Yesterday in Parliament I raised the challenges facing food banks across the Kingdom during a Member’s debate. Having attended the launch of the food bank in Kirkcaldy I have seen first hand the demand for these services and the vital role they play in helping those that need it most.
Recent reports that the food bank in Glenrothes is running low on food as it struggles to keep up with demand highlights how important these services are for the Kingdom. Those that have taken the time to help, from volunteering in the banks or donating food whilst they do their weekly shop, deserve our thanks. Without them the situation throughout Fife would be a lot worse.
My full speech can be found on the Scottish Government website.
Today I was able to vote on a Scottish Labour amendment to effectively end the much hated bedroom tax in Scotland. The amendment, which was lodged by our finance spokesperson Iain Gray, was voted on during the Scottish Government’s budget debate.
Labour has been consistently calling for the Scottish Government to make the right decision and fully mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland. Today they finally listened.
The bedroom tax adversely impacts on those that need help the most. The policy is particularly hurting those with disabilities and those faced with no prospect of downsizing due to lack of housing stock. A Labour UK Government has committed to ending the bedroom tax throughout the UK and it was only when pushed by Scottish Labour that the SNP finally agreed to take at Holyrood.
Labour have been consistent in pushing for the Scottish Government to fully mitigate the bedroom tax in Scotland by providing sufficient resources to make the bedroom tax redundant in Scotland. If the Scottish Government had refused to back Labour’s call my colleague Jackie Baillie had introduced a member’s bill to address the situation but I am glad the Scottish Government has taken action in the budget.
Only last week there was an interim report, released by the Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, that highlighted the impact the tax is having on society throughout Scotland. The report followed extensive evidence sessions and research undertaken by the committee. The report called for the Scottish Government to explore further ways to mitigate the effect of the tax in the short term.
Thankfully today we saw movement on that issue and I was delighted that I was able to vote on Iain’s motion and support a budget that will effectively end a policy that is deeply unpopular throughout Fife.
Carers in Fife have missed out on vital support to the tune of over £6 million according to charity Carers Scotland. The report, which puts the number of carers failing to receive their full allowance across the Kingdom at over 2,000.
Whilst we are currently in a cost of living crisis every little helps and it is vital that carers throughout the Kingdom are receiving the help and support that they deserve.
Many carers take on that role not through choice but due to a sense of duty and love. For over £6 million to sit unclaimed whilst carers face making tough decisions between heating and eating must be addressed. It is not acceptable that nearly half of carers are cutting back on food and heating when they are carrying out such an invaluable role. Continue reading
The other week I signed up to the Living Wage pledge at a lobby of Parliament organised by the Scottish Living Wage campaign, alongside the Scottish Trade Unions. The campaign was organised to push for a living wage to be implemented at the heart of procurement policy in Scotland.
At a time where so many households across Fife are facing a cost of living crisis it is important that we take all opportunities to ensure that work pays by having employers adhere to the living wage.
Yesterday in Parliament I met with StepChange Debt Charity as they launched their Scotland in the Red research report. The report found that Scotland has the highest volume of payday lending among Stepchange Debt Charity clients in the UK. It shows that over 10% of total client debt in Scotland was the result of payday loans, and almost 20% of clients had at least one payday loan.
In Fife, Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline’s average debt was much higher than the Scottish average by £6,778 and £1,700 respectively. Both areas also join with North East Fife in having an above average payday loan debt. Kirkcaldy is also a cause for concern with more people there taking out a pay day loan than average across Scotland.
I recently met with the Citizens Advice Service Scotland in my office in Kirkcaldy to discuss the work they are undertaking across the Kingdom, particularly with regards to the rise of payday lenders.
The meeting focused on the ‘Continuous Payment Authority’ which can be included in many payday loan agreements and provides the lender authorisation to take money from the customers’ bank account without having to give prior notice. Continue reading
Recently I met with local housing association Fife Housing along with the Deputy Leader of Fife Council, David Ross to discuss the effects of the Bedroom Tax on the Kingdom. According to Fife Housing Association one in five of their tenants will be affected by the Bedroom Tax within the region.
The Bedroom Tax is an issue for many across the Kingdom and I was pleased to meet with Fife Housing and Councillor David Ross to raise and discuss the concerns I have. I am aware that Fife Housing is taking steps to train their staff to deal with the difficult situation but they will be faced with real challenges as a result.
An analysis of Fife Housing’s housing stock shows that the Association holds only 82 one bed properties compared to 2,364 properties with two beds or more. These statistics show that there simply isn’t enough 1 bedroom properties to accommodate those that would want to downsize. This will result in people being penalised for living in a two bedroom flat despite not having any alternative as there is no smaller house available.
The people of Fife will feel let down by both Westminster and Holyrood on this issue. The UK Government should not be introducing such a policy and the Scottish Government need to be doing more to stop it adversely impacting residents across the country.
We are calling on the Scottish Government to introduce emergency legislation to avoid evictions due to the bedroom tax and provide funding for Local Authorities and housing associations to meet the challenges they are facing. Unless the Scottish Government takes action to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax we could see vulnerable families at risk of losing their homes.
I have called on the Scottish Government to take action after a labour market report highlighted that North East Fife has experienced one of the worst real terms wages decline in Scotland.
The report from the STUC found that North East Fife has seen a real terms decline in the median gross weekly pay of 18.7% which is almost three times higher than the Scottish average of 6.4% since 2007. Only two areas in the whole of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway (24.2%) and Glasgow East (23%), show a higher decrease in wages. The figures also show that across Scotland the average worker is £27.12 a week and £1410.24 a year worse off.
The people of North East Fife are facing disproportionate reductions to their wages compared with the rest of Scotland and it is vital that the Government at both Holyrood and Westminster take action to address the decline in real term wages. North East Fife has seen a dramatic decline in the value of their salaries at a time when prices are rising and household budgets are being squeezed. This takes money out of the local economy at a time when town centres and small businesses are struggling.
The report from the STUC follows on from last week’s monthly job figures which showed an increase in those claiming job seekers allowance across the Kingdom in the past year, with a significant increase in the number of women claiming job seekers allowance.
The Scottish Government could be taking bold action now to ensure that this imbalance is addressed but would rather put Scotland on pause to focus on the referendum. I will be writing to the Scottish Government to highlight these shocking figures and ask what action they will be taking to identify what the reasons behind the decline are and what it will be doing to address it.
I have called for the Scottish Government to take action to ensure more females and young people are entering the job market after latest figures show an increase in those claiming job seekers allowance.
According to latest statistics the number of people unemployed in Scotland has fallen by 4,000, however the number of women unemployed has risen by 8,000. Whilst any fall in unemployment should be welcomed when you look beyond the headline figures there is still serious cause for concern as economic inactivity is higher now than it was last year.
Unemployment amongst women is up by 8,000 since November and in every constituency in Fife the number of women claiming job seekers allowance has risen. More needs to be done to encourage women back into the workplace. This includes the SNP carrying through on their own election promises to ensure childcare is affordable and accessible to all.
There has also been a rise, of 2000, in February, in the number of young people claiming job seekers allowance. Locally in the Kingdom, the number of people claiming job seekers allowance has risen in the past year, with the number of females claiming rising in every Fife constituency.
The question the Scottish Government must answer is what action is it taking to ensure our young people have a chance to get a job rather than joining a queue at the local job center.
This week in Parliament the Scottish Government had the chance to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable communities from socially divisive Coalition policies but simply failed to take any action. In Parliament the Scottish Government voted against a Labour amendment to mitigate the effect of the Bedroom Tax on the people of Scotland.
A Labour amendment to the Local Government Finance Order called on the Scottish Government to mitigate the impact of the Bedroom Tax on Scotland’s most vulnerable and to respond positively to COSLA’s call to fully fund the replacement for council tax benefit as has happened at the National Assembly in Wales.
Labour asked the SNP Government to work with us in helping people through these tough times and by enabling local authorities to get the financial support they need. The amendment, however, was defeated by 81 votes to 35 after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats joined the SNP in voting against.
Instead of promising action in a separate Scotland the SNP should be taking action now and standing up for the people of Scotland. The underlying problem is that there is simply a shortage of affordable housing across Scotland including here in Fife.
According to Fife Housing Association one in five of their tenants will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. An analysis of their housing stock shows that the Association holds only 82 1 bed properties compared to 2,364 properties with 2 beds or more. Fife Housing Association statistics show that their simply isn’t enough 1 bedroom properties to accommodate those that would want to downsize and unless the Scottish Government takes action we could see vulnerable families at risk of losing their homes.