Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

The campaign to see the reduction of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to a £2 maximum unit stake has been a long fought one and I’m pleased to see the implementation of these changes as a measure to address gambling related harm.  According to the Gambling Commissions own figures, the gross gambling yield (GGY) on these machines is £1.7 billion and the total losses that individuals have suffered have been millions of pounds.

Since I was elected to parliament, back in 2015, I have strongly campaigned for more action to address gambling related harm and the impact it has on individuals and their loved ones.  The change to FOBTs has been a cross party led campaign and through the All-party parliamentary group, alongside Carolyn Harris MP and Iain Duncan Smith MP, we’ve managed to get the government to listen and ultimately act.

The wider issue of gambling related harm is rightly received more attention as we learn the true extent of problem gambling in the UK.  Some of the emerging challenges I believe, and which requires further action, is the link between young people and gambling, particularly on loot boxes and skin games.  Added to this, the online gambling market and gambling advertising are areas which also need addressed.

I hope the FOBT decision has served as a wake-up call to the UK Government that further action is required on gambling related harm and I will continue to campaign on this subject, working with both the industry and charities, such as Gambling with Lives, to ensure more is done to protect vulnerable people who are exposed to gambling.

 

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Brexit – Indicative votes

Dear Constituent,

I am further writing to provide an update on the Brexit process as you have previously contacted me about this subject.

As you may be aware, last night there were a series of votes on possible Brexit outcomes, as alternatives to the Prime Minister’s disastrous deal.  I want to take you through the options that were before us last night and the reasons I voted the way I did.

These were the first round of indicative votes on potential options and we voted knowing some of them will come back, hopefully modified on Monday for further consideration. Our priority last night was therefore to ensure our first preference regarding Brexit – no Brexit at all – was supported. Should these options prove not to work we will then consider whether there are further compromises we need to make to stop a hard Brexit outcome.

Firstly the SNP put forward an option that would mean the UK could not leave the EU on any deal without first having received consent from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I am sure you will agree that this should be an important principle for the UK Government to follow. Indeed, the EU operates by having to achieve consensus of all its nation states, sadly the UK is not such a union of equals. Unfortunately, our motion was not selected by the Speaker to be voted on.

Turning to the votes that did take place:

Option B from Tory MP John Baron was to leave the UK without a deal, the SNP obviously voted against this deeply damaging proposition.

Option D from Tory MP Nick Boles regarding a type of customs union. The SNP abstained on this as it did not go far enough on the critical issues of freedom of movement nor did it cover the need for membership of the single market. This may be an issue that is returned to in a modified form on Monday.

Option H from Tory MP George Eustice regarding EFTA and EEA. The SNP voted against this as it is simply not going to happen.

Option J from Kenneth Clarke regarding a UK wide customs union was another we abstained on for similar reasons to that of the Nick Boles option and is one that may return on Monday.

Option K from Jeremy Corbyn was about Labour’s alternative plan which we abstained on as it supports Brexit taking place and has a rather woolly and unrealistic proposition for the future relationship.

Option L from my colleague Joanna Cherry was supported by the SNP as it would mean stopping Brexit if we were within days of a no deal Brexit. It would give us a way out.

Labour MP Margaret Beckett proposed option M, which meant that no Brexit deal could be passed by the House without being put to a referendum first. This again would have been a route to stopping Brexit.

Finally option O from Tory Marcus Fysh was opposed by the SNP as it was another that sought a damaging no deal Brexit.

Unfortunately, no option considered last night achieved a majority, but I hope this helps to explain not only the SNP’s strategy last night, but also the reasons I voted the way I did.

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to fight hard to stop Brexit, to protect the interests of the people of Scotland and to provide rational arguments in the face of the collapsing Tory Government and Labour opposition parties. It remains the case that in spite of our best efforts and arguments we may not be able to save the UK from itself. If Brexit does come to pass the people of Scotland will need to consider carefully what options we have open to us to protect our interests and move on to a more positive destination.

Yours sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

No Minister for Disabled People in UK Govt

The UK Government are completely failing to do the day job – as Theresa May’s government collapses into crisis and chaos at the expense of the whole country.

At a time when Scotland and the UK face the greatest threat to jobs and living standards with Brexit, the Tories are selfishly focused on their own narrow party interests and bitter internal divisions.

The fact that this UK Government thinks it’s even remotely acceptable to leave the role of Minister for Disabled People unfilled, for more than two weeks, will add insult to injury to all those people in Inverclyde who have suffered under the shameful treatment of disabled people.

‘Brexit: Tory vice-chairman says there will be no minister for disabled people until crisis resolved’ –https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-disabled-minister-replacement-james-cleverly-sarah-newton-a8842371.html

 

Lack of U.K Enterprise

Captain’s log. Day 1,422. I have returned from my latest expedition to planet Westminster. I have to report there is still no sign of intelligent life. The native tribes continue to war with each other and internal struggles are rendering them useless. Power struggles take precedent over the common good and common sense is in short supply. False idols are many but sacrifice is not common. While their leaders insist they must boldly go (or to be correct, go boldly) where no person has gone before, there is a reticence amongst many to explore these new frontiers. Confidence is at a low ebb and bravado is a poor substitute. Meanwhile those that should know better continue to cling on. 

Westminster continues to be a drama of which ever genre you choose. When a Prime Minster says “I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this house” something has gone very wrong. The United Kingdom faces a challenge, the likes of which it never has before. And this one is solvable. All it needs is constructive dialogue, respect, understanding, compromise and the interests of the citizens of the United Kingdom to be put before all else. And those are all things that have been sadly lacking since the European Referendum in June 2016. They were posted missing during the campaigns when overly simple propositions were put forward by both sides. Nearly three years later we are all wiser but that is of no value unless we put that knowledge to good use. Knowing what we know now would the United Kingdom vote to leave? I don’t think it would and if that is the case then it must be given the opportunity to throw itself a life line. Otherwise, beam me up Scotland.                  

 

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

 

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