Month: December 2016
Greenock Telegraph [20/12/2016]
Written PQ – Gambling [20/12/2016]
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, whether the Government has plans to produce a strategy to tackle problem gambling and reduce gambling-related harm. (57697)
Tabled on: 14 December 2016
The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB), which advises the Gambling Commission and others on reducing gambling related harm, published its responsible gambling strategy for 2016-2019 in April this year. We will be considering this alongside other evidence as part of the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures which was announced on 24 October, with the aim of publishing our findings and any resulting proposals in spring 2017.
The answer was submitted on 20 Dec 2016 at 11:32.
Plan to Keep Scotland in Single Market
The paper – “Scotland’s Place in Europe” – was published today (Tuesday) and outlined the SNP’s determination for Scotland to remain in the European single market. The paper also outlined substantial new powers that should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit.
People in Scotland voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming 24-point margin – and people in Inverclyde voted 63.8% Remain.
While we believe that full EU membership remains the best position for Scotland, the SNP have set out compromise proposals which would protect Scotland’s interests and would mitigate the damage Brexit will cause.
At the heart of our plan is keeping Scotland’s in the European Single Market. That is vital for jobs, investment and our long-term prosperity, which are all seriously threatened by the hard Brexit now championed by the right-wing of the Tory party.
Some estimates show that after 10 years, a hard Brexit could mean the loss of 80,000 jobs and an average cut in wages of £2,000 a year.
It makes no sense for the UK to leave the Single Market and we’ve outlined how this could be achieved. But if that happens we’ve also set out how Scotland could remain in the single market if the rest of the UK leaves.
And in line with promises made by the Leave campaign and by the UK government since, our proposals include the transfer of substantial powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The Tory Government at Westminster says Scotland is an equal partner in the UK. It’s now time for them to prove that’s the case and back these plans to stop the disaster of a hard Brexit.”
Scottish Government paper – http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/12/9234
Homelessness Debate [14/12/2016]
Ronnie Cowan MP
What does homelessness actually entail? In the words of Rachel Moran in her excellent book, “Paid For”,
“The word ‘homeless’ seems to present the condition as a single lack, but homelessness is actually many individual deficiencies combined. The worst of them are emotional; but to mention the physical challenges first: the single worst bodily aspect of homelessness is exhaustion. It is caused by several factors, including sleep-deprivation, hunger and a constant need to remain on the move.”
This explanation of homelessness is insightful, because it shows us just how inadequate the word “homeless” is. To live without a fridge, cooker, television, shower, sofa or bed is a struggle that homeless people contend with daily. It might start with sleeping on a friend’s sofa, then another friend’s; but then a week-long stay becomes a day here, a day there, until the night comes when there is no sofa available, and instead a doorway is used, probably nearby at first, but then the person drifts; and one day they have to acknowledge that they are homeless. It does not start that way. We all see homeless people, but we never suspect that we will become one. How damaging to a person’s self-esteem and mental health is that moment when homelessness becomes an acknowledged reality? How does anyone find their way back?
In Scotland, the number of homelessness applications is decreasing, from a peak of over 60,000 in 2005-06 to 34,600 in 2015-16. Some 294 of these applications were made in my constituency, and that is 294 too many. We have made progress, but Shelter Scotland has indicated that there has been no underlying change in the drivers of homelessness. Almost half of those who have made homelessness applications in Scotland are single males, and 16% are single females with a child. Shamefully, many of those people are ex-service personnel—people who have made the highest commitment to serve their country but have not received the support they deserve.
Although homelessness is primarily tackled by the UK and devolved Governments, local authorities also play an important role. Scottish local authorities have been hindered by policies born in this place, such as the right to buy, which was not reinforced by a need to build. According to Scottish Government statistics, we have lost over 450,000 homes from the social rented sector as a result of the right to buy, and thousands of the homes that remain are of dubious quality. It is estimated that about one in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness or condensation. Thankfully, the Scottish Government have ended the right to buy, and more than 16,000 new homes have been built in the last year—a rate higher than the UK average.
I hope to see this issue prioritised as a matter of public policy across the UK, particularly as homelessness is increasingly being stigmatised. Recently, The Huffington Post reported that Crisis spoke to 458 people who were sleeping rough or had slept rough in the last year and said they were facing “ever-more hostile streets”. Councils, developers, businesses and other organisations are deploying “defensive architecture”, including iron and concrete studs placed in flat areas to prevent homeless people from finding a place to sleep. It makes me wonder what the threat is and why we need to defend ourselves from it. A compassionate society should not be deploying medieval-style defences against vulnerable people who need assistance. So-called defensive architecture is dehumanising and sends a clear message: “go away, disappear, you’re not wanted”.
Homelessness is an issue of priorities. Instead of encouraging developers to build luxury apartments, some of which are bought up as investments and never lived in, we should be building social housing. Our welfare system must also be tailored in a compassionate way that enables people to have a platform on which to build their own lives. Our current system does not provide that support. A universal basic income could be a solution to address social ills and protect the most vulnerable from becoming homeless. At the very least we should be exploring that possibility, instead of tinkering around the edges of a system that is in need of a more fundamental reform. I will concede, however, that homelessness is a complex issue, and one that cannot be eliminated just by burying it with money and legislation. Homelessness is not only an issue of housing; it is also the product of inequality, poverty, domestic abuse, family breakdown and addiction. It can happen to anyone from any background.
In conclusion, we should never allow ourselves to accept homelessness as an inevitable result of a modern society. It is not inevitable and it does not need to happen. Complacency on the part of the UK Government will result in a failure to tackle this issue. Rising living costs, stagnating wages and the UK’s mismanaged welfare system are putting increased pressure on homelessness services. My fear is that the progress made at Holyrood is being undermined by welfare decisions taken at Westminster. Ultimately, people sleeping rough tonight do not care whether local authorities, devolved Administrations or the UK Government have the power to help them; they just need support. It is up to all elected Members across the UK to ensure they receive that support.
Westminster diary w/b 12th December
Starts with another delayed flight but I still make it to Westminster by 10. The delay simply means in do my preparation in the departure lounge. I needed have bothered as despite standing for questions to the Secretary of State for Defence, I don’t get taken. I was looking to highlight the poor mental health of a lot of young recruits to the military and the increased chance of suicide in the under twenties.
My select committee is taking evidence from the Public Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and also individuals that are critical of the PHSO’s work. It was a lively session and a few disgruntled members of the public were vocal in their criticism. My select committee in its wisdom decided to have a second evidence session this week so the afternoon is all about reading the copious briefing documents the magnificent clerks produce.
Starts with the Select Committee taking evidence from the electoral commission. It is slanted towards the European Union referendum but of course Scotland’s independence referendum is also discussed. Prime Ministers Question time lacks any real direction and was quite unremarkable. I attended a briefing on Biomass heating. There is a lobby group that suggests it’s not as environmentally friendly as it makes out to be. DRAX receive a lot of criticism but have wisely sent their experts too. Both sides put their case very forcefully which makes it extremely engaging. I sought clarification from the anti biomass lobby and they agreed with me that it’s about scale and proximity to the fuel supply that defines how carbon neutral it is. And along with responsible forestry and as part of a renewable strategy biomass has its place. I dashed from that to a round table event to discuss renal research. It was good to hear the progress being made. I then spoke in the chamber on the homelessness debate.
I was part of an interview panel to recruit staff based in Westminster and in the afternoon I attended and spoke in a debate in the chamber on the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The UK Government is showing a terrible lack of foresight, ambition and leadership in this area and if they don’t step up we will feel the effect in the years to come.
I attend the Private Members Bill (PMB) to ratify the Istanbul convention. This has never been ratified by the UK and is designed to protect woman from violence. As I write this I do not know the outcome of the debate. I would like to think it was passed and not talked out as previous PMBs have been.
Broadband Debate – Universal Service Obligation
I spoke in a House of Commons debate on the issue of a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO).
Ofcom produced their report on the design of the USO. This includes consideration policies that the SNP brought amendments on during the committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill – specifically the consideration of upload speeds and a superfast minimum download speed of 30 megabits per second.
Recently, I pressed the UK Government on the “fractured and often unsuitable provision of broadband within Inverclyde”. Alongside this, I met with representatives of Openreach and Digital Scotland to discuss the issue further.
People consider broadband to be the fourth utility. Just as they turn on a tap and get water, flick a switch for electricity or turn a dial for gas, people’s lifestyle and expectations have been geared to broadband.
With our current level of knowledge, we have no excuse not to build a super-broadband highway that can carry superfast broadband to every user.
My constituents expect results, and they are impatient at being left behind. A broadband USO should be something exciting—a policy that represents technological innovation and an ambitious drive towards the future.
Hansard link to House of Commons debate – https://hansard.digiminster.com/commons/2016-12-15/debates/E21DBE29-D307-4C81-9521-F9C4DB0801E8/BroadbandUniversalServiceObligation
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