WASPI

According to the House of Commons Library, “WASPI” women (women born in the 1950s affected by changes to the State Pension Age by the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Pension Acts) affected in Inverclyde is 5,600.

The UK Government’s reply, to my letter, is frustratingly all about equalisation. I can’t believe that this far down the line they are still so uninformed or blind to the WASPI argument that they genuinely think equalisation is the issue. That can only lead me to the conclusion that the UK government are so entrenched in their ways that they are incapable of engaging in a meaningful discussion on this issue.

Their attitude towards the plight of the woman affected by this policy is appalling.

The WASPI campaign has been run with great dignity and it’s time the UK government responded in kind by righting this wrong.

 

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Written question – Welfare [25/07/2017]

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will remove the mandatory reassessment of people with progressive conditions, such as muscle-wasting conditions, who are in receipt of personal independence payments at the enhanced rate. (5325)

Tabled on: 17 July 2017

Answer:
Penny Mordaunt:

Reviews of PIP are a key part of the benefit and ensure that not only awards remain correct where needs may change and that we also maintain contact with the claimant, both features missing from its predecessor Disability Living Allowance. The length of an award is based on an individual’s circumstances and can vary from nine months to an on-going award with a light touch review at the ten year point. PIP recognises that for the most severely disabled claimants, the award review process could seem unnecessarily intrusive. Existing PIP claimants with the most severe, lifetime disabilities, whose functional ability has remained the same, are more likely to have their evidence reviewed by a DWP Decision-Maker and will not need to have another face-to-face assessment with a healthcare professional.

We will continue to closely monitor developments across the health and disability landscape and engage with stakeholders to improve the service we provide. We are committed to ensuring that the PIP reassessment process works effectively across the spectrum of disabilities and health conditions, including mental health conditions, cognitive impairments and physical disabilities.

On Employment and Support Allowance we are working with our assessment provider, medical professionals and other stakeholders, to develop a set of criteria that will help us identify those with the most severe health conditions or disabilities, for whom reassessments can be stopped unless there is a change of circumstances.

The answer was submitted on 25 Jul 2017 at 15:33.

 

The UK Government is to raise the state pension age to 68 from 2037, seven years earlier than planned.

The announcement was made just before the House of Commons broke for the Summer recess period, giving Members no time to question government ministers on the change.  New analysis from the House of Commons library found that each person affected by the change stood to lose around £9,800. (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jul/24/state-pension-changes-will-cost-7-million-people-10000-each)

This will have a detrimental impact on a large number of people in both Inverclyde and Scotland, meaning they will be forced to wait another year for their state pension.

The UK Government is already causing unnecessary pain for the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) and now we have more bad news on pensions.

As my SNP colleagues have stated, we will continue to call for the establishment of an independent Savings and Pensions Commission to responsibly consider pension policies.

Westminster diary w/b 17th July

Monday

Business was slow at Westminster so I took the opportunity to stay in my constituency for the day and meet with a number of constituents. I also attended the Climate Challenge Fund event in the Beacon Arts Centre. Suitable community applications can be granted up to £150,000 to invest in projects that are beneficial to the environment. My office shall be contacting a range of local organisations in regard to this.

Tuesday

It’s a 5am start to catch the early bird down to London. My first meeting of the day should have been with Amnesty International but due to an on-going situation in Turkey the meeting was cancelled. I attended an event titled ‘Meaningful Multilateralism: Future UK leadership in Nuclear Disarmament’. The main speaker was Sir Malcolm Rifkind. I was disappointed to miss the photo opportunity to highlight the campaign to reduce the odds to £2 on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) but I was scheduled to speak in a debate on drugs policy reform and therefore had to be in the chamber. The debate was extremely interesting and I spoke without a time constraint which was a welcome experience. There is cross party support that wishes to make drug reform a health led issue rather than a criminal justice one, as it is now. But the latest UK Government report is still not following that line. In the evening, I attended a showing of Al Gore’s new documentary. It’s a follow up to his massive success (it won two Oscars) ‘An inconvenient truth’. The follow up (An Inconvenient Sequel) is rather less about climate change, a little more about Al Gore. Maybe his political career isn’t over yet.

Wednesday

It was the turn of the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House to face questions. Tommy Shepherd MP leads for the SNP on this occasion and handled it extremely well. Tommy can work an audience and managed to silence the 13 Tory MPs that represent Scottish constituents with one withering look. The Secretary and the shadow Secretary (Labour’s Lesley Laird MP) seemed happy to agree on most things and blame the SNP for them too. I am afraid the tribalism of Holyrood has come to Westminster. It does not serve the public well. Prime Ministers Questions was a poor affair but I have grown used to that.

Thursday

The main event is a debate on Job centre closures, secured by my SNP colleague Chris Stephen MP. I take the opportunity to take the government to task over the planned closure of the Port Glasgow Job centre and once again ask the minister Damian Hinds to visit Inverclyde to understand the geography and the difficulties the planned closure will bring. Unbelievably the new Tory MP for Ayr Carrick and Cumnock can’t resist defending the ‘modernisation’ process. He then said he had visited a job centre in 2005 after he left the fire service. I wonder if it is still open to give others the support he got then. The debate finishes at five and it’s a dash to the airport only to see I am delayed.

Friday

My first day of the summer recess and it’s a busy one. My first meeting is with constituents regarding issues in Larkfield. Then I meet with Inverclyde Council Chief Executive, Aubrey Fawcett, to discuss all things Inverclyde. The afternoon is packed with constituent meeting ranging from policing, heritage and child care. I then get a guided tour of the refurbished custom house by Riverside Inverclyde.

Written Question – Treasury [20/07/2017]

Question:
To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the Government will introduce a requirement on the Financial Conduct Authority to set out a reasonable duty of care for financial services providers to exercise towards their customers. (4474)

Tabled on: 12 July 2017

Answer:
Stephen Barclay:

The government recognises that there are different views on the merits of introducing a duty of care for financial services providers. The government welcomes the Financial Conduct Authority’s commitment to publish a discussion paper to explore the issue of duty of care, as part of the planned review of their Handbook described in their Mission document published in April.

The answer was submitted on 20 Jul 2017 at 15:13.

 

Tele column – 21st July 2017

With President Trump now saying he may reconsider his decision to withdraw American from the climate change agreement at Paris it is interesting and encouraging to see how many Americans are buying into climate change and doing something about it. Despite their Presidents sceptical approach many American towns and cities have embarked on programmes to create 100% renewable energy systems. Burlington in Vermont (population of 42,000) has already achieved this through hydroelectric schemes. The entire state of Vermont is aiming for 90% renewables by 2050.

Imagine that a hydroelectric scheme providing all the electricity required for a town with the population of 42,000. If only we didn’t allow Inverclyde’s abundant water supply to be wasted year in year out. We talk about it and to be more precise we pay lip service to it but we never actually hitch our wagon to this splendid natural resource and do something about it. In Las Vegas all municipal buildings are powered 100% by renewable energy. When an administration has the foresight to lead by example it makes it much easier to encourage commercial enterprise to do the same. Many companies and individuals would buy into such schemes but the UK Government is not interested and Scottish Government has room for improvement. I note that homes being built by River Clyde Homes beside the Gourock rope works have solar panels and I would hope all new builds in Inverclyde, homes, businesses and public buildings would be required to fulfil ambitious environmental targets both in their build and in their own energy generation capabilities. We have the capabilities within Inverclyde and we shouldn’t be afraid to lead.

 

Jobcentre Closures [20/07/2017]

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) for securing this debate.

In Inverclyde, we currently have two jobcentres: one in Greenock and another in Port Glasgow. Following the UK Government’s consultation, it was determined that the Port Glasgow jobcentre would close, while the Greenock office would be moved to an as yet undetermined location. I believe that this decision is short-sighted and sympathise with the views of staff at the Port Glasgow jobcentre, who have expressed understandable concerns regarding the impact of this change on their clients.

The Minister should know that Inverclyde has some of the worst levels of social deprivation in the UK. Some 26% of children in Inverclyde grow up in poverty; one in 10 lives in severe poverty; youth unemployment is more than double the UK rate; and the number of people on jobseeker’s allowance or required to find work on universal credit is double the rate in the UK as a whole.

It might be thought that such a set of circumstances would prompt the Government to grant additional support to the area. Instead, the UK Government’s response has been to cut benefits and halve the number of jobcentres in my constituency. A report issued by the Scottish Government found that Inverclyde will experience one of the most significant falls in welfare spending of any Scottish local authority relative to the size of its working-age population. By 2021, this will amount to an overall cut of £15 million—the equivalent of £298 per working-age adult.

Given the challenges that Inverclyde faces, I think it would be appropriate for the Minister to visit my constituency. That is why I wrote to him on 14 June and extended an invitation to meet not only me, but the jobcentre management to discuss the impact of the proposed closure on my constituents. And yes, I am still waiting for a reply. A ministerial visit would also be an opportunity for the UK Government to provide some much-needed assurances regarding the long-term future of the Greenock office and the vital service that it offers. I can see the Minister looking quizzically at me. Is he questioning what I am saying?

The Minister for Employment (Damien Hinds)

*Indicated dissent.

Ronnie Cowan MP

Okay. Is the proposed closure of the Port Glasgow jobcentre about providing a better service for users? No, of course it is not. In the words of the Public and Commercial Services Union, the UK Government are “abandoning the unemployed” at a time when many people on lower incomes are facing uncertain futures with respect to their employment.

Danielle Rowley MP (Intervention)

On the issue of uncertain futures, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the closure of jobcentres such as mine in Dalkeith will affect women affected by the Pensions Act 2011, dealing the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality—a double blow, which is unacceptable? Does he join me in wondering where those women will go to find the apprenticeships that Government Members suggest that they find?

Ronnie Cowan MP

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. It is the classic double whammy that people are put into an impossible situation by the Government and then look for support from them and find that it has been taken away. As we all know, the apprenticeship scheme is just an aberration at the moment.

Unfortunately, all levels of poverty are rising. In-work poverty is on the rise, yet the Minister continues to argue that jobcentre mergers are needed to ensure that the welfare state

“works for those who need it and those who pay for it.”

That kind of irresponsible language detracts from the reality that those who need the service and those who pay for it are in fact the same people. Ultimately, the whole of society benefits if poverty and inequality are reduced. Jobcentres are supposed to be part of the solution.

Aside from the £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionist party, the UK Government have made the case over the past seven years that drastic public spending cuts are a financial necessity. The plan to close jobcentres across the UK is part of a wider plan to sell £4.5 billion-worth of Government land and property by 2021. While it is easy to cut services and demonstrate savings made in the short term, it not so easy to quantify and predict the long-term impact of those changes.

Hannah Bardell MP (Intervention)

On the matter of property and quantifying decisions, does my hon. Friend agree that the decision to close an HMRC office in my Livingston constituency and an area of West Lothian that is significantly cheaper, and to move it to Edinburgh city centre in a record long-term contract of 20 to 25 years, is just sheer stupidity on the Government’s part and clearly a waste of public money?

Ronnie Cowan MP

I absolutely agree, and could not have put it better myself.

The UK Government have simply not made a convincing case that the proposed closures will benefit clients or society as a whole. Jobcentre staff have contacted me to say that the impact of the closures on disabled people has not been properly assessed. The Scottish Government have indicated that the closures are likely to push many vulnerable people into crisis. Will the Minister meet me in Inverclyde and show that the UK Government are actually listening to those concerns? We are about to set off into recess. I assure the Minister that I will clear my diary and cancel my holidays, and will be there whatever day he wishes to come and visit Inverclyde.

Tax Credits Renewals

I would like to remind constituents in Inverclyde that the deadline for renewing tax credits is 31st July and anyone who fails to renew by the deadline could lose their payments.

Importantly, you still need to complete your renewal pack even if you’re not making a claim for the coming year.  This is something which many people do not realise and thus don’t complete the documentation, which means they may not be paid the right amount of tax credits for the current year.

For more information please visit Gov.uk website – https://www.gov.uk/renewing-your-tax-credits-claim