Universal Credit

Yesterday, after the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions first appearance at Work and Pensions Questions, SNP MP Neil Gray challenged the Secretary of State to use the powers of her office and take action on the well-documented issues that Universal Credit rollout has encountered.

The SNP letter calls on the Secretary of State to:

  • Reverse her Department’s punitive benefit cuts, including the £4.7bn cut due next year from the benefit freeze, benefit cap and cuts to ESA.
  • Scrap the abhorrent two child cap and rape clause
  • Halt the roll-out of Universal Credit until it is urgently fixed.
  • Boost wages and lift the minimum wage to a real living wage.
  • Take action to finally support women born in the 1950s who have been affected by the acceleration of the increase in the state pension age.

Here in Inverclyde, we’ve had full service Universal Credit for over two years and my office continues to receive stories from constituents who are suffering at the hands of policy decisions by this UK Government.

Any movement to mitigate the worst of the problems that the rollout of Universal Credit has caused is welcome, but it seems that despite a change in personnel, the UK Government doesn’t plan to deviate from its piecemeal approach to reforming Universal Credit.

Action must be taken to pause the rollout of Universal Credit and listen to the many charities and individuals who are calling for changes to be made in-order to fix the system.

Finance Bill – New Clause re Gambling Related Harm

After last week’s announcement that the £2 cap on maximum stake will be brought forward to April 2019, from October 2019, the UK government today decided not to oppose my successful amendment to the Finance Bill, which inserts a New Clause requiring a review of the public health effects of these gambling terminals.

Research from Landman Economics has shown that the average FOBT user loses £192 a month, with the average user of machines already capped at £2 a spin losing just £22 in comparison.

The latest Tory climbdown on FOBTs shows that the UK government are being forced to bow to the immense political and public pressure from the SNP and other stakeholders. The argument has been won and it’s now time to understand the wider impact of gambling, especially on public health.

The UK government must now act on this successful SNP amendment, and undertake a full review of FOBTs and their impact on public health to tackle the devastating damage that these machines cause.

This is an issue that I and others will continue to campaign on to reduce the scourge of gambling related harm.

Westminster diary w/b 12th November


It’s going to be a long night at Westminster but as its U.K. Parliament Week I delay my departure and visit St John’s Primary School in Port Glasgow. The primary six class are well briefed and grill me on all aspects of my role as MP. I jump on a train to Glasgow to attend Citizens Basic Income Stakeholder event.

Then it’s off to the airport. The budget debate is in full swing in the House of Commons and I take the opportunity to intervene and express my concern that the UK Government’s decision to delay the £2 maximum bet on FOBTs may have been influenced by a report by KPMG. The report, as the authors freely admit, was framed by the requirements of the British Bookmakers Association. The debate was followed by votes and I make it back to my flat at midnight.


Today was a strange day even for Westminster. Events and meetings were cancelled, rescheduled and cancelled again as rumours circulated the estate of Prime Minister’s statements and cabinet resignations. Amidst the chaos is was good to sit down with members from the ‘cycle to work alliance’. In Inverclyde the Bothy at Gourock railway station and the Community Tracks scheme are working very hard to provide bikes and routes. The next step is for employers to provide facilities to safety store bikes and changing facilities for employees. It was a privilege to attend the formal launch of ‘Gambling with Lives’. This charity has been set up to help publicise gambling related harm including suicide. It is the brave parents of young men that have committed suicide due to gambling addiction that have started the charity and I will be doing everything I can to help promote their cause.


I met with Steve Brine MP (Parliamentary under-secretary of state for Public Health and Primary Care) to discuss medical cannabis under prescription. It was a private meeting with civil servants in attendance as is the protocol. Mr Brine was very open in his views and I welcome that. He was happy to expand the conversation into other drug policy areas and I shall be looking to progress these matters further with him in the chamber in the near future. One good meeting calls for another and that’s just what happened when I met Kat Banyard to discuss prostitution and the global sex trade.

The imminent Brexit Statement was dominating most folk’s minds and we were promised a statement after PMQs but the timing constantly changed. PMQs lasted longer than it needed to which delayed a written statement that I had been waiting for. It wasn’t the Brexit statement it was the agreement from the U.K. Government to implement the £2 maximum spin on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in April 2019 and not delay it as they had announce in the budget. Compared to Brexit this will not command many column inches but for those people whose lives have been blighted by these machines it is a very big deal. I am glad to have played my part in making this happen along with Carolyn Harris MP (Labour) and Iain Duncan Smith MP (Conservatives) and from the SNP local colleague Stuart McMillan MSP and Stuart McDonald MP.


And so the Brexit statement has been released and as was stated in the chamber during the Statement on the EU exit negotiations, it was dead before it was even read. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU resigned and more were to follow. Scotland was not mentioned once in the near 600 page document. So much for a family of Nations. The utter contempt that Scotland has been shown during the entire Brexit process reveals the true nature of the U.K. government. After an internal SNP de-briefing I got the 19:30 flight home.


I visited Inverclyde Academy, Clydeview Academy and Port Glasgow High School to discuss democracy and all things politics with the pupils. This rounded off Parliament Week and I would like to thank all the Inverclyde schools and organisations that took part. If we want to affect change we need be skilled in the ways of politics and Parliament. It is encouraging to see so many young folk taking up that challenge.

Written question – Welfare [16/11/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to the Government news release of 1 October 2018 entitled Citizens Advice to provide support to Universal Credit claimants, how much funding she plans to allocate to Citizens Advice in Scotland to provide that support; and what plans she has to provide funding for areas that do not have a Citizens Advice office. (188154)

Tabled on: 05 November 2018

Alok Sharma:

For Citizens Advice Scotland the grant award is £1,323,412 in 2018/19 and £4,085,919 in 2019/20. Citizens Advice Scotland is committed to providing a Universal Support service across Scotland

The answer was submitted on 16 Nov 2018 at 14:42.


Written question – Cannabis [15/11/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether his Department remains the ministerial lead for the medicinal use of cannabis-based products. (188186)

Tabled on: 05 November 2018

Mr Nick Hurd:

The Home Office leads the Government’s policy and legislation on the misuse of drugs, including on the scheduling of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and associated legislation. The Department of Health and Social Care has responsibility for the safe management and use of medicines in healthcare.

The answer was submitted on 15 Nov 2018 at 17:58.


Written question – Welfare [14/11/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many claimants in Inverclyde were in receipt of severe disability premium before transferring to universal credit. (189739)

Tabled on: 09 November 2018

Sarah Newton:

The information requested is not collated centrally. This would require the merging of several complex datasets, and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

The answer was submitted on 14 Nov 2018 at 16:20.



Despite the UK government’s best efforts to bury the announcement today, I welcome the government’s climbdown in finally confirming that it will bring forward the implementation date on FOBTs to April 2019.

This is an issue that I and others have campaigned on for a number of years as we believe it’s an important step in reducing gambling related harm.

The cross party campaign to reduce the maximum unit stake on these machines has listened to the evidence and testimonies of individuals and loved ones who, for some, have lost everything to gambling addiction.

The UK government has finally come to its senses and listened to the growing chorus of calls to act now, not later.