Westminster diary w/b 16th October

Monday

I delayed my departure to London so I could visit Financial Fitness along with Councillor Liz Robertson. Financial Fitness provide an invaluable service helping people negotiate their way through the trials and tribulations of modern life during these days of Conservative government austerity. With Universal Credit taking six weeks to provide the first payment, PIP assessments appeals taking nineteen weeks in Inverclyde and food bank referrals up by nearly seventy percent, Financial Fitness have a hugely important role to play in supporting those most vulnerable in our society. A quick dash to the airport was of course followed by a slow delay! I arrived in time to make the start of the select committee on transport. It was an interesting session with the Secretary of State for transport, Chris Grayling, giving evidence to the committee on his department’s priorities, the electrification u-turn and of course Brexit. I also took the opportunity to quiz him about coastguard cuts.

Tuesday

Started with the select committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC). The Institute of Government provided us with a private briefing on government bodies and their current suitability to handle Brexit. I then met with Sabrinna Valisce. She had been a prostitute working in New Zealand and had supported the decriminalisation of the purchasing of sex. Once the law was changed she witnessed the horrendous consequences. She now supports the Nordic Model where the selling of sex is decriminalised but the purchase is still illegal. It is tremendously brave of Sabrinna to tell her story and she deserves to be listened to. I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Emmanuel Cocher (consular general France). We usually only meet during the wreath laying ceremony at the Cross of Lorraine on Remembrance Sunday. This time we had time to discuss Brexit (what else?) and the special relationship between Scotland and France. After that I was up in front of the Backbench business committee with Caroline Lucas. We are jointly bidding for a debate on the treaty for nuclear disarmament that 122 countries have endorsed but not the UK. I dropped in to an event on responsible gambling and then attended a debate on the Use of devolved powers in Scotland. The debate was no more than an opportunity for the Scottish conservatives to talk down the Scottish Government and Scottish parliament. Which was a great shame as it could have been a joint attempt to improve the powers at Holyrood.

Wednesday

I started the day with the Devolved and Constitutional powers group. Most of the conversation was about the repatriation of powers from Brussels to the UK and avoiding a power grab at Westminster. I then met constitution Rob Behrens. Rob is the parliamentary and health service ombudsman and works with the select committee on public administration and the constitution, as well as being held to account by it. It’s an interesting situation. I dropped in to Macmillan’s parliamentary coffee morning and managed a slice of chocolate cake before heading to prime Ministers question time. I should have stayed for more cake. In the last year Inverclyde has received over fourteen million pounds in big lottery funding so I dropped in to their event to catch up and assure them it is being spent wisely. The main debate in the House of Commons was to pause and fix the universal credit roll out. It was an ill-tempered affair and having been roundly criticised the government then abstained on the vote. At the end of the evening I caught up with a delegation from Catalonia that had come to report on the recent referendum there. During the day I managed to squeeze in a blood test for anaemia and get a flu jab.

Thursday

First thing in the morning I travelled out to Glazier’s Hall at London Bridge where I chaired the Westminster energy environment and transport forum. It was an opportunity for politicians and business people to discuss a wide range of topics but primarily large infrastructure projects. The main concern from the business sector was a lack of long term planning from government. It was heartening to hear so many people cite the Scottish government’s good practice in infrastructure, broadband and renewables, not perfect but moving in the right direction. I caught a mid-afternoon flight home which for the young boy in the seat in front of me was a voyage of vomit, sick bags and wet wipes. I hope he is feeling better now.

Friday

I had my monthly catch up with Inverclyde Council Chief Executive, Aubrey Fawcett where we discussed a range of topics and I visited Cloch housing association (Care and Repair) with Councillor John Crowther. The remainder of the day was consumed by case work.

Advertisements

Wear it Pink

 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. This is why I’m urging everyone in Inverclyde to take part in wear it pink on Friday 20 October. It’s such a fun and easy way to support Breast Cancer Now’s vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.

Anyone can take part in wear it pink, which brings together schools, workplaces and communities. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink event at home, work or school, and make a donation to Breast Cancer Now. Whatever you do, you’re helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.

 

Universal Credit Debate

The UK Government say Universal Credit is their flagship welfare policy. However, it has been nothing short of a disaster – and for those it has failed so far in pilot areas, such as Inverclyde, it has been a personal catastrophe.

Earlier this week, Inverclyde Foodbank announced a 70% rise in foodbank usage this year.  They blame this on the issue of Universal Credit and people getting into debt and rent arrears, while they wait 6 weeks for a payment.

My office continues to receive contact from constituents who have been left without financial support through Universal Credit.  It’s time the UK Government listened to the concerns of my constituents, Citizens Advice Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group and others, who are calling for a halt to the rollout and the system fixed.

Lottery Funding for Inverclyde

I’m pleased to learn that Inverclyde has received over £14.6m of funding, in the past 5 years which has been provided to people and communities.

Previously, I held an event at the Beacon Arts Centre, alongside CVS Inverclyde, to allow groups and organisations to speak, face to face, with National Lottery representatives to learn what funding is available and how to apply for it.  Learning that 174 projects have been supported in Inverclyde is to be welcomed.

If you have a project idea and want to know how Big Lottery Scotland might be able to help, simply get in touch at advicescotland@biglotteryfund.org.uk or call our advice line on 0300 123 7110.

Basic income

I wholeheartedly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to establish a fund to support local authorities as they develop their own basic income schemes. The Scottish Government will also task its Poverty and Inequality Commission with drawing together the experiences of these local schemes to inform Government thinking on a Basic Income . They will provide useful data for any country in the world that wishes to build on them.

The Basic Income pilot projects are vitally important to the debate. To design, run and monitor pilots and analyse the results takes a great deal of expertise and effort but they may have the potential to shine a light on any shortcomings – opportunities and ultimately produce solutions.

I believe it’s time for the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead and fund research into the feasibility of a basic income and announce similar measures in the forthcoming UK Budget in November.

 

Responsible Gambling Week

Through my activities on the All-party parliamentary group on FOBTs and visiting the National Problem Gambling Clinic, in London, I have learned a great deal about the issue of gambling related harm and its effects on individuals and their families.

I plan to attend the parliamentary reception for Responsible Gambling Week on Tuesday to speak to all sectors of the UK gambling industry (arcades, bingo clubs, bookmakers, casinos and online). 

It’s important that people who may be suffering with gambling problems seek out the necessary help and guidance.  The National Gambling Helpline can be contacted on 0808 8020133.

BeGambleAware – https://www.begambleaware.org/rgweek

Anthony Nolan

Despite stem cell transplant patients often being known as “patients for life” due to the long-term side-effects of the treatment, many patients are not receiving adequate support for the physical, practical and psychological challenges they experience during recovery. According to research by Anthony Nolan, one in five are not offered any specialist care to help with their recovery, which includes access to physiotherapists, counsellors, and fertility experts.

Anthony Nolan is calling on health commissioners across the UK to urgently review the care arrangements they have in place for transplant recipients once they leave hospital, to ensure that patients and their families can continue to access vital support and services. National commissioners pay for any treatment needed by patients for the first 100 days after transplant. After this point, responsibility for funding services passes to local commissioners – in England, the patients’ local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). However, a Freedom of Information request by Anthony Nolan found that at present, fewer than one in ten (9%) CCGs have specific arrangements in place.

A number of my constituents have got in touch to bring this issue to my attention, so I know how important it is for people in Inverclyde that stem cell transplant patients and their families receive appropriate support. No patient’s recovery should be made more difficult by a lack of care and support, and that’s why I’m backing Anthony Nolan’s campaign, urging health commissioners to review the care arrangements they have in place once transplant patients leave hospital.

 

Universal credit

The rollout of Universal Credit continues to be fraught with problems and my office is hearing stories from constituents, on a near daily basis, of issues in receiving welfare support in a timely manner. This is why I recently raised these concerns over Universal Credit at a meeting with the UK Government’s Minister for Employment.

MP’s from all parties are highlighting their concerns about the rollout of Universal Credit and I recently added my name in support of a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to halt the rollout until certain elements are fixed.

The Scottish Government’s decision to allow new claims, in full service Universal Credit areas such as Inverclyde, the choice of changing the frequency of their payments from once to twice monthly, and to have the housing cost element of their Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord is welcomed.

 

Catalonia

After a week during which I attended a three day congress on Basic Income and listened to speakers from thirty three countries from across the globe promote the ethos of humanity and after spending two days engaging with the leading experts of Portugal explain their attitude and approach to drug reform, based on respect, the scenes of police brutality emanating from Catalonia on Sunday the 1st of October were both startling and a cruel reminder of how quickly society can break down when the powers that be lack those ethics. When enforcing their wishes is all that matters, then respect and humanity are early casualties.  

The Spanish government made the case that the independence referendum was illegal. They then took the stance that it would not go ahead. The Spanish government had alternatives, they could have allowed the referendum to take place and then declare it null and void or they could have respected the outcome. Instead they deployed police from around Spain to Catalonia and their role was to disrupt and dissuade by use of intimidation and violence. I had a number of friends who were attending the referendum as observers. They are not hot headed or overly emotional people. They have all lived lives, travelled, seen a bit of the world, good and bad. To hear their accounts of having to stand back and watch fully grown men dressed in full body armour and a helmet, beat an elderly lady to the ground, throw young girls down stairs and randomly baton youths in an orgy of self promoting violence was both disturbing and damning. When people break the law, they are arrested. There was no attempt to arrest these people, this was all about brute force and ignorance. This was about the heavy hand of a government that hasn’t moved as far from its authoritarian origins as we had all hoped. When their authority was threatened they lashed out.  

Hopefully those innocents injured on Sunday will heal soon. But the self inflicted damage that Spain has inflicted on its own democracy, its standing within the European Union and its own citizens, in all parts of Spain, will take much longer to mend. While the Spanish government’s intentions were clearly designed to be detrimental to Catalonia, in the end all they achieved was self harming on an international scale.

 

Drugs policy discussion

‘Should the UK be taking a health based approach to drugs policy?’ will feature a panel of speakers who will provide their thoughts and experiences on UK drugs policy.  Alongside this, there will be a live audience who will participate in a question and answer session, chaired by Mr Cowan, on the issues raised by the panel.

The event will take place at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock on Thursday 5th October from 7pm.  The panel will include the following speakers;

  • Neil Woods, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and author of the book ‘Good Cop, Bad War’ (My undercover life inside Britain’s biggest drug gangs),
  • Andrew Horne, Director of Operations in Scotland, Addaction,
  • Anthony Gielty, The Haven (Kilmacolm) and author of the book, ‘Out of Darkness’ (The Transformation Of One Of Scotland’s Most Violent Prisoners),
  • Rod Thomson, The Royal College of Nursing,
  • Mike McCarron, Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland.

The event will be live streamed by Addaction UK on their Facebook page – @addactionUK.

Drugs have been part of our society for thousands of years. Over time attitudes towards them have changed.  I am seeking to engage with people from all walks of life to hear their views and define the approach we should take now.

This event is designed to allow the audience to listen and learn from acknowledged experts who may advocate for different actions. This is an opportunity to raise awareness and become better informed in an extremely complex problem.

The Scottish government is embarking on a drugs policy review, I want inverclyde to contribute to the outcome.