Medical cannabis under prescription

The law was changed for good reason and the public are rightly outraged that the new policy has been introduced in a way that means these medicines are legal, but no-one can get them.  The stories of the families are heart-breaking.  All have been refused access.  Some have been told to go abroad!  Some have even proved that medical cannabis works for their child but have still been blocked. 

I’ve offered them my continuing support and previously met with the Minster for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, to press the UK Government to intervene and break this deadlock. I was pleased to be one of over 100 co-signatories on the letter to Matt Hancock urging him to intervene.

End Our Pain can be contacted on campaign@endourpain.org

 

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Gambling related harm

When we think of harm that can be caused by drugs, alcohol and tobacco we may have very specific ideas of what that harm looks like.

When it comes to gambling, the harm may not be obvious. But it’s there.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) propose the following definition of gambling related harm should be used in British policy and practice.

“Gambling-related harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. “

Debt incurred from gambling creates instability, insecurity and can lead to bankruptcy and in the extreme, result in criminal activities.

Relationships can be disrupted and often leads to emotional and social isolation. This can lead to mistrust and erodes cohesive relationships.

The consequences can include psychological distress such as feelings of shame, stigma and guilt. Anxiety levels increase, depression and even suicide can be the final outcome.

According to Gambling with Lives, around 4-11% of suicides were related to gambling, the equivalent to 250-620 deaths per year in the UK.

These figures are based on research carried out by Paul Wong, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2010) and research from Louis Appleby at the University of Manchester (2017).

The harm is real and it is growing while the research and support is massively underfunded.

Currently the industry pays a voluntary levy which raises around 10 to maybe 14 million pounds a year. That money is used to fund support for problematic gamblers and campaigns to educate and hopefully reduce harm.

The total gross gambling yield for Great Britain between April 2017 and March 2018 was £14.4 billion, a 4.5% increase from the previous year. The annual sum which gambling firms win from their customers has risen by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005 (came into force 2007).

A statutory levy of 1% would guarantee 140 million pounds a year and that sort of money, in the right hands, could do some good.

Additionally, because it is voluntary, the amount raised can vary from year to year and therefore budgeting for long term treatment is extremely precarious.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for financial recompense from gambling companies just to improve their public image.

A sponsorship deal here and a charitable donation there. These are no more than fig leaves to hide their own embarrassment. And they should be embarrassed.

How can you recompense a family that have lost their son? Or a child that has lost their father. I am not asking for token gestures.

I am asking gambling companies to stop doing the damage in the first place. Rather than just asking punters to gamble responsibly, run your organisations responsibly.

And while we are talking about responsible working practices, companies are gathering data pertaining to the habits of online gamblers. And astonishingly they are closing down accounts of people who are successful and winning, even very small amounts, while targeting and encouraging vulnerable gamblers that are losing to continue.

This callous disregard for the welfare of their customers is tantamount to gross negligence.

And where to start when it comes to advertising?

Live televised sporting events are swamped with betting adverts and inducements. The impression is given that the sporting event in its own right is not sufficient entertainment unless we take a punt on the outcome.

And while punters are being encouraged at every turn, the ease with which gamblers can sign up to an online operator is of great concern.

Punters can gamble twenty four seven and 365 days a year. There is no cooling off period.

Credit cards, pay pal accounts and phone accounts are accepted as a means of payment.

To make it perfectly blunt the gambling companies have stacked the odds against the punters and the damage that is being done needs redressed.

 

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/culture/opinion/house-commons/102646/ronnie-cowan-mp-gambling-companies-have-callous

Ofcom – Nuisance calls

Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office have provided an update on their joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls and text messages.  The update highlights progress made during the course of 2018 in a number of areas. This includes:

  • industry action to block nuisance calls at source;
  • targeted enforcement action to ensure companies making nuisance calls are identified and punished; and new and
  • strengthened regulatory powers to better protect consumers.Nuisance calls is an issue which is regularly raised with me by Inverclyde constituents who highlight their frustration and anger at receiving such calls.

If you’re fed up receiving nuisance calls and messages then Ofcom website provides information on how to do something about it.  Please visit

I welcome the further measures being taken by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to tackle nuisance calls and text messages.

www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/problems/tackling-nuisance-calls-and-messages

Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

Today, Secretary of State Amber Rudd announced that disabled pensioners will no longer have to undergo repeat assessments to claim payments. The announcement failed to mention those who are forced to endure the punishing reassessment process, people with mental health problems whose conditions are often overlooked by assessors, and people with fluctuating conditions who can end up missing out on this vital payment.

Only today, my office was contacted by a constituent who indicated they may lose their Motability car in 8 weeks as their Personal Independence Payments (PIP) have been reduced by the Department for Work and Pensions.  The Motability car is a lifeline for said constituent and I know of many other cases where the car provides them with freedoms they would otherwise not have had.

Quite simply, these tweaks are not good enough – the Tories are still presiding over a social security system where compassion is the exception

Scotland is taking a wholly different approach, proposing to significantly reduce the need for face-to-face assessments, introducing rolling awards with no set end points and ensuring those with fluctuating conditions will not face additional reviews – this is what a system based on dignity and respect looks like.

As of October 2018, the PIP ‘Claims in Payment’ for Inverclyde was 4,373.

 

Fairtrade Fortnight

The Fairtrade Foundation’s campaign She Deserves a Living Income is shining a light on the poverty facing cocoa farmers in West Africa, where 60% of cocoa is grown, who earn as little as 74p per day and are unable to pay for essentials like food, send their children to school or buy medicine if they fall sick.

I am delighted to support Fairtrade Fortnight and the She Deserves a Living Income campaign, which celebrates the hard work of women cocoa farmers and calls on all of us to do more to increase their incomes.

In Inverclyde, I know there are many businesses and people who support Fairtrade and will be out there buying and gifting Fairtrade chocolate and other goods to help farmers get a better deal…”

To find out more or to get involved in Fairtrade Fortnight visit http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/get-involved/current-campaigns/fairtrade-fortnight

 

BoastYourBroadband

On a near regular basis my constituency office is contacted by people regarding broadband access and speeds.  Many have been frustrated with the download and upload speeds available. 

However, over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of work by the Scottish Government and service providers to improve broadband speeds, in Inverclyde, and we are now above the national average for receiving superfast broadband.

I would encourage people in Inverclyde to visit www.BoostYourBroadband.com website to find out how to get more for less from your broadband.

BoostYourBroadband website – https://www.boostyourbroadband.com/broadband-checker

 

Universal Credit

During my meeting with the Minister for Employment, I highlighted a number of issues which constituents have raised with my office regarding Universal Credit (UC).  For example, people receiving four weekly wages meaning they missing a UC payment at least once a year; Student loans being classed as income and affecting someone’s Universal Credit claim.

I have been campaigning for improvements to Universal Credit since my election in 2015 and have voted against the UK Government’s welfare cuts at every opportunity.  The public petition I have created has been signed by hundreds of Inverclyde constituents who have raised their concerns about the policy.

I hope the Minister will take on-board the issues I have raised and look forward to receiving his written reply as an update in due course.

 

Universal Credit flaws

The link between Universal Credit and soaring foodbank use has long been disputed by senior Tories at Westminster and Holyrood – but the Work and Pensions Secretary has finally admitted that the policy, which has been plagued with delays, has led to widespread poverty.

Amber Rudd yesterday admitted that: “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of universal credit –and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.”

It’s now abundantly clear that the welfare cuts inflicted by the UK Government on people across Scotland are directly forcing vulnerable people into poverty.

I have been campaigning and commenting on the subject of Universal Credit since my election in 2015 and have voted against the UK Government’s welfare cuts at every opportunity.  The public petition I have created has been signed by hundreds of Inverclyde constituents who have raised their concerns about the policy. 

Universal Credit still carries the punitive benefit freeze, two child cap and rape clause as well as the brutal sanctions regime born from ideologically-driven Tory austerity.  I will continue to campaign for further changes to the policy.

 

Drugs policy inquiry

The Health and Social Care Committee is seeking written submissions on the health consequences of illicit drugs policy including on:

Health and harms:

  • What is the extent of health harms resulting from drug use?

Prevention and early intervention:

  • What are the reasons for both the initial and the continued, sustained use of drugs? This refers to the wide spectrum of use, from high-risk use to the normalisation of recreational use.
  • How effective and evidence-based are strategies for prevention and early intervention in managing and countering the drivers of use? This includes whether a whole-system approach is taken.

Treatment and harm reduction:

  • How effective and evidence-based is treatment provision? This refers to both healthcare services and wider agencies, and the extent to which joined-up care pathways operate.
  • Is policy is sufficiently geared towards treatment? This includes the extent to which health is prioritised, in the context of the Government’s criminal justice-led approach.

Best practice:

  • What would a high-quality, evidence-based response to drugs look like?
  • What responses to drugs internationally stand out as particularly innovative and / or relevant, and what evidence is there of impact in these cases?

Accepting written submissions; the closing dates is Monday 18 March 2019.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-and-social-care-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/drugs-policy-inquiry-17-19

Gambling Related Harm

I welcome the measures being announced by the Gambling Commission today as further steps to address gambling related harm.  It must not be simple for people to create gambling accounts without necessary age verification and identity checks.

Yesterday, I met with the Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Wright MP and Minister for Sport, Mims Davies MP to discuss a number of issues relating to gambling addiction such as FOBTs, online advertising rules and the increased prevalence of young people gambling.

I will be proposing a resolution to the upcoming SNP Conference which seeks support for classifying loot boxes as gambling rather than gaming and urging the UK Government to follow the lead of Belgium in banning these in-game options.  If the UK Government do not take the necessary action then the powers should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament to allow it the opportunity to address the problem.