Supporting Scotland Against the Care Tax

November 18, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m pleased to be able to support Scotland Against the Care Tax’s petition to end non-residential social care charges for older and disabled people.

Currently, local authorities across Scotland can charge for a range of non-residential social care services, which has a significant impact on the ability of many older and disabled people to enjoy their right to independent living and participate in the workplace and in their local communities.

In addition, there is also a huge variation in the charges that are applied for non-residential care services across the country. This postcode lottery is simply not fair and needs to be addressed.

For me, it is unacceptable that older and disabled people are often forced to either forego essential care and support, or live in poverty as a result of having to pay for these services. I would therefore urge you to support this campaign, and call on the Scottish Government to use the powers they have to make sure to abolish these charges.

You can read more about this and sign this petition here.

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We Must Improve Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

November 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Speaking

I recently urged the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that people with disabilities find suitable employment during a debate at the Scottish Parliament on supported business on Thursday 30th October.

Supported business is a subject close to my heart. I strongly believe that people with disabilities can bring many positives to a workplace and this is something that needs to be widely recognised.

During my speech, I highlighted the fact that only 56% of working-age people with disabilities are employed in comparison with 76% of the general working-age population. I also spoke of my disgust that people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as people without disabilities, and about the importance of making opportunities available for young people with disabilities on the modern apprenticeship program.

For me, it’s disappointing that the Scottish Government has missed several opportunities to address the problems that many disabled people face when it comes to employment, such as their refusal amend the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 to require all 118 public authorities to award at least one contract to a supported business.

It’s a national embarrassment that in 2012/13, just 63 out of 25,691 modern apprenticeships went to young disabled people and I have heard absolutely nothing about how the Government wishes to tackle that inequality in its system. I agree with Inclusion Scotland, which says that the Scottish Government could lead by example by establishing internships and apprenticeships for young disabled people in every Government directorate.

You can read my speech here.

 

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Supporting Men United v Prostate Cancer

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Siobhan McMahon MSP - Men Utd V Prostate Cancer picture

I was pleased to be able to pledge my support to Prostate Cancer UK in its on-going drive to eradicate the injustices faced by men with, and at risk of, prostate cancer in Scotland.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is predicted to be the most common cancer overall by 2030. Despite this men and their families continue to face difficulties relating to awareness of risk factors, treatments and support, geography, age, and ethnicity. I want to ensure that all men in Scotland have the information, treatment options and support they need to tackle this terrible disease regardless of their age, ethnicity or post code – and am delighted to team up with Prostate Cancer UK today to work towards this outcome together.

Prostate Cancer UK has published a document outlining the five key inequalities surrounding prostate cancer; awareness, treatments and support, geography, age, and ethnicity, along with a solution designed to tackle each one. The charity is working with MSPs to call on the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland to implement these changes to make the inequalities a thing of the past.

The ‘Men United v Prostate Cancer – Five Inequalities, Five Solutions’  document comes as part of the second wave of the charity’s Men United campaign, which uses the language of sport to engage men in the battle against the disease.

Dr Sarah Cant, Director of Policy and Strategy at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “For too long men with, or at risk of, prostate cancer in Scotland have faced inequalities of care, information and support. We are delighted that Siobhan McMahon MSP has committed to helping us fight for these longstanding wrongs to be righted.”

For more information on the injustices faced by men living with or at risk of prostate cancer in Scotland visit: http://prostatecanceruk.org/media/2385585/inequalities-report-scotland.pdf

Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can call Prostate Cancer UK’s confidential information service on 0800 074 8383 or visit www.prostatecanceruk.org

About Prostate Cancer UK:

  • Prostate Cancer UK fights to help more men survive prostate cancer and enjoy a better quality of life. They support men and provide vital information. They find answers by funding research into causes and treatments. And they lead change, raising the profile of the disease and improving care. They believe that men deserve better.
  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the UK. One in eight men will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. Over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer. One in four black men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives.

Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can call Prostate Cancer UK’s confidential information service on 0800 074 8383 or visit ww.prostatecanceruk.org Telephone calls are free to landlines, staffed by specialist nurses, and open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 8pm on Wednesdays.

About Men United:

  • Men United v Prostate Cancer is Prostate Cancer UK’s call for men to join together in a movement against the common enemy of prostate cancer. Their aim is to build a united front of men against this disease. They want to get the message out about the most common male cancer, support men affected by it, and intensify the search for more reliable tests and treatments for the future.
  • Men are being asked to sign for Men United by visiting www.prostatecanceruk.org/menunited where they can also test their health knowledge by taking a quick quiz.
  • Nearly 200,000 people have signed for the new team, Men United, since its launch in January 2014.

 

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Celebrating Trustees’ Week

November 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Group Photo IIS McMahon MSP

I was delighted to be able to celebrate the value and diversity of volunteers ahead of Trustees’ Week at Parliament recently.

Trustees’ Week is an annual event run by the national body for volunteering, Volunteer Scotland, which is running between 10th and 16th November and recognises the difference thousands of volunteer trustees make across Scotland. This year marks three decades of promoting the value and worth of volunteers as Volunteer Scotland celebrates its 30th anniversary as the national body for volunteering.

It’s really important that we recognise the value to local communities of greater recognition of the immense task many volunteer trustees face. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to shine the spotlight on volunteers who offer their time and talents in order to make their communities a better place to live in.

We have a rich tapestry of Volunteer Trusteeship in Scotland and they should be recognised for their efforts and the huge benefits they contribute to Central Scotland.

George Thomson, Chief Executive of Volunteer Scotland, said “At Volunteer Scotland we recognise the vast wealth of experience that volunteer trustees bring to our communities. We are also keenly aware of the immense pressures they are under in running the diverse range of Scotland’s Charitable Trusts. Volunteers face many challenges with increasing workloads and demands on services. Trustees’ Week is an opportunity for us as a community to thank volunteer trustees in undertaking their invaluable volunteering role.

“Every year in Scotland, 30% of adults give over 160 million hours of precious time in a vast range of community settings. This makes a huge difference to people, to the economy, to services, and the environment and is all done freely. Trustees’ Week celebrates the good in volunteering and I’m positive that volunteering will continue to be friendly, uplifting and rewarding.”

Martin Docherty, Policy Advisor at Volunteer Scotland, said: “We’re delighted with the tremendous cross party support and leadership for volunteering shown by our MSPs this year especially as we celebrate the contribution of Scotland’s Volunteer Trustees; it’s definitely a hands up from Parliament for all they do.”

• Trustees Week runs from 10th 16th November each year.
• 30% of adults in Scotland volunteer through an organisation or group (Scottish Household Survey, 2012).
• These volunteers give over 162m hours each year, equating to an economic value of £2.6bn.
• 60% of people feel they have never been asked to volunteer (VDS, 2004).
• An estimated 78% of young people do not associate volunteering with good citizenship (Being Young in Scotland, 2009).
• Volunteering can deliver health benefits to volunteers (Volunteering England, 2008).
• Volunteers report that their volunteering provides them with valuable skills and experience, and helps them find a job.
• Volunteering can have major positive benefits, including skills development, health improvement, mental wellbeing, building confidence and self esteem.

Find out more information about Trustees’ Week here.

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Backing the ‘Make Renting Right’ Campaign

November 3, 2014 Leave a comment

I was pleased to back Shelter Scotland’s new national campaign, Make Renting Right, which aims to make Scotland’s growing private rented sector fit for families and fairer for all.

The Make Renting Right campaign, launched outside the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 28th October, aims to raise awareness of and build public support for reforming the outdated private tenancy regime which sees too many households forced from pillar to post on short term rental agreements.

A chronic shortage of affordable social housing has driven more and more people into Scotland’s private rented sector, which is now home to 312,000 families and individuals, with more than 80,000 private lets now housing families with children. However, the sector’s outdated tenancy regime is not suited to providing a safe and secure environment for people to put down stable foundations in their communities.

It was disappointing that the SNP voted against Scottish Labour’s amendments to the recent Housing Bill which would have improved the position of tenants in the private rented sector. I sincerely hope that they seriously consider the aims of this campaign and take the action sooner rather than later.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, says:

“We want to see a private rented sector that is fit for families and protects all tenants – a sector that provides long-term homes, not short-term housing.

“Short-term tenancy agreements do not provide the stability and security individuals and, in particular, the more than 80,000 families with children need in order to live a settled life.

“Too often we hear of people being moved on, evicted or rents increased unreasonably, forcing people into the disruptive cycle of having to move house – every six months in some cases – preventing them from ever being able to put down strong roots and being part of a community.”

“In the 21st century, we need a private rented sector that is modern, stable, flexible, predictable and fair for those individuals and families that call it home.

“The benefits of reform would not just be felt by tenants, however. Landlords too would see a more constant and predictable income with less downtime between rents and happier more stable relationships with their tenants.

“That’s why we are asking for people to support our campaign to positively reform the private rented sector and turn it into a place where the increasing numbers of people who rely on it can make a house a home and live with increased security and dignity.”

The Make Renting Right campaign from Shelter Scotland coincides with the Scottish Government’s consultation on proposals to reform tenancies in the private rented sector and builds on the charity’s previous campaigns in the sector.

Shelter Scotland’s key asks for reforming the sector include:

  • A modern tenancy agreement that gives both tenants and landlords security
  • More stability for people wanting to make rented housing their home
  • Flexibility for those who want to stay in rented home to do so for as long as they want
  • A better system for sorting out renting problems
  • A structure for more predictable rent rises should they be required

 

Questioning Alex Neil on on creeping privatisation of the NHS in Scotland

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

At General Question time at Parliament on Thursday 9th October, I pressed the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil to explain why thousands of NHS Lanarkshire patients are being sent to private hospitals in order for the Treatment Time Guarantee to be met.

This followed a successful freedom of information request made to NHS Lanarkshire which revealed that between October 2012 and March 2014, the health board spent nearly £6 million referring 3,826 patients to the Golden Jubilee Hospital and 4,368 patients to Rosshall Hospital and Nuffield Hospital, both private health providers in Glasgow, in order for the Treatment Time Guarantee to be met.

What this freedom of information request shows is the creeping privatisation of the NHS in Scotland under Alex Neil and the SNP Government. We know that there are ever increasing financial pressures facing NHS boards across Scotland and we need to address the problem of how we are going to adequately fund our health service. Instead, we know that the SNP are working on plans to introduce £450 million of cuts to the NHS in Scotland.

We were told by the SNP throughout the referendum campaign that the NHS in Scotland would face privatisation if we voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. The truth is that the only Government who can privatise the NHS in Scotland is the SNP and these figures show that it’s happening right under our noses.

Alex Neil can call this “topping up our own capacity” all he likes but the figures are there for all to see. The NHS is not safe in the hands of the SNP. Only the Labour party, at Scottish and UK level, can be trusted on the NHS.

You can read my questions and Mr Neil’s answers here, and watch them from 2.23 here.

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My Submission to the Smith Commission

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

I was pleased to be able to speak in the Scottish Parliament debate today on the Smith Commission. This Commission is an important part of the process of delivering real change to the Scottish Parliament while maintaining Scotland’s fair and equal voice in the UK.

You can read my submission below.

Dear Lord Smith

Devolution of Equalities

Introduction
I write to you with respect to your position as chair of the Smith Commission with responsibility for overseeing the transfer of further powers from Westminster to the devolved Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. As a Member of the Scottish Parliament I have first hand experience of the political process in Scotland and this has helped shape my views on what needs to change.

I would like to take this opportunity to record my support for the full devolution of the equalities portfolio from Westminster to Holyrood. Since my election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 I have sat on the Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee and this has helped to shape my view.

In 1997 when the plans for our Parliament were drafted this proposal was opposed by my own party, Labour, and the opposition Conservative party as it was felt that such a move would undermine the level playing field for business across the UK and that all within the UK must enjoy the same protection under anti discrimination law. I believe this position is no longer tenable for reasons I will outline.

Status Quo
Currently only the UK Parliament has the power to create new anti-discrimination legislation or amend existing legislation (O’Cinneide, 2009).

Scottish Government powers in this area are at best ambiguous and regarded by the current Scottish administration as part of the regulatory framework and therefore within the jurisdiction of Westminster. Politicians are currently only empowered to encourage a respect for equality and impose equality duties on public authorities.

This focus on tackling equality issues through policing has led to controversial laws such as the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (2012). This is a blunt instrument to use when dealing with an issue as sensitive and widespread as equalities is far from ideal.

As things stand Equal Opportunities legislation is one of the “greyest” areas of the devolution settlement. When taking up equalities issues the Scottish Government has not used its powers over equality per se but instead done so through the prism of devolved criminal justice and local Government powers, such as to fine those who park in disabled bays.

Support for change
There is broad support across civil society for the transfer of equality powers, with different individuals and groups advocating distinct arguments for the importance of a change in this area.

In her submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission Rona Fitzgerald identified that the current partial devolution of equalities encourages a perceived lack of scrutiny and leadership over the policy portfolio (Fitzgerald, 2009).

The Law Society of Scotland and Stonewall Scotland argue discrimination law should be devolved because it is closely linked to devolved matters. With the former linking it to issues such as incapacity, mental health and vulnerability and the latter organisation citing Scottish Government jurisdiction over family law. I believe both groups are correct to point out that the lack of power held in Holyrood over equality matters is inconsistent given the Parliament’s jurisdiction over other areas.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) suggest that the wide spread of rural space across Scotland and issues more pertinent in certain parts of Scotland than across the UK, such as sectarianism, justify the devolution of powers over equal opportunities. The Educational Institute of Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and UNISON concur with this sentiment. While the STUC suggested to the Calman commission that the EHRC could be given “stronger and more autonomous enforcement powers” in Scotland.

An argument has been advanced in favour of transferring powers to Scotland to allow Holyrood to establish our own public sector duties. As you will be aware equality duties currently exist which ensures that any public sector changes do not negatively impact upon people with disabilities and other protected groups.

However by devolving equality legislation we could use these powers to tackle economic inequality by imposing social and economic duties.

To surmise those in favour of transferring these powers often justify their position for two overarching reasons. The first is that issues faced by Scots are sufficiently distinct from those facing the rest of the UK and thus merit a different approach, the other is that because related areas are devolved it makes since to devolve equalities too.

Northern Ireland Example
It is my view that the Northern Irish example of devolving equality law is one that Scotland would do well to follow. In this section I will outline the Stormont settlement and my support for a similar plan here.

The department with responsibility for equality is the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister. With this power the Assembly has been able to legislate on age, disability, gender, race and ethnicity, religious belief and political opinion and sexual orientation discrimination.

With respect to EU legislation it is the responsibility of Whitehall to inform the NI Government of any responsibilities this may mean for devolved matters. UK ministers retain the power to intervene to make sure the legislature complies with EU directives.

Their position as having a distinctive body to legislate has enabled them to consider other avenues to potentially widen equality. The NIHRC have raised issues to be examined by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination such as:

• The rights of non-citizens to social protection
• Sectarianism as a form of racism
• Discrimination and racist hate crime in Northern Ireland
• Internal immigration control and racial profiling
• The situation of Irish Travellers

The Belfast Agreement gives provision for the NIHRC to be consulted and to advise on Westminster equalities legislation (particularly that which is being legislated due to a push from the ECHR) to reflect on the particular circumstances of NI.

A cross sectorial and party Bill of Rights forum published a report in March 2008 for a NI Bill of Rights. Lord McNally in the House of Lords has indicated that there is a commitment to a Northern Irish Bill of Rights and that it is a separate process from any potential UK Bill of Rights.

Given the justification for devolving this power to Northern Ireland was most obviously to tackle its dark history of sectarianism, I believe similar, if less pronounced problems here justify a similar political response.

Conclusion
If the commission is not minded to support full devolution of equalities I would encourage you to at least consider expanding powers in this area.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission note that it would be possible to have separate Scottish Equality Law in devolved areas such as housing or health and that the Scottish Courts and a potential “Scottish Equality Commission” could enforce this. Even in some legislative areas sole primacy would remain at Westminster, it should still be possible to have a distinct Scottish equality position, for instance throughout America different anti-discrimination laws exist in the various states.

I would be grateful if you would consider my submission when considering the future constitutional arrangement of Scotland.

Yours sincerely

Siobhan McMahon MSP
Member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Scotland

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