I was delighted to be able to support Macmillan Cancer Support’s coffee mornings at Parliament recently.
The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is Macmillan Cancer Support’s biggest charity fundraising event, where thousands of groups across the country hold a coffee morning, with donations on the day being made to Macmillan. In 2013 154,000 people signed up to coffee morning, raising a record £20 million for charity.
These are a great fun way to help raise much needed funds to support cancer care. With one in three of us facing cancer, MacMillan is doing fantastic work in providing medical, emotional, practical and financial support for those affected.
Find out more about Macmillan Support’s Coffee Mornings here.
I was worried to read new figures released by letting agents Your Move which show that the average rent in Scotland has increased by nearly 3% in the last year, and by 5.5% in the Glasgow and Clyde area.
The average Scottish rent now stands at £537 a month – more than the weekly median wage in Scotland.
The average rent in the Glasgow and Clyde area, which includes 10,000 privately rented households in South Lanarkshire and 6,000 in North Lanarkshire, is now £575.
Previous analysis has shown that the number of homes in the private rented sector living in poverty has more than doubled in a decade to over 100,000, with one in four Scots who live in poverty living in the private rented sector.
Nearly half of private renters in Scotland are families.
That’s why I have called upon the SNP to work with Scottish Labour to deliver fair rents for people in Central Scotland as new figures show that rent levels have increased across the country.
Earlier this year, I supported proposals for a fair rent cap the Housing (Scotland) Act to cap rent rises to stop tenants being ripped off by landlords.
The proposal was blocked at the time by the SNP.
However, the It is time for Scotland’s parties to work together to make a real difference to the lives of people in Scotland, and they should start with fair rents.
These new figures are really worrying, times are hard enough for families in Central Scotland with rising energy bills and spiralling childcare costs, the last thing we need is to see rents rise to unaffordable levels.
We must make the private rental sector work for the people who need it most – families and people on low pay.
It was a missed opportunity for the SNP to oppose Scottish Labour proposals to make rents in Scotland fair. It would have provided some relief and security to the tens of thousands of renters across Scotland.
The referendum made clear that we must work together to build a fairer, better, more prosperous Scotland. It is what Scots want regardless of whether they voted Yes, whether they voted No, or what party they will support in the future.
We can begin by having an honest debate about how we can make renting more affordable for the low paid, so that they can have a home, not just a roof over their heads.
I was delighted to be able to open and take part in Alzheimer Scotland’s first Lanarkshire Memory Walk on Saturday August 20th.
The walk aimed to raise money for dementia sufferers and was a fun, family day out involving a gentle 3 mile walk, or a shorter Memory Mile. Around 88,000 people across the country took part in the walk which will help Alzheimer’s Scotland continue their work supporting local people through their range of services.
Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be an incredibly traumatic ordeal for both the individual and their families. I have seen first-hand how this can impact people’s everyday lives and that is why it is so important that people receive the information and support they need in order to live a dignified life.
Despite my legs suffering from the effects of a long referendum campaign, I managed to complete the walk and would encourage as many people as possible to take part next year.
Find out more about the Memory Walk here.
Throughout the referendum campaign, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil and the SNP repeatedly warned the Scottish electorate that the only way to save the NHS was through independence.
Whilst we all knew these were mere scare stories, you can imagine my disbelief at the revelation, just days before the referendum, that the SNP Government is planning almost half a billion pounds worth of cuts to the NHS in Scotland. I am sure this feeling was shared by many voters across Scotland and played no small part in the resounding No vote in last week’s referendum.
The news that over the next two years there will be up to £450 million of cuts to Scotland’s NHS budget was contained within a document leaked by a whistle-blower who was concerned with how the SNP were portraying the NHS throughout the referendum campaign.
Over the past few months, Alex Neil and the SNP told us that the Tories could privatise the NHS in Scotland and that the Scottish Government could not protect NHS funding. These scare stories were both lies. Under the Scotland Act 1998, the SNP already had the power to raise an extra £1000 million in tax to pay for the NHS in Scotland, which they didn’t use. In addition, under the Scotland Act 2012, already passed by the UK Parliament, they could add £2 billion to the Scottish NHS budget from 2016. And with the new powers heading to Scotland following the No vote last week, the Scottish Parliament will be able to increase funding for the NHS even further.
Despite the SNP scare stories, the truth is that the greatest threat to the NHS in Scotland is the SNP. Alex Neil was happy to keep these cuts hidden from the Scottish people until after the referendum. He now needs to come clean on this and be truthful about what these cuts will mean for health services and service users here in Central Scotland and across the country.
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.
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:
59/3 Stenhouse Gardens
You can read my contribution to the debate here and watch it below from 1:19:08.
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.