Labour’s clear vision on welfare

I was pleased to be able to speak in Nicola Sturgeon’s debate on welfare at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 13th August. This subject is one which is very close to my heart and that I am very passionate about. The welfare system is failing far too many people and this is a situation that we desperately need to address.

Sadly, instead of taking the opportunity to talk about the things we have control over through devolution and we how we can change people’s lives for the better, we are concentrating on constitutional issues and Scotland is on hold.

In my speech I talked about Labour’s clear vision on how we would make the welfare system work for people. For example, we recognise the injustice in the work capability assessment and we therefore set up a task force to ask a group of people for ideas on how to make life easier for people with disabilities which drew up 28 recommendations. I talked about these plans in my contribution to the debate and they would make the work capability assessment more effective at helping disables people into employment. On the other hand, the SNP have given us no details on how they would replace the current system, only a vague promise about it being “more proportionate, personal and positive”. That is as clear as mud.

We have a clear vision on welfare and we will talk openly about it, and it’s time the SNP did the same.

I finished off my speech with a poem written by the founder of the welfare state Clement Attlee which had struck a chord with me when thinking about the debate:

“In Limehouse, in Limehouse, by night as well as day,
I hear the feet of children who go to work or play,
Of children born of sorrow,
The workers of tomorrow
How shall they work tomorrow
Who get no bread today?”

You can read my full contribution to the debate here, and watch it below from 1:52:33.

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Scotland’s special relationship with Malawi

I was delighted to be able to take part in a debate celebrating Scotland’s special relationship with Malawi at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday August 5th. The debate was a great opportunity to talk about members experiences and memories of Malawi that have shaped our vision of the country as well as the local projects that are running in their areas through church groups, schools or the many spheres of the voluntary sector. By sharing such examples, we begin to understand just how strong our relationship with Malawi is.

In my speech I again chose to highlight the conditions that many female prisoners experience in the country, and about Amnesty International’s concerns about the country’s human rights record. It is to be welcomed that the Scottish and UK Governments give large amounts of funding to Malawi but this money should also come with responsibility and it is important that the Malawian Government does more on its human rights and equalities records.

I also spoke about the fantastic work that the Coatbridge charity Aiming Higher in Malawi does. There are two projects that the charity is currently undertaking in the country: a Catholic women’s co-operative in Makhoza in partnership with St Margaret’s High School, and with the help of North Lanarkshire Council’s provost, Jim Robertson, the Wheelchairs for Malawi programme which supports children from the poorest rural areas by providing proper medical assessment, by purchasing and fitting wheelchairs, prosthetics, footwear and crutches, and by giving them the tools that will help them to achieve their life goals.

These are fantastic initiatives which are making a real difference to the lives of Malawians so I congratulate Aiming Higher in Malawi for this amazing work.

I would also like to highlight the fantastic work done by the APSTAR charity which strives to alleviate the suffering of hunger, diseases and lack of decent living conditions by providing help in the form of food, clothing, transporting the elderly to medical facilities, building the elderly houses, and providing boreholes. They are currently fundraising for a supply of basic food and other essential items for a group of 50 families living in rural Malawi so I would encourage as many people as possible to donate to their cause by sending donations to the following address:

APSTAR
59/3 Stenhouse Gardens
Edinburgh
EH11 3LS

You can read my contribution to the debate here and watch it below from 1:19:08.

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Supporting Public Libraries

The Carnegie Trust UK last week launched a campaign to raise awareness about the impact public libraries can have on individual and community wellbeing. As part of the campaign they have also published a ‘Speaking Volumes’ leaflet and database, which show the range of ways in which public libraries can affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

I am happy to support this campaign as I strongly believe that libraries can play a positive role in communities across Central Scotland. Libraries can play a significant part in tackling many of the problems that we face in society today including social isolation, inequality and disadvantage. I loved to read when I was growing up and know how libraries can inspire people through books and literature. Libraries can also act as learning places, helping people with literacy skills and to become more comfortable with digital technology. They can also help jobseekers find employment opportunities and prepare themselves for interviews.

I would therefore encourage people to download and read the ‘Speaking Volumes: The Impact of Public Libraries on Wellbeing’ leaflet and database and become more regular visitors to their local library.

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Encouraging young people to sign up for International Citizens Service

I would encourage young people from across Central Scotland to volunteer for the International Citizens Service (ICS). The project, led by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in partnership with respected development organisations, is open to 18-25 year olds and is designed to tackle poverty in countries such as Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and Nepal.

ICS offers young people the chance to develop personally and learn about team working and leadership on projects that are of genuine value to communities around the world. On return to the UK, ICS volunteers undertake an ‘Action at Home Project’, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. To date 124 volunteers from across Scotland have been on placements with International Citizen Service.

ICS is a fantastic opportunity for young people in Central Scotland to undertake an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. Volunteers can find themselves building and installing latrines and clean water systems, supporting famers’ groups to improve their yields and businesses or teaching children and young people about HIV by engaging them through sports to name but a few projects.

I was lucky enough to spend a short time in Malawi in the summer of 2012 in the company of pupils and teachers from schools in North Lanarkshire. This was an amazing experience and although some of what I saw was harrowing, it was an opportunity that I will be eternally grateful for.

Volunteering with ICS is a unique opportunity to work alongside people from a different culture who have requested help from young volunteers to fight poverty and make a difference where it’s needed most. I would therefore encourage as many young people as possible from across Central Scotland to sign up for ICS.

Find out more about ICS here.

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Visiting Forth Valley Sensory Centre

With Duncan Campbell and his wife, who were loaned an amplified cordless phone to try out, with Malaika Rose from Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

Duncan Campbell and his wife, who were loaned an amplified cordless phone to try out, with Malaika Rose from Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

I was pleased to be able to visit Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Falkirk earlier this month to find out about the work done by the volunteers and staff who run twice monthly drop-in sessions at the centre.

The Forth Valley Sensory Centre is a purpose-built centre designed for people with multiple sensory losses where information, advice and diagnosis can be sought, followed by any required treatment. The drop-in sessions at the Centre on Redbrae Road, Camelon, also give local people with hearing loss the chance to get free loan of equipment to try out to see how it can make everyday life much easier.

I am aware of the challenges people with a range of disabilities face in their day to day lives so it is great to see that Forth Valley Sensory Centre offers practical support like this. One in six people have some form of hearing loss and it is important that they can make an informed choice about how they manage their hearing loss and can easily access local support.

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Malaika Rose said: “As someone with hearing loss myself, I know the difference that assistive equipment can make in everyday life. Our drop-in sessions are run by a local volunteer who has a wide range of knowledge of products for people with hearing loss, and we’re keen that everyone visiting gets the time to discuss their concerns or needs and find out about support that is most suitable for them.”

For more information visit the Action on Hearing Loss Scotland website.

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Supporting Lloyds Banking Groups Credit Union Development Fund

I was pleased to learn this week that Lloyds Banking Group have launched a £4 million Credit Union Development Fund.

Over four years, the fund will assist Credit Unions who can demonstrate strong and viable proposals for growth. Delivered in partnership with the Credit Union Foundation, it will focus on strengthening the financial position of Credit Unions, enabling them to grow sustainably, build resilience and help more people in the long term.

Two kinds of grants will be made: Large awards (of between £50,000 and £100,000) which will ‘top-up’ a Credit Union’s reserves and provide the opportunity for them to build their business to ensure sustained growth without capital constraints, and Seed funding awards which will be revenue grants expected to be between £10,000 and £20,000. Up to 10% of the total fund is set aside for seed funding.

This important initiative aims to enable as many people as possible to access and benefit from financial services. I have no doubt that it will be incredibly helpful to Credit Unions all over Scotland. Scottish Labour is committed to promoting Credit Unions as a viable alternative to exploitative payday lenders and this fund will be of real help in ensuring that vision becomes a reality.

Credit Unions play a huge role in our communities here in Central Scotland: promoting ethical financial practices, providing low cost loans and encouraging saving. They are a great example of how member owned co-operatives can operate successfully and I applaud Lloyds on this initiative.

Grant applications for the £4m fund will open from 1 July to until 31 July and more information on eligibility and criteria can be found at http://www.creditunionfoundation.org.uk/home

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Praising the work of the Showmen’s Guild

I was pleased to be able to speak in a debate at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 19th June in recognition of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild in their 125th Anniversary year.

The Scottish Showmen’s Guild is a non-profit trade association and is the governing body for all funfairs and fairground rides operated by its members. In Scotland, the Guild represents nearly 400 members, each being a small business in their own right, totalling over 2000 people across the country. It is by far the oldest and largest organisation that represents the industry and the wider community. Throughout its 125 years, the Guild has aimed to promote and protect the interests of its members.

I grew up in Lanarkshire and enjoyed many of the fairs that have been established over the years by members of the guild. I have particular memories of the fair that was held near my grandparents’ home in Newarthill. When the shows arrived, I knew that the start of summer had arrived, too. My family are only one of many who have had great experiences and who have such memories. That is all down to the hard work and determination of the showmen to continue to entertain our communities for such a sustained period.

Sadly, there are still many challenges that members of the Guild face such as the financial barriers put in place by both local authorities and the police. There is also a need for Showmen culture to be recorded and recognised in the school system, where there is currently no place for families to indicate that their children are from a Showmen’s background. This is simply not good enough and it’s time that that was met with a challenge from the Government.

You can read my speech in full here.

You can watch my speech from 25.27 onwards below:

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