Safe Drug Consumption Rooms (SDCR) – Barcelona

The number of drug related deaths in Scotland last year was 934. Deaths have been increasing every year and unless we take action that is only going to continue. The U.K. Government’s drug policy which is enshrined in the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act is the problem. It has been proven that in the correct circumstances drugs don’t kill you. But by criminalising users we have driven them into the shadows of society and we have stigmatised those who are problematic users. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for organised crime. From kids being recruited to ‘county lines’ , users being manipulated to use different substances, needles being shared with the subsequent spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, social workers and support workers often powerless to intervene and law enforcement agencies constrained by the laws of the land. We have created the perfect environment for criminals to produce and supply while protecting their marketplace with escalating violence. The U.K. is not the first country to get it wrong but we have been slower than others to take action to rectify the situation. It’s a multi layered complicated problem and to address all the issues will require major changes but one solution that has been trialled in other countries are Safe Drug Consumption Rooms (SDCR). Glasgow City Council in conjunction with NHS GGC have been investigating the opening of such a facility but have been thwarted by the existing laws. Last year I visited facilities in Portugal where they have decriminalised drugs and adopted a health based approach to problematic users. Medical practitioners and law enforcement officers in Portugal are united in their support for SDCR. This year I took the opportunity while visiting Catalonia to speak at an Unconditional Basic Income conference to visit the SDCR in Barcelona but first I talked to the staff at the Public Health Agency of Catalonia. They emphasised the need to adopt a humane approach to problematic drug use. They have opened eleven SDCR in Catalonia. And nobody is imprisoned for possession of drugs for personal use. They estimate that to be about one week’s worth of supply. Their attitude is that SDCR are part of the primary care package that is available to all citizens, including immigrants, legal or illegal. I visited three SDCR under the supervision of Xavier Major. The first is part of a health centre in the middle of a housing scheme with a large gypsy population. Many people were there to visit their own GP practice with the usual ailments. The others fell into one of three categories. First there are homeless people and the centre offers clean clothes, showers and a social worker along with kindness and caring. The second category are people who are injecting but don’t want to engage with the social services. They are provided with needles, wipes, a small tray to mix their drugs and condoms. When needles and condoms are provided the risk of transmitting or catching HIV, Hepatitis C or any other blood born virus is greatly reduced. Of the 180,000 needles handed out 110,000 are returned safely after use. The third category are those injecting drugs that are happy to use the SDCR. The same materials are provided but there is a greater opportunity to talk with the users and build a care package for them. The needles and wipes do not leave the room and therefore can’t contaminate the surrounding area. Last year there were 86,000 consumptions on site and 136 overdoses. Due to their adoption of a naloxone programme, nobody died. I was heartened to hear that the programme came about after input from Kirsten Horsburgh at the Scottish Drugs Forum. It takes eleven members of staff to run this facility and it is open from 10am to 8pm and the needle exchange is open until midnight. I was surprised to see that across the road was a primary school and behind that a police station but here in Barcelona the community accept problematic drug users as a health issue and that is reflected in their approach. The second SDCR I visited was a smaller version of the first but it has been integrated into a psychiatric hospital and is run by psychiatrists. And the last was the mobile unit. It is bright yellow and parks up in specific areas at the same time each day. It reminded me of a smaller version of the mobile blood donation units we have. All three units were staffed by marvellous people who treat their clients with care and compassion. They save lives and help put them back together again. It’s time we changed the law in the U.K. to allow access to such facilities. People are dying waiting.

 

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Basic Income Conference – Barcelona

Within the basic income movement we need to get our act together. And the first item on the agenda is the name. It’s a bit like that scene in ‘The Life of Brian’ with the confusion around the many different popular people’s fronts. In Barcelona we just had the Unconditional Basic Income Europe Network event. I have always referred to it as ‘Universal Basic Income’ but in the interest of peace and progress I can accept ‘unconditional’. It is after all a basic principle of the subject. Nobody should be means tested or evaluated before receiving their basic income. Unlike the horrendous punitive process we currently have with PIP and ESA. On Friday the event was hosted at Barcelona Activa which is the Barcelona City Council’s development agency. The speakers representing the projects in Barcelona and A Coruña both expressed their commitment to Basic Income but also the frustration in running such schemes. The logistics behind running a full blown Unconditional Basic Income scheme at a national level are simpler than running pilot projects for a host of reasons including fear of losing out on the existing system, continuing to be stigmatised and the difficulties in making it truly unconditional when working with a subset of society. The economists who spoke strongly supported using consumption tax, European corporation tax, carbon tax, green fiscal instruments and money created by the European Central Bank to fund a UBI. Of course the fly in the ointment for the U.K. is Brexit. As the EU is considering innovative solutions we are turning our back on the EU. This was further compounded by a discussion that the common agricultural policy could be used to facilitate a UBI specifically for farmers. With farmers numbers dropping and the average age increasing, this is an area of employment that needs serious attention. One striking presentation came from Serbia, which is not in the E.U. but they are considering UBI to address their massive emigration problem. On average 35,000 people leave each year to work abroad. The main driver being poverty. Not surprisingly then the priority of the Serbian project is to eradicate poverty in their homeland. With the advancement of automation and the much heralded gig economy our workforce is going to change. Zero hour contracts have created a precarious lifestyle for many. And as that phenomenon continues to grow our already creaking welfare system shall come under increasing pressure. I was asked recently, when is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, twenty five years ago. If we are wise we can plan ahead and offset a very real threat to our society. But we have to start planting the seeds today. The four pilot projects in Scotland, that are currently in their planning stages, could prove to be hugely significant in determining the viability of UBI not just here but in a wider European if not global platform.

Sign up for UK Parliament Week 2018

You don’t need any prior knowledge about the UK Parliament to get involved. Your event can be big or small, public or private. There’s no limit to how you take part, from holding a debate or mock election, to organising guest speakers or even an online event.

When you register to take part you receive a free UK Parliament Week partner kit with resources to help you run your event including: an activity booklet, a ballot box, bunting, posters, pin badges, a UK Parliament Week placard and a Votes for Women sash!

Whatever group or organisation you belong to, from primary and secondary schools to uniformed organisations, faith organisations or community groups, there is something for everyone in UK Parliament Week. Let your family, friends and colleagues know about it too.

Find out more and register for your free UK Parliament Week partner kit at www.ukparliamentweek.org

 

Inverclyde Constituency Boundary Changes

Final recommendations on the proposed new parliamentary boundaries have been published today.

Under the proposals, ‘Greenock and Inverclyde’ would be renamed ‘Clyde Coast’ and the seat would include Langbank, Bishopton, Largs, Skelmorlie, Fairlie and Millport. This would increase the size of the electorate from about 57,000 to 75,000.

In December 2017 I lodged my objection to the proposals outlined at that time and the revised proposals published today have done little to reassure me.

If these electorate boundaries were to be approved then Scotland would lose approximately 10% of its seats. Reducing the number of democratically elected members is an outrage at a time when there are 791 unelected members of the House of Lords.

My four staff members already have a high volume of constituency cases, over 5,000 since 2015, a problem exacerbated by Inverclyde lack’s of a CAB and the closure of the Port Glasgow Job Centre and other advice services.

Increasing the electorate by almost a third without providing additional resources will inevitably impact on the level of service my office is able to offer constituents.

Part of the problem is that the boundary commission were given the remit to reduce the number to 600. They were not asked to design constituencies that would give the electorate a stronger and more representative voice. They were not asked to design a system that helped elected members do their job better. Westminster got what it asked for.

I will continue to oppose these proposals when they are brought before parliament.

You can view my full response to the December 2017 consultation [here].

Organ Donation Week 2018

Organ Donation Week provides an opportunity for the promotion of organ donation nationally and locally.

More people in Scotland are requiring a transplant and it’s hoped the legislation being brought forward by the Scottish Government will increase organ donation as we move to a soft opt out system.

I would encourage people to learn more about Organ Donation Week and what is happening in Scotland. 

https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/news-and-campaigns/news/save-the-date-organ-donation-week-2018

 

Back to the Future – Inverclyde’s Shipyards

As an elected politician I do what all good citizens do, I look at our society and wonder what can we do to improve it. My office deals with constituents every day that have problems related to housing, welfare, law and order, anti-social behaviour and a range of issues that blight our communities. We work hard and use every resource available to us to resolve as many of these cases as we can. The truth is that we can’t solve them all and people’s lives will continue to be detrimentally affected by them. I am continually reminded however that while we address each case on its own merit the root causes are often the same. Areas of high deprivation continue to show higher incidents of crime, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. People living there are less socially mobile while their educational achievements and aspirations can suffer. That isn’t a condemnation of individuals but the fact remains that people in communities that are impoverished have fewer opportunities, poorer health and die younger.

Yet we have a solution. It’s not a magic wand and it’s not simple but it works every single time and it benefits the individual and the community at large. If you look across the globe the areas of greatest deprivation are the areas with the highest unemployment. Jobs make communities, employment enriches people’s lives, people are happier, better adjusted and family homes become better places to grow up in. Children’s schooling improves as does their health. Employment can be the catalyst for change.

Unfortunately things are not going to get easier. Our society is changing and with the onset of autonomous vehicles and the gig economy, society is going to come under greater pressure. We face huge challenges within the workforce and it’s a matter that will need addressed but here and now in Inverclyde we have opportunities to bring jobs to the area. Jobs that can underpin our community and help create a more solid platform to move forward from. I know Riverside Inverclyde and local council officers are working incredibly hard to maximise our potential which is one of the reasons I get so frustrated when I hear people talking down the ability of local employers. The most recent and most high profile case is Ferguson Marine. When Jim McColl saved the yard from extinction he inherited seven employees. Less than four years later Ferguson Marine employ over three hundred and fifty people including over forty apprentices. That’s three hundred and fifty households benefiting. That’s neighbourhoods and communities that gain positivity.

The value of employment is not just financial and should never be underestimated. These four years have been difficult. While building ships Ferguson Marine have also been rebuilding their own facilities. They have invested in the yard, the buildings and the workforce. They operate in an extremely competitive market place and yet they are growing and diversifying too. The diversity is hugely important but it comes at a cost. Developing new technologies and building the first of any type of vessel, as Ferguson Marine are doing, essentially means you are building a prototype. In any industry this entails extra cost and a longer build time. The workforce may need re-skilled and the workplace re-tooled. It is simply more challenging and more costly in most aspects but the rewards in the long term can be worth it.

Negative and ill-informed publicity damages the reputation of the yard. Talking it down, keeping it small, undermines the potential of the yard, its ability to bid, to recruit and ultimately to be successful. Potential customers can be put off if a local yard is not supported by the media and politicians. People considering their next career move want to join an upbeat, vibrant, innovative environment but if that’s not the image being projected then they may move elsewhere. I am not asking for blind faith, nor am I offering pie in the sky projects with no anchor in reality, I am saying we should weigh up all the challenges and benefits and support the option that is best for our community.

Ferguson Marine is now a modern functioning shipyard, employing highly skilled and motivated people. It has pulled itself back from the abyss and has a bright future. That successful future will benefit Inverclyde in some very obvious ways and also in many intangible aspects of our community. How do we measure confidence, stability and aspiration? We as a community should be rallying to support Ferguson Marine and give it every chance to expand and grow. They have shown their commitment to Inverclyde, the Scottish Government have shown their commitment to Ferguson Marine, now it’s time that Inverclyde reciprocated.

Implementation of £2 stake on FOBTs

As vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) I am aware, from evidence and testimonies received, how these machines create gambling related harm and can leave lives in ruin.

While I welcome the efforts of the Minister for Sport in securing a £2 maximum unit stake, I am frustrated at the delays in bringing about the change.  I believe HM Treasury are the cause of these delays and every day it takes to enforce the change is another day for people to gamble hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on FOBTs.

I urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use the upcoming UK Budget to outline when the implementation of a £2 maximum unit stake on FOBTs will occur.  I believe this should happen in early 2019 and no later.

 

HMRC related bogus calls

It’s worrying to learn that particularly elderly and vulnerable people in Inverclyde are being targeted by fraudsters and thieves. I would urge residents to be aware of such calls and if they suspect malicious activity to contact the police.

Also, HMRC are keen to know about such examples and you can report full details of the scam by email to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk, including the:

  • date of the call
  • phone number used
  • content of the call

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/phishing-and-bogus-emails-hm-revenue-and-customs-examples/phishing-emails-and-bogus-contact-hm-revenue-and-customs-examples#bogus-phone-calls

 

 

Universal Credit sanctions

Statistics on benefit sanctions released last week revealed that the proportion of claimants sanctioned under Universal Credit (2.8%) is nearly ten times higher than under Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) (0.3%), and nearly 30 times higher than Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (0.1%).

In Inverclyde, 159 claimants of Universal Credit were sanctioned in May 2018.  It was revealed that the average Universal Credit sanction lasts for longer than JSA and ESA sanctions.

The UK government’s Universal Credit system has been deeply flawed and harmful since its roll-out. 

With financial support being shamefully pulled from claimants who have already faced delays in Universal Credit, as well as the direct link between people who have been sanctioned and the rise in foodbank use and poverty, the UK government is pushing people into crisis.

I plan to visit the local Greenock jobcentre in the near future to learn more about the claimant commitment and the sanctions being imposed on individuals.

 

Discussion on drugs policy

When problematic drug users look for appropriate help it can sometimes be difficult to find. Family members are often reluctant to step forward in the early stages, hoping they will simply stop using and not wanting to out their family member or maybe a friend as a criminal. Even in the very early stages the criminal status gets in the way of recovery. The producer is a criminal, the distributor is a criminal, the supplier is a criminal, the small time dealer is a criminal. None of these people want the users to stop. And the users are powerless to alter the system that is dragging them under.

Kids are drawn into the chain of command. Selling a bit here and there to their mates and slowly being groomed to sell more. When you are a kid in a deprived estate surrounded by people using you may be in a position where you can see no way out. You may suffer from a lack of education or a poverty of aspiration. Yet you can sell pills in clubs and make a very tidy living from a young age. What are you going to do? You are trapped, as much a victim as any user. And you have no power over the supply, the usage or the system.

The law enforcement agencies that are charged with halting the production and supply are often required to put themselves in a position of extreme danger. Working undercover or running informants involves getting close to dangerous people with a lot to lose. The violence used by criminals to protect their share of the drug market is growing year upon year. Sending people to prison doesn’t rehabilitate them, it is more likely to condemn them to a life of crime and punishment. And the law enforcement agencies are powerless to alter the system that wastes their time, energy, abilities and taxpayers money.

Medical professionals and support workers are caught between a criminal justice system that prosecutes and persecutes in equal measures. Funding is often based on producing measurable results. Even if these results are not the most appropriate. Those seeking to help have their hands tied by a legal system constructed around the misuse of drugs act 1971. The obstacles placed in the way of establishing safe drug consumption rooms being a case in point. Bad legislation is harming people and stopping the help that they require from being provided. And the medics, the carers, the support workers are powerless to affect the change that is so obvious.

The problematic users, the kids on estates, the law enforcers, the medical professionals, the support workers, are all fighting a losing battle because they can’t change the system.

And that is why as drugs deaths increase, the crime rate surrounding drugs increases, the violence escalates year in year out and more and more people suffer, those responsible for the existing system should get on with fixing it. And the only people that can do that are the Members of Parliament at Westminster. The U.K. government has the power but it lacks the knowledge, the desire or the compassion to legislate for change that would revolutionise health care and relieve the burden from the judicial system. We have allowed this to happen. Largely by turning a blind eye to the problem. It is time to apologise to all the victims of the war on drugs and make those changes. MPs created the system. MPs can fix it. It is time to legalise, regulate, educate and support. We can’t win the war on drugs but we can win the peace.