Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 8 March 2022

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1

UN calls for safe passage

The UN humanitarian chief has called on all parties to ensure safe passage for civilians fleeing the war in Ukraine in the direction they choose. Martin Griffiths’ statement came as Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN accused Russia of shelling humanitarian corridors, while Moscow claimed “without substantiation” that Ukraine was preventing civilians from leaving safely, said the BBC. The Kremlin has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Europe and warned that the price of oil could rocket to $300 a barrel if the western allies follow through on threats to cut energy supplies from Russia.

2

Cost of living crisis to deepen

A think tank has warned that UK household incomes are on course to collapse by the most since the mid-1970s due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Resolution Foundation said surges in global oil and gas prices are expected to push UK inflation above 8% this spring, causing average incomes across Britain to fall by 4% in the coming financial year. This hit will be worth £1,000 per household, making it the biggest annual decline since 1975. The think tank told the government that urgent steps are needed to help Britain’s poorest families cope with soaring living costs.

3

Covid may shrink the brain

A Covid infection may shrink the brain, with degeneration happening three times faster than normal for middle-aged people, according to a new study. The University of Oxford selected 401 people who caught the virus and compared scans of their brains before and after infection. They found shrinkage and tissue damage in regions linked to smell and mental capacities months after the subjects tested positive. The study’s authors told The Daily Telegraph that “significantly greater cognitive decline… was seen in the Covid-19 positive group”.

4

Labour to hold NI vote

Labour will hold a snap vote today on cancelling the National Insurance (NI) increase, warning it will cost the average private sector worker £410 a year. The vote, which will be held at the party’s opposition day debate, is seen as a way of exploiting Conservative divisions on the issue and exposing “growing Tory unease over the cost of living crisis”, said The Guardian. Various Conservatives have called for a delay to the NI increase, including minister for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg and chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat.

5

Safety questions after tower fire

A high-rise building in Whitechapel, east London, was evacuated yesterday after a fire broke out. Residents were quickly evacuated after the 17th floor of the Crawford building caught fire at around 3.45pm. Concerns have emerged over the safety of the building, as residents reportedly said the balconies were made of timber and not replaced despite warnings in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Some residents said they did not hear fire alarms during the evacuation and others told Sky News that they saw images of the fire on social media “before the building management alerted them”.

6

Calls grow to boycott McDonald’s

Pressure is growing on McDonald’s and other food giants to pull out of Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, said the BBC. The fast food chain has been criticised on social media for failing to take a stand against the attack and continuing to operate in the country. Other companies, including KFC, Burger King, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Starbucks, are also continuing to operate in Russia, despite the invasion. Labour MP Chris Bryant said it was “appalling” that the firms “won’t do the right thing”, adding that “some of these multinationals have lost their moral compass”.

7

Calls for psilocybin drug rethink

Ministers are under pressure to reclassify the psychedelic compound psilocybin so that researchers can explore its potential as a medicine. The Guardian said conservative drug reformers, leading psychiatrists and people suffering from cluster headaches have joined forces to call for a reform to the laws surrounding psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Boris Johnson agreed to look into reclassifying psilocybin last May but has yet to follow through, meaning it is still tightly controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

8

Bust Bulb could cost billions more

Government officials have warned that keeping Bulb Energy running will potentially cost taxpayers billions of pounds more than has currently been set aside. The BBC said the energy company, which has 1.6m customers, was “quasi-nationalised” in November as it buckled under rising wholesale gas prices. The Treasury set aside £1.7bn to purchase the gas required until the end of the tax year in April 2022, but government officials have admitted that the prospect of offloading the business to a private buyer seems remote in this environment.

9

Police ‘should work under licence’

An independent review has called for police officers to work under a licence that must be renewed every five years. The Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales, chaired by Michael Barber, found there is a “crisis of confidence in policing in this country which is corroding public trust”. The review added that “unless there is urgent change” this will “end up destroying the principle of policing by consent that has been at the heart of British policing for decades”. Police chiefs said the report was “thought-provoking”.

10

Sheeran uses ‘flip phone’ defence

Ed Sheeran has rejected claims that he stole a song from two songwriters, insisting that he could not have heard their track online because he did not use social media and owned a Tesco “flip phone” at the time. The pop star took the stand at the High Court where he was questioned over allegations that he copied part of his 2017 Shape of You hit from Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue. Sheeran said he was not “plugged in” to the UK music scene at the time their 2015 song Oh My was released.

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