I participated in last Thursday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament about the closure of Remploy factories in Scotland. My contribution can be viewed on the BBC’s Democracy Live at 53.40.
The coalition Government’s programme of closures has already had a devastating impact on Remploy workplaces across the UK. What’s more, and despite the Government’s assertions to the contrary, not enough is being done to secure employment for the disabled workers who have lost their jobs.
To date, 31 factories have closed with the loss of 1061 workers, only 35 of whom have since found work.
In Scotland, the former Remploy factories at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Netherton, in my own region of Central Scotland, have already closed. Last week, we heard that the factory at Springburn, which manufactures wheelchairs for the NHS, will also close, following the breakdown of takeover talks. Altogether, over 100 disabled former Remploy employees will have lost their jobs.
As I said during Thursday’s debate, politicians in Scotland have a responsibility to help protect the remaining Remploy factories, as well as other sheltered workplaces. We must also strive to assist disabled former Remploy workers secure alternative employment. To facilitate this, I urged the Scottish Government to follow the example of the Welsh Assembly, which has already assembled a £2.4 package to encourage suitable businesses to employ former Remploy Workers.
In addition to this, the Scottish Government should use its upcoming Public Sector Procurement Bill to ensure that sheltered workplaces have access to public sector contracts.
Unfortunately, we cannot stop the coalition Government’s attack on Remploy. However, we can mitigate its effects. There was a large degree of consensus across the Chamber on this point, and I look forward to working alongside the Scottish Government on this issue.
The Equal Opportunities Committee – of which I am a member – today published the report of its findings into the living conditions and access to health and social care of Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland.
The report makes for uncomfortable reading; the various reports and initiatives over recent decades have had little impact on the living conditions of Gypsy/Traveller communities. Recommendations have not been implemented, and myth, prejudice and stigma remain a widespread problem.
The evidence sessions which formed the basis of the report revealed some shocking truths about the treatment of Gypsy/Traveller communities. The committee learned that many encampments are poorly situated and badly resourced, with minimal access to amenitities and public services.
More worrying still were accounts of Gypsy/Travellers being refused appointments with GP surgeries.
In light of the findings of this report, which I believe will make for disturbing reading for people throughout society, I stand alongside the other members of the Committee in calling upon the Scottish Government to take the strategic lead in making swift and decisive changes that will effect a significant improvement in the lives of Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland.
Access to social care and associated public services must be universal – no section of society excluded on grounds of ethnicity, religion, or lifestyle.
This is – or should be – a prerequisite for any civilized society.
I have pledged my support to Mental Health charity See me, ahead of Scottish Mental Health Week (10th-16th October). See me is a Government funded charity which campaigns to end the stigma that surrounds mental health illness, and to alter public attitudes and behaviour towards those with mental health problems.
Around 1 in 4 Scots will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, and over 3 quarters of us know someone with a mental health problem. However, despite these figures, over half of those with mental health issues continue to suffer stigma and discrimination, some at the hands of friends and family members.
Mental health problems are the cause of great misery and suffering in our society, yet they remain dogged by stigma and prejudice. The factors that can affect an individual’s mental wellbeing include physiology, age, gender, and social, employment and financial status. Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are also contributing factors, as are substance addiction and alcoholism.
The burden of mental health problems is not divided equally across society, but borne disproportionately by those who live in areas of social deprivation. This includes many communities in Central Scotland. We all want to live in a caring and compassionate society; and recent evidence shows that the healthiest and most equal societies are also the happiest. So if we are to address the issue of mental health we must also address the chronic inequalities present in society.
There are many different approaches to tackling mental health, but they all have the same starting point: recognising the reality and severity of the condition. That is why the educational work undertaken by See me is of critical importance; by promoting greater understanding we can help end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to empower those with mental health issues to become full and active members of society.
I was very pleased to be assigned to the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee.
The Committee’s remit is “To consider and report on matters relating to equal opportunities and upon the observance of equal opportunities withing parliament.” As with any other committee the Equal Opportunities Committee will conduct its work in a number of ways – undertaking inquiries; receiving written and oral evidence; commissioning research, and scrutinising primary and subordinate legislation.
During the last parliamentary session the Committee undertook valuable work in a number of different areas, including an inquiry into female offenders, which identified a number of issues facing female offenders that needed to be addressed by the Scottish Government, and led to the decision to introduce an £800,000 package of measures aimed at reducing the number of women in Scotland’s prisons. It also saw the formulation by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) of the Scottish Prison Service Strategy Framework for the Management of Women Offenders in Custody, which incorporates the domestic abuse strategy. This will certainly be something the Committee monitors during the next Parliamentary session.
The Committee also conducted an inqury into migration and trafficking, covering both devolved and reserved issues, and taking evidence from around 50 witnesses over 11 meetings. This work was invaluable in promoting the facts about migration and encouraging wider debate. The new Committee will pursue these issues and monitor developments.
As well as maintaining work on these issues, I hope the Committee will study other issues within its remit, such as equal pay and equal opportunities for the disabled, and equal access to sporting facilities for children from deprived areas.
Are there any other important issues that you think should be considered by the Committee? Please feel free to post below, and as ever I will be happy to respond.