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.
Scottish Labour’s Make Work Pay scheme would see £22.7 million available for businesses in Central Scotland who support the living wage for their staff. The plans for a living wage for all will boost local businesses too, says Central Scotland Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon.
Under Scottish Labour plans, employers would receive a tax rebate of up to £1000 for every low paid worker who gets a pay rise.
The average rebate would be £445, meaning that if every low paid worker across Scotland was given the living wage, business would get a windfall of over £180 million.
Ms McMahon highlighted the positive effects implementing a living wage for Scottish businesses. Citing research that shows a living wage leads to:
- 25% fall in absenteeism.
- 80% of employers believing the living wage has enhanced the quality of the work of their staff.
- 66% of employers reporting a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation.
Over 400,000 Scots are paid less than the living wage with an estimated 51,000 in Central Scotland alone; 23,000 in North Lanarkshire, 17,000 in South Lanarkshire and 11,000 in Falkirk.
Scottish Labour believes the living wage is best for business and best for fairness.
The SNP have previously voted with the Tories against Scottish Labour plans to extend the living wage to the private sector.
Ms McMahon said:
“Low pay is a moral scandal in our country and it is also holding our economy back.
“Scottish Labour’s plan to extend the living wage could lift thousands of Scots out of low pay. We could give a pay rise to as many as 51,000 workers in Central Scotland alone.
“Local businesses will see a bonus too, with £22.7 million made available to them.
“The research shows that absenteeism and staff turnover go down whilst performance and morale go up. It means a happier, more efficient workplace.
“A lot of businesses in Scotland aren’t turning over millions. They are on the sharp end budgeting month to month, they might want to give a pay rise to their staff but the conditions aren’t right.
“That is why Scottish Labour has a plan to convince these businesses to pay the living wage. We will use make work pay contracts to incentivise better pay for staff – and better performance for business.
“When Scottish Labour tried to extend the living wage before the SNP Government in Edinburgh voted with the Tories to block our plans. The SNP were wrong to deny thousands of Scots a pay rise. Scottish Labour will not let these Scots down.
“In May Scotland can decide the general election. We can deliver a Labour Government that will make work pay; we can deliver a government which delivers a living wage.”
The average rebate to business would be £445
The estimated number of people working for less than the minimum wage in Central Scotland is 51,000.
51,000 x £445 = £22.7 million
List of living wage benefits from the Poverty Alliance available here.
The SNP has consistently voted against Scottish Labour’s call for the Living Wage to be included in the procurement process. Most notably in Stage 3 of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act, details found here.
These contracts will mean that, in return for paying the living wage within the first year of a Labour Government, businesses will receive back 12-months’ worth of the resulting increased tax and National Insurance revenues received by the Government.
If the Government introduced this now, firms could receive a 12-month tax rebate of up to £1,000 – and an average of £445 – for every low paid worker who is moved onto a living wage.
For every extra pound employers pay to raise workers from the National Minimum Wage to the living wage, the Treasury saves on average 49p in the form of lower social security payments and higher tax revenues.
Labour’s Make Work Pay contracts would mean that employers could claim back the entire increase in tax revenue – an average of 32p in the pound – for the first year.
Although the bulk of the money in the first year would be paid back to employers, the Government would still see a net saving through lower social security and tax credit payments, and increased tax revenues in future years.
We will also require listed companies to report on whether or not they pay the living wage.
At the Scottish Labour Party Conference the Scottish Sports Alliance’s #isupportsport campaign received a host of new supporters as Siobhan McMahon MSP joined fellow Scottish Labour Party officials in getting her #isupportsport selfie.
While getting her selfie, Ms McMahon also spoke with the Scottish Sports Alliance about #whysportmatters, which details the impact of sport and being active across all areas of society: health, mental health, older adults and social care, education, the workforce, the economy, communities and social cohesion. Participating in sport has been described as “the best buy in public health”, as it fundamentally supports people to live longer, healthier and happier lives and provides benefits to individuals, society and the whole population.
Central Scotland Labour MSP Ms McMahon said “I was delighted to be able to meet with representatives from the Scottish Sports Alliance at conference on Saturday and talk with them about #whysportmatters. For me, access to sport and physical activity should be a fundamental human right. Aside from the obvious health benefits which being physically active can bring, sport can be a powerful agent for social change. It can bring people together and has a unique power to inspire. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Scottish Sports Alliance’s campaign.”
Kim Atkinson, CEO of the Scottish Sports Association, said “Already nearly one-fifth of our population participate in sport through one of Scotland’s 13,000 sports clubs. While having fun, they already reap the many benefits of being active – benefits that we’d like more people to enjoy. Currently 2,500 people in Scotland die every year from being physically inactive – yet participating in sport and being active can reduce the risks of premature mortality by up to 30%. We need to embrace the many benefits of participating in sport – from sheer enjoyment to positive contributions to health, mental health, education and economic productivity as highlighted by #whysportmatters. Our members provide opportunities for people of all ages to get active and we would encourage everyone to find their sport(s) and to join us in saying #isupportsport.”