Call for Clarity on Motability Car Scheme

Councillor Jim McLeod has joined with me in calling upon the UK Government to clarify changes to the Motability car scheme and to provide detail on the government’s plans to review the scheme’s eligibility criteria.

The Motability car scheme provides disabled people with specially adapted vehicles but since the introduction of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) thousands of people have lost access to these specialised vehicles.

I previously asked the UK Government how many people in Inverclyde had lost their Motability vehicles as a result of recent welfare changes. Penny Mordaunt MP, the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work said that she did not have an answer because seeking the information “would incur a disproportionate cost”.

In November last year, Penny Mordaunt MP announced that her department had “been discussing with relevant Departments ways to enable PIP claimants to keep their vehicle pending appeal, and we are exploring options to allow those who are not in receipt of the higher Motability component to have access to the Motability scheme.”

Since this announcement no further information has been provided.

UK Government welfare cuts are having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable people in our society. Sadly, I have seen this first hand as a number of constituents have contacted me after losing their Motability vehicle.

Motability vehicles are essential to the people who use them. By stripping people of these vehicles, the UK Government is also removing their independence.

After the announcement last November there was some hope that the unfair rules would be reviewed. However, three months later there has been no action and my constituents are still being punished by this policy.

It’s time for the DWP to take action and to end the unfair targeting of those that rely on Motability vehicles.

Cllr Jim McLeod said,

“The migration and reassessment of disabled people travelling from DLA to PIP has caused the loss of benefit for thousands of disabled people, both in care and mobility components of the benefit.

“The reduction or loss of PIP has created real hardship for many disabled people and often has a knock on effect on the likes of Care Allowance which is paid to carers many who have had to give up work to look after disabled family.

“The reduction or loss of the mobility component of PIP has caused thousands of disabled people to have their Motability cars taken from them. This causes loss of independence and for many difficulty getting to work, further/higher education or simply to visit friends or go shopping.

“At a time when the Tory UK government say they are enabling disabled people to get in to work they are in fact pulling the rug from under them by removing their Motability vehicles.”

 

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Written Question – Int Development [24/02/2017]

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what steps the Government is taking to increase cash-based approaches to international aid. (63983)

Tabled on: 17 February 2017

Answer:
Rory Stewart:

Decisions about the type and level of support for cash based approaches depend on a number of factors, including the maturity and coverage of cash transfer programmes, our objectives, value for money, burden share with other donors, and current and projected fiscal space of partner governments.

The answer was submitted on 24 Feb 2017 at 15:17.

 

Westminster diary w/b 20th February

Monday

A midday flight allows me to catch up with office administration before heading to the airport. The main business of the day is an unusually busy Westminster Hall debate. It’s about the state visit of President Trump and needless to say emotions are running high. After that I take in the parliamentary science group briefing on broadband. It’s extremely interesting and the scientists were united in their belief that better broadband speeds should be available now and especially in rural areas.

Tuesday

The day starts with my select committee which held a closed door meeting with senior advisers and professors of law regarding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. It is safe to say that they share my dismay that we have no plan and a growing awareness that the clock is ticking. The potential damage is extremely concerning. Following on from my parliamentary science group event the day before, I spoke in a debate on rural broadband. The only member taking part that can’t see the problem is the government minister responsible for digital.

Wednesday

I had business off site regarding commercial radio and the licensing policy. I met with the All Party Parliamentary Group for fair fuel. And I attended a briefing on a greener UK. The Woodland Trust is one of the thirteen UK environmental organisations that have recently come together to form Greener UK, with the aim of ensuring the UK’s environment is protected and enhanced as we leave the European Union.

Thursday

A day given up to reading and research. I met up with Rachel Moran to hear about the recently changed laws in both Northern Ireland and the Republic regarding prostitution. Rachel has campaigned long and hard on this subject. She doesn’t sugar coat the subject matter and I always come away better informed.

Friday

Is a busy day at Westminster. I am there for the report and third reading of the SNP Bill, preventing and combating violence against woman and domestic violence. We fully expect the usual Conservative back benchers to try and obstruct the bill and as I write this at 9:38am the games have already started.

 

Written Question – Broadband [22/02/2017]

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, how many (a) households and (b) businesses have participated in the Government’s Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme. (63575)

Tabled on: 08 February 2017

Answer:
Matt Hancock:

The department and its local body partners have issued 13,475 Better Broadband codes since the beginning of the scheme in 2015. Over 4,200 codes have so far been redeemed with a supplier. Approximately 10% of these have been issued in Scotland.

The Department does not differentiate between homes or businesses. To be eligible for a code the applicant should be in a premise receiving broadband speeds of less than 2mbits/s and where there are no plans to provide a superfast connection in the near future.

The answer was submitted on 22 Feb 2017 at 10:20.

 

Rural Broadband [21/02/2017]

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing today’s debate. Although the content of my email inbox varies, the issue of broadband always remains one of the most important issues affecting my constituency. I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) is here today. Our constituencies share a border and sometimes I feel that, as we are on the fringe of what is known as the central belt, people believe that the benefits of the big cities fall to us too; I assure the House that they do not. Like other Members, I am regularly contacted by constituents who are frustrated by slow internet speeds and the way in which broadband infrastructure is being implemented in their area.

As has been discussed in previous debates, constituents are frustrated because they do not consider broadband to be a luxury. It is seen as the fourth utility, essential for business, entertainment and education. If we accept that view, we must give constituents the same right to it as they have to gas, electricity and water. We would never consider telling our constituents, “We know that your water only comes on during certain parts of the day, but we hope to have full water supply rolled out to all properties by 2020.” Constituents would not find that acceptable. Equally, we cannot expect them quietly to tolerate an inadequate fourth utility. I understand that there is no technological magic wand that we can wave over areas with poor connectivity. However, we need to ensure that all tiers of government, including local authorities, are provided with the necessary funding for roll-out to be undertaken as quickly as possible.

In some instances, companies have indicated that it is not commercially viable for them to build the infrastructure that would deliver superfast broadband to certain areas. In my own constituency, Wemyss Bay, Inverkip and Kilmacolm have been particularly affected by that commercial gap. By the way, Kilmacolm got piped clean water only in 1878. Some may be surprised to know that Inverclyde, just 40 minutes from Glasgow, is relevant to a debate on rural broadband. My constituency is, in fact, Scotland in microcosm. Most of the population lives on a relatively thin strip of land, where we have densely populated towns with large housing estates. That area is hemmed in by the coast and undeveloped hills. Surrounding the most populated areas we have farmland, which includes sheep and llama farms. We have sustainable forestry providing fuel for biomass heating, and rural villages, along with smallholdings and isolated farm houses. The sort of obstacles that inhibit full roll-out of superfast broadband all exist in Inverclyde, and include the river, hills, flooding and sparsely populated areas. However, Inverclyde’s diverse geography, along with its limited size, actually makes it an ideal location for pilot schemes or for testing more effective ways in which to roll out superfast broadband; so I urge broadband providers to come to Inverclyde and prove how good they are. Ultimately, if we cannot meet the challenges of getting superfast broadband to Kilmacolm or Inverkip, those of providing an equivalent service in Argyll or Sutherland will be insurmountable.

What other potential solutions are there, and, more importantly, are they economically viable? Virgin Media’s Project Lightning includes the village of Kilmacolm, and I am looking forward to seeing how well that progresses. Recently Vodafone, in conjunction with Telefonica UK Limited, announced that a new base station is planned in the Wemyss Bay area. I am hoping that that is a step towards providing 21st century coverage to the surrounding area. Satellite solutions undoubtedly have their place, and I have recently brought the National Farmers Union of Scotland together with satellite solution providers.

Inverclyde is much like many other constituencies. We have many suppliers, not necessarily working together, fighting for the most profitable section of the market, while the more rural areas are neglected. When the day comes that Inverclyde has 99.9% coverage, I shall be knocking at the Minister’s door and speaking up for the 0.1%: no household left behind. We have a fragmented approach when we need a joined-up solution. MPs are grappling with the technology and trying to find bespoke solutions for their constituency, when the UK Government, instead of abdicating responsibility, should be overseeing the roll-out, defining best practice and funding the less commercial areas.

Telephone Tax Hits Inverclyde’s Most Vulnerable

I have added my voice to concerns regarding the UK Government’s use of expensive premium phone lines.

Phone charges for people seeking essential information are regularly set at 55p a minute, but can go up to £1.37 a minute for some Home Office Services.

The high costs of these phone charges are being highlighted at a time when the DWP are closing job centres across Scotland, including the Port Glasgow job centre.

Yet again we are seeing UK Government rules that hinder people who simply want information about the services they are entitled to. These exorbitant phone charges are unjustifiable, particularly when the UK Government knows that many of the users accessing the service will be on low incomes.

While an initial DWP enquiry is free, follow up calls about a claim, sanction or to report that a benefit has not been paid all are subject to charges. Long waiting times mean that it is not unusual for a phone call to cost £15 or £20.

Other constituents who have phoned the child maintenance helpline, or the Home Office helpline that handles spousal visa cases have been subject to costs of £1.37 a minute, over and above network charges.

Network charges themselves work against the most vulnerable. Although ‘0345’ numbers are usually included in mobile phone contracts, those on low incomes are more likely to have a ‘pay as you go’ deal. This means poorer households and pensioners can be charged at the higher rate.

The UK Government should abandon this telephone tax and adopt the recommendations of the DWP select committee by introducing 0800 free-phone numbers for these services.

It’s time for the UK Government to treat people with care and compassion, rather than a cash-cow and a resource to be exploited.

Tele column – 17th February 2017

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, presents a dystopian future where news is altered and fabricated to promote the message that the governing body wishes to be heard. People are constantly on their guard due to Government surveillance. The citizens are always being asked to accept less freedom and less money, so that the ongoing war against some unknown enemy that threatens their very existence can be fought. Questioning the evidence or strategy is treason and punishable by death. People are ruled by fear and distrust of their fellow human beings. It’s a powerful story that was written in 1948, just as we entered the Cold War. Orwell’s ability to see the big picture of control by fear is writ large on every page. I have no doubt it is one of the greatest books of our time. And in our time both fake news and post-truth politics are rife. The art of subterfuge and spin have become the norm. Doublethink and newspeak permeate our media and lives. And where does this leave the electorate, the citizens, the proles? Disenfranchised, disillusioned and decidedly hacked off with the media, governments and politicians. And ironically that plays into the hands of those that Orwell described as Big Brother. With that in mind it is vital that we encourage our media to report honestly and openly without risk of retribution and politicians must fulfil their duty to shine a light on injustice and persecution. With that in mind I am delighted to see that 1984 is back in the top ten sellers list. My own copy is a bit battered so I shall order two new ones. One for me to re-read (to keep me honest) and one for the White House and hope somebody can read it to President Trump.