It is an atrocious fact that every year more people are killed at work than in wars. That is why this day serves to “remember the dead, but fight for the living”
It was fitting that on this day, I was able to take part in a debate on the Future of Employability Services in Scotland.
As Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment, it was an opportunity for me to table an amendment to a motion put forward by the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham.
My amendment sought to address what I consider to be a big problem in the Scottish Government’s flagship Modern Apprenticeship scheme, which is the shockingly low levels of people with disabilities involved in the programme, as highlighted by the Human Rights Commission. They have stated that:
“The uptake of Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland is typified by significant gender segregation, with ethnic minorities and disabled people also appearing to have low levels of access to all forms of apprenticeships.”
This is an issue which I have raised a number of times since I became an MSP.
It’s a sad fact that less than 0.5% of all Modern Apprenticeship placements are taken by someone with a declared disability. The Government have known about this for a number of years now and yet the figures aren’t getting any better.
I find this simply unacceptable.
Work should be available for everyone and there should be equal opportunities for all. In order to achieve social justice our employment sector has to be open to everyone regardless of their background, their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, religion or physical and mental abilities.
Therefore during my speech I reiterated Scottish Labour’s commitment for a review of all employability services currently helping disabled people find work so that we can best utilise the further powers we will be receiving in a matter of weeks.
I urged the Scottish Government to use its powers of procurement to extend the living wage and back Scottish Labour’s initiative to promote Make Work Pay contracts, as well as bringing an end to insecure employment with a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts.
I also spoke of my desire to see investment in the next generation of workers by setting up a future fund for all young people not in education to give all young people in Scotland the best possible employment support.
We have a chance to change the way things have been done in the past when the new powers are delivered to the Scottish Parliament in the coming weeks. I hope we take this opportunity.
You can read my full speech here.
With only nine days to go until Scotland goes to the polls at the General Election, the people of Scotland have a big decision to make.
What has been clear for a long time however is that only the Labour party are prepared to stand up for hard pressed families and against the vested interests of the big six energy companies.
For far too long, the energy market has not worked for consumers. There is a real lack of trust in the energy companies and I hear this regularly from constituents across Central Scotland.
Energy bills have risen by almost £300 since David Cameron became Prime Minister, and businesses say energy is the biggest cost they face. When wholesale energy prices go up, bills go up fast, but when they fall, bills stay high.
This terrible situation we find ourselves in, where some of our poorest families are choosing between heating and eating, is a result of five years of Tory austerity and eight years of an SNP government in Edinburgh pre-occupied with the constitution.
That’s why Ed Miliband announced in September 2013 that a Labour Government would freeze energy bills until 2017 while we reform the energy market, saving Scottish households £120 a year.
We know that the energy companies won’t like it but it’s time a UK Government stood up for consumers and a Labour Government will do exactly that.
While the SNP like to talk about making Labour bolder, the SNP are silent on the energy price freeze. This is yet another radical Labour policy that the SNP cannot and will not match.
We have strong Labour candidates in Central Scotland who, if elected, will ensure we can implement an energy price freeze that will help some of the poorest people in our country. It would save Scottish families and businesses £500 million.
On May 7th, a vote for Scottish Labour is a vote for a UK Labour Government that will stand up to the energy companies and set us on the road to a fairer Scotland.
Last Monday, the Prime Minister David Cameron went to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament and call the General Election. This marked the first day of the campaign which will culminate in voters going to the polls on May 7th.
The decision the people of Scotland now to face is whether they want five more years of Tory austerity, or Scottish Labour’s plans to improve the lives of working class people.
Under the Tories, 61 children a day are using food banks. In a country as wealthy as ours this is a simply unacceptable figure. It’s scandalous that so many Scots are forced to depend on food hand outs. That’s why Scottish Labour have pledged to end the need for food banks in Scotland by establishing a £175 million Scottish anti-poverty fund, which we will establish with savings made from abolishing the bedroom tax.
Last week I listened to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown expose Treasury documents which show the SNP government has accepted Tory plans for “zero additional spending” to tackle austerity over the next year. He also announced Labour’s plans to spend an additional £800 million in Scotland on the NHS, tackling poverty and creating jobs.
For me, it’s simply not an option to wait another year to put an end to Tory austerity.
It is looking increasingly likely that the people of Scotland will decide the outcome of the election, and they have a clear choice to make. The Labour party are the only party who is big enough and strong enough to beat the Tories and their plans for more austerity.
We have already seen how the SNP’s damaging plans for full fiscal autonomy would cost 138,000 jobs in Scotland and mean extra cuts to our NHS, schools and pensions worth £7.6 billion. That’s austerity-max under the SNP.
Only Scottish Labour is the anti-austerity party in Scotland.
Glasgow Film Theatre last week announced the launch of Visible Cinema, a monthly Film Club for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. In partnership with Film Hub Scotland and Solar Bear, and funded by Creative Scotland, it is the first initiative of its kind in Scotland. The aim of Visible Cinema is both to provide a relaxed and welcoming environment in which those who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy a range of films.
This is a fantastic initiative which will hopefully bring about more awareness of cinema access for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Last week I was pleased to speak in a debate in Parliament on ending in-work poverty.
Like every Labour Party supporter, this is an issue that I feel strongly about. As Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment, I know that with the right Government policies and ambitions, we can tackle in-work poverty and change people’s lives for the better.
We know that there are now 370,000 people in poverty who are living in households where at least one person works. Shockingly, that’s 45% of the people who are living in poverty in Scotland. In addition, 110,000 children in poverty live in households in which at least one adult is in employment.
In addition, it’s estimated that 940,000 households are living in fuel poverty in Scotland, which is equivalent to 39% of all households. One further dismal statistic is that in 2014, 10% of all employees in Scotland earned £6.79 an hour or less and 20% earned £7.85 an hour or less.
These figures are depressing and behind them are ordinary people and their families who are suffering from in-work poverty.
However, we know that Governments can make a difference. Under the last Labour Government, the number of people who were in in-work poverty fell by 30,000 – nearly 10%. I don’t believe that that figure was high enough, but it shows that we can do something other than just talk about this life-destroying issue.
I’m pleased that the Labour Party has ambitious plans to tackle this. We know that we need to make work pay. There are far too many people in Scotland who have to claim benefits to top up their salaries. That’s why we’re going to increase the national minimum wage and extend the living wage.
We also have to ensure that benefit payments for people who are unfit for work are fit for purpose as people who are in that position should not be subjected to a life of poverty.
414,000 people across Scotland would benefit from the living wage. Given that 14% of men and 20% of women earned less than the living wage last year, I believe that that would be a step in the right direction for those workers.
However, we know that there are a number of contributors to in-work poverty.
That’s why we need to combat issues such as underemployment, which is a huge problem for many people in Scotland. There is an estimated 58,600 people aged 16-24 underemployed in Scotland. It’s clear that we need to do more to utilise our workforce more efficiently and I believe that one simple way of doing this would be to introduce more flexible working practices across our public sector.
We can tackle in-work poverty by increasing the minimum wage, extending the living wage, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts and taxing bankers’ bonuses, all in order that we can guarantee jobs and training opportunities. Those policies would make a difference to people’s lives and they’re policies that I’m proud that the Labour Party are fighting for.
Down’s Syndrome Scotland, which supports people with Down’s syndrome, their families and professionals, organised an exhibition for MSPs at the Scottish Parliament to highlight Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week (16th-22nd March 2015) and the United Nations World Down’s Syndrome Day (Saturday 21st March 2015).
Central Scotland Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon welcomed the opportunity to learn a little more about Down’s syndrome to better represent and help constituents. The event gave MSPs a chance to obtain information on the condition and the importance of communication skills for people with Down’s Syndrome in Scotland.
Siobhan McMahon MSP said: “Children with Ds and their parents need continuous support with speech and language therapy. Better communication not only helps children and parents to bond but it also helps children and teenagers with Ds to perform better at school and develop friendships.
“Being able to communicate also improves the chances of all adults with Ds to maintain a good quality of life and maintain wellbeing. We know that by age 40, people with Ds have an increased risk of developing dementia. Communications skills should therefore be at the core of delivering person-centred care.
“Communication is key to inclusion. By supporting people with Ds to develop and maintain their communication skills we ensure that their voices can be heard in decisions affecting their lives and that their rights are upheld and respected by all.”
Pandora Summerfield, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, said: “Through our work we have gathered evidence on the benefits of running communication groups for children with Down’s syndrome and their parents. To get it right for every child with Ds, greater recognition and resources should be given to improving communication skills across the country.
“To gain employment, maintain relationships and take part in local activities, individuals need to communicate with each other. Some of them may also be affected by early onset dementia and it is crucial to make sure that they can continue to communicate with their carers.”
Down’s Syndrome Scotland is the only Scottish charity focused solely on the needs of people with Down’s syndrome and their family carers. It provides information, support and services for people with Down’s syndrome, their families, carers and those with a professional interest. It also seeks to improve knowledge and understanding and champion the rights of people with Down’s syndrome.
Down’s syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 inside some or all of the body’s cells. Approximately 1 in 1,000 babies are born with Down’s syndrome in the UK. It is one of the most common congenital conditions, which occurs in all ethnic groups. It is the most prevalent chromosomal disorder and also the most frequently recognised cause of intellectual disability.
As an MSP, I spend the majority of my working week through in Edinburgh. On Saturday however I was pleased to be back in the Capital for Scottish Labour’s Special Conference.
It was a chance to bring together members, politicians, trade unionists, socialist societies and businesses from across Scotland.
The main purpose of this conference was to vote on a proposal to rewrite our constitution according to the following principles:
- We are a democratic socialist and a patriotic party.
- We will represent Scotland first, while not giving up solidarity with people across the UK.
- Policy will be made in Scotland for Scotland, putting the needs of Scotland first.
- We are committed to a permanent, powerful Scottish Parliament.
- We will renew our historic mission for a more equal and fairer society where power, wealth and opportunity are shared.
I’m pleased that the amendments were passed. It shows that as Scotland is changing, so is Scottish Labour.
It was also great to be able to hear two excellent speeches from Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy.
Ed warned of Tory plans to cut funding for the Scottish Government by £2.7 billion after the General Election in May. He also set out our better plan for a fairer, more equal and successful Scotland which Labour can make a reality – if it is the largest party after the General Election.
As Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Young People, I was particularly pleased that Jim was able to announce in his speech a New Deal for Scotland’s young people. This will:
- Reverse SNP cuts to student bursaries and re-instate them to their highest levels for the poorest students.
- Establish a £1,600 Future Fund for 18 & 19 year olds not in university, college or a modern apprenticeship.
- Create scholarships in honour of Nelson Mandela’s legacy for students from sub-Saharan Africa.
- Deliver over £30 million of support to Scottish Universities.
On a personal level, it was great to be able to meet with friends and colleagues who share Scottish Labour’s values of fairness and solidarity and I left conference energised and ready for the campaign we have ahead of us.
For me, the choice is clear; more Tory austerity or Labour’s plan for a fairer economy delivering decent wages and hope and opportunity for people across Scotland.