School meals: Boris Johnson facing calls to meet Marcus Rashford

Boris Johnson is facing calls to meet with footballer Marcus Rashford to discuss his free school meals campaign.

The government has ruled out extending meal vouchers for vulnerable children in England to the holidays, saying it has already increased welfare payments.

But chairman of the education select committee Robert Halfon said a meeting would help ministers create a long-term strategy to combat child food hunger.

Former Tory children’s minister Tim Loughton said he would lobby Number 10.

It comes after Manchester United striker Rashford said he “couldn’t be more proud to call myself British”, as hundreds of cafes, restaurants and some local councils pledged to help feed children facing hardship during the October half term.

Rashford’s petition on child food poverty was approaching 800,000 names on Saturday evening.

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs rejected Labour’s Opposition Day motion to extend free school meals by 322 votes to 261, with five Tory MPs rebelling.

One of those rebels, Mr Halfon, called on Mr Johnson to meet Rashford, telling the BBC: “It may be that they don’t agree with everything that Marcus Rashford is proposing, but it would give us a chance to come up with a long-term plan to combat child food hunger once and for all.”

Meanwhile, Mr Loughton, who did not support Labour’s motion, said the government had a “very proud record” of prioritising help for the poorest in society but added that more needed to be done.

“Notwithstanding this, I still think it would have been easier for the government to continue with the free school meal holiday entitlement in these unprecedented times,” he said.

“I will now lobby ministers to reverse this decision for the Christmas break.

“Voting outright against the government in this debate would have made that task less easy and also (would have) given the hypocritical tactics of the Labour Party more credibility which they didn’t deserve.”

The government extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays earlier this year.

And following Rashford’s campaign, it bowed to pressure to do the same throughout the summer holiday.

This time it has refused to do so, saying it has given councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions, as well as increasing welfare support by £9.3bn.

The policy puts it at odds with the other UK nations, which have all extended the policy beyond term time.

Councils that have pledged to support Rashford’s initiative now include those in Manchester, Birmingham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hillingdon, the local authority for Mr Johnson’s constituency.

Rebecca Horton, owner of the Taste Sandwich Bar in Dingle in Liverpool, said she signed up to Rashford’s campaign because she comes from a deprived area and wanted to support her community.

“I see families struggling, I see children hungry – it was an absolute no brainer for me to jump on the bandwagon, rally round and organise something,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

However, MP David Simmonds, who represents Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said the scheme “on its own is not going to get the help to people that need it”.

Meanwhile, two Conservative MPs have said comments they made about the issue were “taken out of context” after their remarks were criticised.

Commenting on a school in Mansfield, Ben Bradley said that “one kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel”. Another Twitter user responded, saying that “£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel sounds like the way forward with this one”, to which Mr Bradley replied: “That’s what FSM [free school meal] vouchers in the summer effectively did…”

Mr Bradley said the tweet, which has since been deleted, had been “totally taken out of context”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful.”

He said the government had given money to local government which was better placed to provide targeted support, adding: “We need to wrap our arms, as a society, around those families.”

Labour called for him to apologise for the tweet, with deputy leader Angela Rayner saying: “Notwithstanding the fact that the vouchers in summer could only be used to purchase food, this stigmatisation of working class families is disgraceful and disgusting.”

Another Conservative MP, Selaine Saxby, also responded to criticism of comments she made on local businesses giving free food away.

A screenshot of a since-removed post in her name on Facebook said: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

The MP later claimed her comments were taken “out of context” and added: “I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”

Duchess of Cambridges photo project opens at National Memorial Arboretum

An exhibition by the Duchess of Cambridge showing images of life in lockdown has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum.

The 100 images will be shown digitally outdoors at the memorial in Alrewas, Staffordshire, until 6 December.

More than 31,000 photos were submitted to the project, launched by the Duchess in May in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery.

Organisers said the collection ‘Hold Still’ was “inspirational”.

“This unique exhibition provides a fascinating overview of how different people and communities experienced lockdown,” said Chris Ansell, from the National Memorial Arboretum.

“While everyone was subject to restrictions, no one person’s experience was the same as another’s, as we all battled with different circumstances and changes to our day to day lives.”

Hold Still focused on three themes – Helpers And Heroes, Your New Normal, and Acts Of Kindness – with the final 100 tackling subjects including family life in lockdown, the work of healthcare staff and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The photos will be displayed over a series of large outdoor screens in the site’s amphitheatre and will be free to enter, although visitors must book in advance.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh house: Watch stolen in Northampton raid

A gold pocket watch has been stolen during a burglary at the only house in England designed by celebrated architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The watch, taken from 78 Derngate, Northampton, bears an inscription from the house’s former owner, W J Bassett-Lowke, who commissioned Mackintosh to remodel the property in 1916.

The Glasgow architect was celebrated in Europe, but died in poverty in 1928.

Police say burglars forced open a safe, stealing £300 and the 9ct gold watch.

The raid took place between 17:30 BST on Friday 16 October and 09:00 BST on Saturday 17 October.

Popular throughout Europe in the early 20th Century, Mackintosh was influential on design movements such as Art Nouveau and Secessionism.

Now a visitor attraction, 78 Derngate was his final commission and the only place in the world where his architectural and interior style can be seen in their original setting.

Although the watch only cost £500, it is said to have “great historical value”.

It is described as a slim art-deco style gents’ open face pocket watch with a silvered dial which has an engine-turned centre, black Arabic numerals, blue steel “Poire” hands and subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock.

The inscription on the back reads: “To William Rowe, an appreciation of 25 years loyalty and friendship from W J Bassett-Lowke. H F R Franklin Christmas 1925.”

North Belfast trouble: Police and fire crews attacked

Police and fire crews have been attacked with missiles following trouble in north Belfast.

Masonry, bricks and bottles were thrown at officers responding to disorder near the New Lodge area on Friday night.

Police said a young boy was reportedly assaulted when rival groups were involved in an altercation.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of common assault and riotous behaviour. He has since been released and cautioned.

The police said it was extremely disappointing that officers had to deal with the actions of individuals who showed a complete disregard for the community.

CCTV footage is being reviewed to identify those involved.

Supt David Moore said they were called to the junction of North Queen Street and Duncairn Gardens, shortly before 20:00 BST.

“Upon arrival of police in Spamount Street, officers had both masonry and other missiles thrown at them by a group of youths,” he said.

“Youths then set large, industrial bins alight in the area to attempt to block the road.

“Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service attended the scene and had bricks and bottles thrown at them during the incident.

“Damage was also reported to the grounds of a nearby nursery school by youths involved in the disorder.”

Supt Moore said no officer or firefighter was injured but that damage was caused to police vehicles, including wing mirrors and a smashed windscreen.

“For officers and colleagues from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service to come under attack in trying to keep people safe, means that vital resources are being removed from public use when they could be better utilised elsewhere,” he added.

“We will continue to work alongside local representatives and partner agencies, but it is disappointing that some people continue to disregard our repeated warnings.

“Those people who choose to engage in criminal and anti-social behaviour must understand it is unacceptable and must stop.

“People have a right to live in peace and to feel safe in their communities.”

Sinn Féin councillor JJ Magee said Friday night was “very bad for the residents of the New Lodge area”.

He said while a small amount of people were involved, they were “causing havoc” for residents.

“This has been ongoing for months now, almost on a nightly basis,” he said.

“The residents have been getting tortured by young people who come from all over Belfast to this site where they then create trouble.

“People have tried to move these young people on, but the abuse and the stick and then the threats that they take from these young people is scary.”

Chester Zoo Monsoon Forest reopens after fire

A section of the UK’s most-visited zoo damaged by fire two years ago has reopened.

The blaze broke out in December 2018 at Chester Zoo’s Monsoon Forest, which houses orangutans and crocodiles.

Some birds, fish and insects died and the roof was damaged in the fire, caused by an electrical fault.

Zoo chief executive Dr Mark Pilgrim said: “Building a little bit of the Indonesian rainforest in Chester takes an enormous amount of skill and work.”

Zoo staff led many of the animals to safety while firefighters tackled the blaze, which was extinguished within hours.

A fundraising page raised more than £220,000 within a week.

Dr Pilgrim said: “We had insurance to cover all of this but we raised so much money that we were able to do some really great conservation projects in South East Asia.”

Speaking about the restoration, the zoo’s chief operating officer Jamie Christon said: “It’s been a painstaking process. Everything has had to come out of that building.

“There’s over 2,600 new plants and trees back in, all the soil and subsoil had to come out, all the roof had to come off and be replaced – so it’s been a long, arduous process, really.”

The new Monsoon Forest area now hosts 33 animal species, including Sumatran orangutans, rhinoceros hornbills and tentacled snakes – a reptile that cannot be seen anywhere else in the UK, a zoo spokesperson said.

The building also has its own weather system, which means it can rain indoors and reach temperatures of 27C (81F) in an effort to replicate the climate of South East Asia.

Visitors must book tickets in advance and wear face coverings.

Last year, the zoo, which opened in 1931, received more than two million visitors for the first time.

Walthamstow stabbing: Teenage boy killed in street

A 17-year-old boy has been killed in a street stabbing in east London.

The Met Police said officers were called to Westbury Road in Walthamstow at 21:20 BST on Friday, where they found the boy injured.

Paramedics treated the teenager at the scene but he was pronounced dead shortly after.

Officers are in the process of establishing his identity and informing his next of kin. No arrests have been made.

A crime scene remains in place while detectives carry out an investigation.

Jewellery stolen from dying womans Loughborough home

A grieving family has been left “deeply distressed” after burglars stole jewellery from a relative’s home while she was in hospital.

The house on Albert Promenade in Loughborough, Leicestershire, was broken into on Monday or Tuesday.

Among the “great sentimental” items taken was a gold engagement ring with three small diamonds.

Leicestershire Police said the elderly victim had since died and detectives are appealing for information.

“Her family have been left deeply distressed by what has happened,” the force said.

“In addition to their grief they discovered her home had been burgled and items of great sentimental value stolen.”

Other items taken include a gold link bracelet with heart fob, a silver bracelet with Egyptian symbols, a gold and amethyst oval brooch and an RAF insignia brooch.

Police have asked anyone with information about the burglary or stolen items to contact the force.

The man who taught Uber how to say sorry

When the Uber he’d hired went to the wrong destination, one professor took his complaint to the very top – and then learned something valuable about the science of apologising.

In January 2017, John List was due to give a keynote speech at a prestigious gathering of economists. He picked up his phone and, using the Uber app, booked a cab to take him the 30-minute journey from his home. He looked up briefly, as the car sped along Lake Shore Drive, on the banks of Lake Michigan, and took in the view of the approaching city, with its fabulous skyline of skyscrapers. Then he settled back down to work on his talk.

About 20 minutes later he looked up again. Surely he must be nearly there now? “Oh no!!” he screamed. He was back where he’d begun. Something had gone wrong with the Uber app, which had instructed the driver to return to the professor’s home. She had not wanted to disturb him, as he was so engrossed in his work.

List was understandably furious. But what made him more so, was that Uber never sent him an apology.

Not everyone who has a complaint to make with Uber has access to its chief executive, but John List did, and so he rang Trevor Kalanick that evening. (This was not long before Kalanick was forced to step down following allegations of sexual harassment.)

After List had related the tale, and let off a bit of steam, Kalanick spoke. “What I want to know,” he said, “is how Uber should apologise when this sort of cock-up occurs. What’s the best way to keep Uber customers loyal, even when they’ve had a miserable experience?”

How to apologise is a question which every company is interested to know the answer. And John List was in a unique position to find out.

Not many people with John List’s background become leading academics. He grew up in a working class family in Sun Prairie, north-east of the Wisconsin capital Madison. His Dad was a lorry driver and expected his son to enter the family business. John had other ideas. His dream was to become a professional golfer and he won a golf scholarship to college. There he discovered two things: first, he wasn’t as good at golf as he had once thought, and second, he was fascinated by economics.

He’s now on the economics faculty at one of America’s top universities, the University of Chicago. But for a few years he’s also been moonlighting, because Uber approached him to be their chief economist, and after he moved on from Uber, he joined another car-riding app, Lyft, where he holds the same position.

No doubt the job is generously remunerated, but for John List it has another appeal; for data geeks, car apps are like gold mines – in the US alone, before the pandemic, there were two million Uber drivers, making tens of millions of trips each week. John List has spent his career studying economic behaviour in the real world, so working with Uber “was a dream come true”. With this cornucopia of information, he could analyse all sorts of consumer preferences: what kinds of cars people like, how far they typically travelled, and at what times, how they responded to a change in the price of fares. He could also learn the best way to apologise.

His first step was to look at what happened to Uber users after they had had a bad ride – one that had taken much longer than the app had initially predicted. The app might predict, for example, that a journey would take nine minutes, and it would end up taking 23 minutes. By crunching the numbers, he and his collaborators discovered that riders who’d experienced such a bad ride would spend up to 10% less on Uber in the future. That represented a significant loss of earnings for the car app.

The next move was to come up with a variety of apologies, and to randomly try them out on those who’d experienced a bad trip.

It turns out there’s a sort of science of sorry. Social scientists – and psychologists in particular – have studied what kinds of apologies work. But John List had a big advantage; he could actually measure the impact.

He calls one type of sorry, the “basic apology” – “We note that your trip took longer than we predicted and we sincerely apologise.” A more sophisticated apology involves an admission that the company messed up. Another type of apology involves a commitment – “We will try to ensure that this will not happen again.”

On Uber’s behalf, John List tried them all. What’s more, with some of these apologies Uber offered a $5 discount off the next trip. In the experiment there was also a group of Uber customers who received no apology at all.

The result was surprising. On their own, apologies in whatever form proved ineffective. But an apology coupled with the $5 coupon kept many people loyal. “So, we end up bringing back millions of dollars by assuaging consumers with an apology and a coupon.”

What consumers want, it turns out, is for a company to demonstrate its remorse by taking a material financial hit. But looking deeper into the stats, List realised that even this device ceased to work if there was a second or third bad trip. Indeed, a second or third apology only seemed to alienate customers further.

These are invaluable insights for Uber, and for other businesses too.

Many economists sit at their desks and make predictions about economic activity based on their models. What makes John List a little unusual for an economist is that he likes to test theories out in the real world. He’s conducted experiments from Tanzania, to New Zealand, China to Bangladesh.

The vast digital data sets held by Uber and other car apps have enabled him to identify certain quirks in human behaviour that armchair economists might not have uncovered. For example, when you book an Uber you never know whether you’ll get a male or female driver, so you might expect male and female drivers to earn the same. But in fact, male drivers earn about 7% more per hour than their female counterparts. Shocked by this disparity, List set about trying to find out the reason for it.

He uncovered several explanations. One is that women tend to have more childcare responsibilities, so there are fewer female drivers available at lucrative times, such as morning and afternoon rush hour. But by far the most important factor turns out to be speed: Uber-driving men drive on average about 2.5% faster than Uber-driving women, so they give more rides per hour.

That’s not the only gender gap. Because he thought it would make Uber drivers happier, List persuaded the Uber board to add a tipping function – bringing Uber in line with other car apps. He then studied tipping behaviour. For every $4 women give as a tip, it transpired, men give around $5. What’s more, women drivers receive more tips than male drivers – except when those women drivers are 65 years old or older. I think we can take this as further evidence of male shallowness.

The study of economic behaviour through car app data has been called Ubernomics – though John List’s box of data toys is now delivered to him by Lyft, not Uber – and he continues to produce a stream of fascinating results. Analysing the behaviour of Lyft users, he’s recently computed the power of what he calls “left-digit bias”. Cutting the price of a journey from $15 to $14.99 has roughly the same impact on consumer demand as reducing it from $15.99 to $15.

Some of the discoveries in Ubernomics are unsurprising. Consumers care about price: the lower the cost, the more likely we are to book a cab. But the analysis of how we use car apps is also revealing some of the biases and idiosyncrasies of human economic behaviour.

By the way, if you ever decide to become an Uber driver, and think that being nice to the customer will have a significant impact on your income, there is some bad news. I’m afraid it won’t. Even when customers rate one driver 10% higher than another for niceness, John List says, they both receive the same tip.

We are not used to the idea of machines making ethical decisions, but the day when they will routinely do this – by themselves – is fast approaching. So how, asks the BBC’s David Edmonds, will we teach them to do the right thing?

Can we teach robots ethics?