Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 23 August 2021

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

1. PM to ask Biden for Afghan delay

Boris Johnson is expected to ask Joe Biden to keep US forces in Afghanistan beyond 31 August in order to allow evacuation flights to continue. The prime minister is set to make the request at an emergency meeting of G7 leaders tomorrow. The news emerged as Taliban militants sought to impose their authority, blaming the US for the “anarchy” at Kabul airport and insisting they were the only ones capable of restoring order.

Biden’s retreat: the humiliation of a superpower

2. Merkel warns Putin on pipeline

Angela Merkel has said further sanctions may be imposed on Moscow if it uses a gas pipeline to cut Ukraine out of the energy supply chain. The German chancellor told Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky she shared his concerns over the Nord Stream 2 project. Zelensky says the pipeline threatens Ukraine’s security. He described the project as a “geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin”, which he said would be “dangerous for all of Europe”.

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Germany sidelines eastern European fears on Nord Stream 2

3. Labour plans benefits ‘new deal’

Labour is to pledge today to overhaul the universal credit system by allowing low-income workers to earn more without having their welfare payments cut. The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, will “make work pay” as part of a wider strategy to create “jobs you can raise a family on”. The pledge is the first chapter of what is expected to be a “new deal” from the party for working people.

4. Gambling industry ‘targets poor’

A fifth of all gambling premises in the UK are now located in the poorest areas of the country. A study by the University of Bristol found that betting shops are ten times more likely to be found in deprived towns than in affluent areas. A researcher said the trend means the betting industry “leaves a legacy of greater hardship and increased social problems”. The Gambling With Lives charity says: “predatory gambling companies target the poor”.

5. Long Covid film targets young

Young adults stuck in bed with long Covid have appeared in a government information film to persuade reluctant people to have the jab. The video, released by the NHS, shows three previously fit and healthy people in their 20s and 30s speaking of their “debilitating” symptoms. Covid infection rates are highest among adults in their 20s and Public Health England research has suggested that one in 20 people aged 16 to 29 have long Covid.

Inside scientists’ battle against long Covid

6. Armed guards on Venice ferries

The city of Venice is employing armed guards to deal with overcrowding on ferries. CNN said that last week up to 80,000 visitors a day visited the city of 50,000 inhabitants. The guards were brought in at the request of the workers to patrol key stops in the floating city. “It’s jarring to see people walking around with guns,” said a resident, but they “prevent fights breaking out”.

Why Venice is waging a new battle in war on cruise ships

7. New home Nimbyism ‘is natural’

People should not condemn Nimbys - people who support new homes in principle but “not in my back yard” - for their “emotional” reactions to new building projects, an adviser to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said. Nicholas Boys Smith said that a “human response” to new homes was natural. Ministers are committed to lift the number of homes built every year from 240,000 to 300,000 by the middle of this decade.

‘The tide will turn against the Tories unless they build more homes’

8. Covid-testing firm failed public

A Covid-testing company co-owned by a former Labour minister and a Labour councillor has been accused of failing to deliver kits and test results and not refunding customers. RT Diagnostics is one of hundreds of companies that won government approval to sell PCR tests to travellers planning to enter England. The Guardian reported that travellers let down by private providers were being forced to fall back on the taxpayer-funded NHS service.

9. Euan Blair company lands £65m

A company founded by Euan Blair, the son of former PM Tony Blair, has secured a £65m investment. The sum, understood to be the first part of a forthcoming round of financing, will raise the value of his start-up, Multiverse, to hundreds of millions of pounds. Euan Blair’s own stake in the company, which provides apprenticeships and training to school leavers, is reportedly worth tens of millions of pounds.

10. Meditation improves concentration

A new study has found that meditating for ten to 15 minutes a day can boost the brain’s ability to concentrate on everyday tasks. Brain scans of students at Binghamton University in New York revealed marked changes in the ability to switch between states of consciousness after subjects took up mediation five times a week for eight weeks. The students reportedly had more connections among and within brain networks.

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