UK Govt changes to Pension Credits

Changes to benefits for mixed-age couples – which will be introduced from 15 May 2019 – were quietly released by Tory ministers on the eve of Theresa May’s humiliating Brexit deal defeat

Currently, couples can claim Pension Credit – an income related benefit meant to top up the state pension as long as one partner is of pension age. Universal Credit will reverse this – meaning a mixed-age couple will be defined by the working-age person, not the pensioner.

Experts have claimed that the changes could leave some pensioners almost £7,000 worse off per year, and Age UK warned that it could leave “some of the poorest pensioners paying a hefty price for having a younger partner.”

Serious concerns over the UK Government’s welfare policies have continued to be raised at Westminster by myself and SNP colleagues and, at. I will be meeting with DWP ministers in February to discuss welfare and asking they reverse to this appalling cut which will hit those on the lowest incomes.

Amid the chaos and distraction of Brexit, those who may be affected by this change in Inverclyde deserve to know about it, and have been let down by UK Government attempts to ‘sneak out’ the news at 7.20pm on the night of the Brexit vote – when attentions were directed elsewhere.


Written question – Health [14/01/2019]

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether his Department has held discussions with representatives of (a) drug support charities and (b) other organisations on the level of drug-related deaths in relation to the abstinence and recovery agenda set out the Drug Strategy. (204555)

Tabled on: 20 December 2018

Steve Brine:

Public Health England regularly holds discussions with representatives of drug charities and other organisations on drug-related deaths. This includes convening a national intelligence network on the health harms associated with drug use. Member organisations include providers of drug treatment services, and national professional and membership bodies. The network exchanges intelligence on drug-related deaths, and explores how to use this intelligence to inform commissioning and practice.

The answer was submitted on 14 Jan 2019 at 16:18.


Financial Health Checks Initiative

The Financial Health Check is delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland and backed by the Scottish Government. It aims to motivate low income families to seek financial advice to maximise their income by ensuring that they are not paying more for essential goods and services than they need to and that they are getting all the benefits, grants and exemptions (council tax, energy) to which they are entitled. It also allows them to access support and impartial advice where they need to e.g. debt advice.

The new service launched in November and has already helped hundreds of Scots maximise their income. Overall, there are half a million cases of Scots not claiming all the support they are entitled to. But, one call to the free phoneline on 0800 085 7145 is all it takes for families to find out what they are eligible for. Clients can also access the service through any of our bureau across Scotland.

Written question – welfare [14/01/2019]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Written Statement of 20 December 2018 on Personal Independence Payment, Official Report HCWS1224, what estimate her Department has made of (a) the number of claimants in Inverclyde that have received personal independence payments arrears and (b) the total amount paid to those claimants in the latest period for which figures are available. (204556)

Tabled on: 20 December 2018

Sarah Newton:

We are not in a position to provide volumes at detailed geographic breakdowns, as the volumes at this level would be small and therefore disclosive. We are working at pace to ensure that claimants receive any additional entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as soon as possible.

The answer was submitted on 11 Jan 2019 at 10:56.


Westminster diary w/b 7th January


First day back at Westminster after the winter recess. It’s always good to catch up with friends and colleagues at Westminster after any break but there is a palpable air of disbelief and great concern hanging over the place now. The constant echoing of “happy new year” ringing round the halls sounded a little hollow, as at this moment it looks like anything but a “happy” new year. The Brexit vote had been delayed with the hope that the one and only deal that is on offer could be improved but it hasn’t so instead more time has been wasted. I was on the order paper for oral questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. I took the opportunity to raise a specific local Universal Credit case and the minister has agreed to discuss this with me. The reaction from some heartless folk in social media has been appalling. They have been very quick to jump to the wrong conclusions and sit in judgement on a person they have no knowledge of. There was an urgent question on some legal aspects of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. A great deal of the focus was on the awarding of a ferry service contract in the event of a no deal, to a company that has no ferries and has never operated any. The usual methods of scrutinising such contracts was waved under regulation 32 which can only happen in extreme unforeseeable circumstances. Given that the UK Government has admitted to having people working on scenarios for two years now I am more than surprised that they can’t reveal what the extreme unforeseeable circumstances are. It’s almost like they are incapable of following their own rules. In the evening I attended and spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Catalonia. The deputy speaker Josef Costa also spoke and the following day met with his counterpart at Westminster.


The Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence on the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), in-particular aspects gas of how the ombudsman handles complaints against the NHS in England and Wales. I had a private meeting Charles and Liz Ritchie whose son Jack tragically committed suicide as a direct result of his gambling addiction. Charles and Liz have launched an organisation (Gambling with Lives) to work as a pressure group to change the laws around gambling, gambling advertising and gambling education and support. I wish them well with this venture and I shall continue to give them as much support as I can. The end of the evening was dominated by one vote. The outcome is that the UK government will have to come up with a new plan within three days if the EU withdrawal deal is rejected next Tuesday.


My first engagement was a Delegated Legislation committee. This was mostly rubber stamping changes from the Finance Bill to improve the investment in the oil and gas sector. It doesn’t go as far as I would like but we have to work with what we have so I was t about to oppose the amendments.

Prime Ministers Questions was another poor event but that was made up for at least in entertainment value by the subsequent rash of points of order. For the best part of an hour the Conservative and Unionist Party and then the Labour Party ripped into each other over the legitimacy of the speaker allowing an amendment to the Withdraw Bill. Conservatives in particular were apoplectic with rage each adamant that they were right and anything else was a constitutional outrage. When I was leaving the chamber a very senior ex Conservative cabinet minister said to me “once again the only party that gained anything from that was the Scottish National Party”. He wasn’t wrong. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) met and changed our name to the APPG on Gambling Related Harm. This allows us to extent our areas of investigation. The FOBT campaign has moulder us into an effective campaigning group and we are not going to stop now.


Due to the change in chamber business and the rescheduling of the meaningful vote, Thursday suddenly became very quiet. I took the opportunity to catch up on select committee reports. Sometimes, because I am on two select committees, it’s beneficial to take time away from Westminster and read up on the ongoing enquiries otherwise it can all rush past in a blur. I caught the four PM flight home.


I visited the newly opened dentist surgery in Kilmacolm. This is one of the latest ventures by Puneet Gupta. It’s great to see local people investing in local businesses. Last time I was there it was a bank. I never know which is more uncomfortable, a visit to my financial adviser or a visit to my Dentist. Given that they are both my daughters I should say they are both pain free and beneficial. In the afternoon I visited the police command and control centre in Govan.

On Saturday I shall be attending the beach clean-up at Lunderston Bay and then working on various town centre stalls where I am gathering signatures for a petition to halt the roll out of Universal Credit.

Scrap Two Child Cap & Rape Clause

This latest Tory U-turn on welfare support does not go anywhere near far enough. The two child cap and rape clause is still set to push hundreds of thousands of children into poverty and must be scrapped.

This disgraceful UK Government policy has been condemned by the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and a multitude of charities and welfare advice professionals. It is discriminatory at its core, and hits women and BAME families hardest – which the DWP is well aware of.  I congratulate the efforts of my colleague, Alison Thewliss MP, in continuing to hold the UK Government to account over this policy.

If the Tories are not willing to scrap this hated policy for everyone then they should devolve the powers to the Scottish Parliament so we can build a truly fair and equal social security system that meets Scotland’s needs and values.


FOBTs & Finance Bill

As the Finance Bill faces its final reading in the Commons, the SNP is more determined than ever to keep the pressure on the Tories to deliver on their promises on the £2 stake for FOBTs. Any backtracking on these promises would renege on the tireless efforts of campaigners and reverse real progress on this issue.

The next stage in the campaign is to consider the health impact of gambling addiction and it would be totally unacceptable for the tories to use use parliamentary tricks to avoid a public health review on the Bill’s gambling provisions.

The Tory Budget has failed to deliver any positive news for Scotland and the SNP will not stand by whilst the UK government prepare to embark on a Brexit path – which Scotland did not vote for – that will cause havoc to Scotland’s economy.

Whether it’s ensuring that Ministers deliver on Fixed Odds betting Terminals or opposing a No Deal Brexit, the SNP are leading opposition to Theresa May’s disunited Tory government.