Unpaid care totals £10.8 billion across Scotland

Shocking figures from the Valuing Carers 2015 report that shows unpaid care work taken on by friends and family amounted to £10.8 billion across Scotland.

It is clear from these figures that so many people are selflessly involved in caring for someone. Without these carers our NHS and social care system would be placed under immense if not impossible pressure.

When viewed alongside recent figures published by Scottish Labour which show that 53,000 carers in Scotland don’t receive the Carers Allowance they are actually entitled to, which amounts to £170 million in unclaimed benefits, it emphasises just how much care in the community goes on without financial help.

Caring for a friend or family member is an emotional and financial strain and where help is due it must be given.

I want to see more done to ensure people receive the benefits they are entitled to. Labour is pressing the Scottish Government to use the Social Security Bill to increase awareness and uptake of benefits in general.

However it is disappointing that there is already a delay to the devolution of a number of welfare powers until 2020 because the Scottish Government doesn’t have the systems in place to operate a new Scottish Social Security Agency.

 

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Small Business Saturday

 

small-business-saturday-cones-and-candiesAgain this year I have had the pleasure of taking part in Small Business Saturday, and I was even happier when the Federation of Small Businesses suggested a visit this year to Cones and Candies, the makers of Taylors of Biggar ice cream.

I am a great supporter of the local high street. It’s a great place to pick up Christmas presents, something a little different to what you will get in the big department stores. I was very pleased to start my Christmas shopping on my visit by buying some chocolate for my grandson and, of course, some ice cream for our Christmas dinner dessert!

Small Business Saturday helps local small businesses link together, championing their vital role in local communities and creating a buzz about entrepreneurship and people starting out.

That’s why I feel it is important to take part in days like this. I urge my local constituents to consider going to your local high street for your presents this year and support all the small fantastic businesses we have in South Scotland.

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Passengers deserve a rail fare freeze

rail-fare-freeze-2016-2-jpg-largeLast week Kezia Dugdale called on the Scottish Government to give passengers a ‘break’ by freezing regulated rail fares, which are due to increase by up to 1.9 per cent in January. This was after another week of delay and disruption on Scotland’s trains.

Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for Transport and Town Centres has now written to SNP Transport Minister Humza Yousaf asking the Scottish Government to support this freeze.

Lanark and Tweedbank already feature as stations where trains are late more often than being on time and things aren’t getting better. Commuters just aren’t getting the service they deserve.

People are fed up being stranded on freezing platforms. It is difficult to justify an increase to fares when the service has been so poor.

SNP ministers talk about what action they might take in 2022, but people need to see improvements to the service now.

People deserve to know there is light at the end of the tunnel with a fare freeze in 2017 and I hope the SNP will back Labour’s plan.

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World AIDS Day 2016

fullsizerender1st of December is World AIDS Day, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with those living with HIV, and to remember those that have died from the virus. This is an important day for so many people – in the UK over 100,000 people live with AIDS, and globally that number reaches 34 million.

HIV was only identified very recently, in 1984, and has been one of the most serious pandemics in history. Today, scientific and medical advances and improvements in understanding have made a diagnosis of HIV a very different thing. HIV can now be a manageable virus; most people living with HIV enjoy good health, 85% are not infectious, and 0.5% of babies born to HIV positive mothers carry the virus.

Despite this, the stigma of HIV has prevailed since the 1980s. For the 2016 World AIDS Day, the campaign is focussed on ending the damaging attitude the public can have towards those with HIV. National AIDS Trust research revealed that only 3 in 5 people with HIV feel supported by their GP practice. 2 in 5 people think their boss should tell them if a colleague is living with HIV. These statistics show that people with HIV face a lack of awareness and unfair attitudes.

National AIDS Trust share this quote on their webpage – “The problems that the ‘rest of the population’ creates for me makes living with HIV difficult to the point where taking my medication, remaining unemployed and choosing friends carefully appears to be the only comfortable option.”

Let’s make 2016 the year this stigma ends. Visit www.worldaidsday.org to see how you can help by raising awareness and fundraising.

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The SNP are not keeping things on track

For the last week and a half the news has been dominated by the poor service which has been provided for the commuters of Scotland by Abellio. We have all heard the constant stories of overcrowded and late trains that have become part of everyday life for commuters trying to get about.

This week  the Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP made a statement to Parliament about how the Government plan to improve the rail service for the people of Scotland. The minister denied that there was a “poor service”, on a day that saw yet more delays for commuters. Neil Bibby MSP, Scottish Labours Spokesperson, told the minister that he must ditch the spin and concentrate on fixing the problems for the people of Scotland.

Today at First Ministers Question’s I was pleased to hear Kezia Dugdale set out Scottish Labour’s policy position of freezing the train fares for next year. The fares increase, which is due to take place in January, would see prices go up by 1.9%. I don’t believe this is fair to the commuters in the region I represent considering the shoddy service they are being subjected to at this moment in time.

On a more long term note –

I would encourage my constituents throughout South Scotland to take part in the rail strategy consultation that has been launch by Transport Scotland. You can take part in it online here:

https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/rail-policy/rail-infrastructure-strategy-from-2019.

There are also public workshops that are taking place in the New Year at:

Dumfries – Best Western Station Hotel- 24/01/17 12.00 – 16.00

Glasgow – Central Glasgow (Venue TBC) – 18/01/17 09.00-13.00.

Please go along to let your feelings known about what you feel should be the priorities for rail in the future in Scotland.

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Failure to tackle fuel poverty

The number of people experiencing fuel poverty has increased since 2011 and it is not acceptable.   Rural off-grid fuel poverty is a particular challenge to be addressed.

Adding to this, recent figures from StepChange Debt charity reveal that amongst their South Scotland clients, gas and electricity arrears have increased in last year.

A target to abolish fuel poverty by November 2016 will not be met by the Scottish Government. In fact the situation is significantly worse according to the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group.  Since 2003, when the target was set, the figure of those living in fuel poverty has more than doubled across Scotland.

People should not be living in cold homes in 2016.  The Scottish Government has to outline what plans they have to address and reverse these damning statistics.

We need to tackle the causes of fuel poverty and we need to do this by driving up the building standards and regulations of homes to make them fit for cold weather. Improving energy efficiency will also help to meet our climate change targets. I want to see a Warm Homes Act introduced to do exactly this.  It shouldn’t matter if the landlord is private, housing or public the energy standards should be the same.

The Scottish Government committed to a Warm Homes Bill in May but when the programme for Government was introduced by SNP in September, disappointingly, there was no mention of a bill in the first part of this new Parliament, though so urgently needed.

Along with better quality homes we need to see more money going into public services. By putting a penny on income tax we can start to invest in public services instead of Local Authorities being subjected to endless cuts.

No one should have to choose between heating and eating but sadly this is a reality for too many people.

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State of Nature Report – Debate

Last week I spoke in a debate on the State of Nature 2016 Report. This report came about from a partnership of 50 UK wide organisations, who together assessed the health and levels of wildlife in the UK and in Scotland. This research is vital in providing us the evidence and opportunity to accurately address the gaps in which nature is being let down.

This report’s unhappy headlines show Scotland is ranked in the lowest 5th of all countries analysed in the Biodiversity Intactness Index, and almost one in ten Scottish species are at risk of extinction. As South Scotland MSP I highlighted Glen Lude in the Borders, and Nethan Gorge in Clyde Valley – home to green woodpeckers, otters, and badgers – both of which I was lucky enough to visit over the Summer. Scotland’s nature is a right everyone should enjoy, and it is evident that collective efforts must be heightened to protect it.

Evidence suggests the Scottish Government’s Route Map to 2020 is insufficient to delivering the Aichi targets.  I stated that I am interested to know what steps the Scottish Government has taken to report progress in Scotland towards the Aichi targets to the CoP, and how it intends to ensure that it is in a position to implement any agreements reached there.

I also highlighted blue carbon – stocks of carbon sequestered by marine habitats, in some cases keeping it out of our atmosphere for thousands of years. . The changing climate is one of the greatest threats to our marine ecosystems, but conversely, our oceans are one of the greatest natural tools we have to tackle global warming. Improving understanding of this phenomenon by developing an evidence base and monitoring system could be significant in delivering our national and global climate change targets.

You can watch the debate here:

 

 

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Equal Pay Day – close the gender pay gap

equal-pay-2016It was Equal Pay Day on 11 November. This date is chosen because the difference in average salaries earned by women and men in the UK, means women effectively stop earning from Thursday November 11 to the end of the year.

In Scotland women are more likely to be unemployed than men and when they are in work it is likely to be earning less than a man.

Low paid sectors like care, retail and hospitality have a majority of female employees who are undervalued and disproportionately disadvantaged.
Equal Pay Day recognises this gap. To close it we need to grow our economy, and that means using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest.

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World Credit Union Day Debate

I was very pleased to be able to speak in the members debate by Ruth Maguire MSP in order to mark World Credit Union Day – 20th October.  I was especially pleased to speak in it as both a member of the Co-op Group in Parliament and as the Deputy Convener of the Cross Party Group on Credit Unions.

We all know the importance that credit unions play in Scotland today. With difficult financial times Credit Unions can not only help people save for the future, they can also help people when they are most in financial need. Credit Unions truly are for everyone. Wither it is joining a credit union through your work or going to your local credit union to get a loan, you will be joining the 387,000 people who are already a member in some way, shape and form. It is true what they say, everyone is only a few pay’s away from being in financial trouble and being a member of a credit union can help prepare for that.

I have been pleased in the past to work closely with Lanarkshire Credit Union which covers the Clydesdale area of my Region. It is their 25th Birthday this Month and I would like to take this opportunity, as I have done in my speech, to wish them all the best for the next 25 years and beyond!

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Occupational Therapy Awareness Week

occupational-therapy-awareness-weekLast week was Occupational Therapy Awareness Week and I dropped in for coffee at one of the events being run by NHS Lanarkshire’s Occupational Therapy team at Lanark’s Tollbooth.

The focus was promoting the Occupational Therapy Community Clinics which are available to members of the public who have noticed a dip in their mood, increase in stress or are feeling less fulfilled in their daily lives. The clinics allow individuals to access information on mental health and wellbeing and identify ways to manage concerns about their mental health.

The Community Clinics are a self referral service and offer a one off appointment with an Occupational Therapist who can discuss and provide information on appropriate support and activity that can assist people to manage general stresses of life or during stressful events in life like bereavement, job loss or illness. They can provide practical advice about how people can maintain good mental health.

We are all faced with stresses which can make daily life difficult and it’s important to work on ways to maintain positive mental health and wellbeing. Advice from Community Clinics can help with this. Getting support as early as possible can make a big difference in coping with life’s challenges before people become isolated by their situation.

As an example I heard about Well Connected which connects people with opportunities in areas such a physical and leisure activities, arts and culture and learning opportunities.

Danielle Turner, Occupational Therapist said:

“We all have mental health and it is important that we look after it, early intervention is an important part of our role as Occupational Therapists and it is key that we offer people the opportunity to speak about their mental health and wellbeing and identify the value of therapeutic activity. The Occupational Therapy Community Clinics aim to connect people with local activity and resources that can help to improve their mental health and wellbeing and we are keen to make people aware that this service is available.”

For more information on the community clinics contact NHS Lanarkshire on 0300 3030 243 or visit the Elament website at http://www.elament.org.uk/.

 

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