns around pay, conditions and workload to find ways to make the NHS a better place to work for everyone”.

“He continues to urge unions to call off strikes and engage in a constructive dialogue about the Pay Review Body Process for the coming year,” the spokesperson said.

“Our priority is keeping patients safe.

“The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”