Action needed on zero hours contracts

A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland has claimed that zero hour contracts are leaving thousands of working Scots on the brink of poverty. Citizens Advice Bureaux’s have reported concerns over the legal protection workers on these contracts have from poor employment practices. This includes workers finding their hours suddenly cut in an attempt to make them resign.

These contracts in a lot of cases aren’t being used to offer flexibility to the employer or the employee. Instead they are the only employment option available to those wanting to work.  If we are to fully tackle issues of poverty and exploitation in Fife and beyond then we must ensure that we don’t just condemn them but act on the misuse of zero hour contracts.

According to the Office of National Statistics there are around 1.4 million employees with zero hour contracts. Many of these workers are more likely to be female, either under 25 or over 65, and more likely to want to work more hours than they currently do.  Continue reading

March for Gaza

On Saturday I joined with approximately 700 fellow Fifers in marching through the driving rain in Kirkcaldy to show our support for those affected by the terrible atrocities taking place in Gaza.

The march, organised to show solidarity with those in Gaza and Palestine, highlighted the strength of feeling within the Kingdom to speak out against what is taking place in the Middle East.

Fife Council has taken action to raise awareness by flying the Palestinian Flag over Fife House for a week. With Council Leader David Ross stating that he hopes it will “add strength to the public pressure for a lasting cease fire which can help bring about peace and stability in the area.”  Continue reading

Claire writes to Health Secretary over NHS Fife funding

This week I have written to the Health Secretary Alex Neil MSP following reports that NHS Fife is on the brink of a staffing shortage. According to the Courier NHS Fife is suffering from a shortage of 40 consultants and finding the hiring of locum staff difficult.

This has contributed to NHS Fife failing to meet its six-week waiting time target with breaches now at their highest ever level and double what they were at the same time last year. At the end of April it was recorded that 1,540 patients out of the 5,765 who were waiting for a diagnostic test have waited for longer than the six week period.

The increase in breaches and the staff shortage highlights deeper problems within the NHS in Fife. It is becoming increasingly clear that due to Government underfunding staff in NHS Fife are being continually stretched beyond their means. Continue reading

Claire raises adult programme concerns

Before recess I raised concerns in Parliament over the decision by Fife College to drop their Adult Programme courses, due to be replaced by Community Skills courses after the summer. The decision from Fife College has raised concerns that students with additional support needs will be unable to make the transition from the old course to the new one and will ultimately miss out.

I raised these concerns after being contacted by constituents who fear that the changes introduced by Fife College will result in their family missing out on the college opportunities that the Adult Programme course brings. The cancellation of these non-certificated courses is due to a combination of severe budget pressures and a focus on employability.

I was able to quiz the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning during Education questions and I raised my fears that the change in course would lead to some being “excluded from college opportunities, and the social and educational benefit this brings them.” Continue reading

Care home inspections vital for good service

Recently I met with the Care Inspectorate in the Scottish Parliament to discuss care issues across the Kingdom. The Inspectorate is the official body responsible for inspecting standards of care in Scotland.

Over 14,000 care services are registered with the Care Inspectorate, including care homes, childminders, day care centres and support services which includes care at home. The inspection regime looks at quality of care and support, staffing and management and leadership.

Recent figures from the Inspectorate have found that across Scotland the number of care homes with unsatisfactory or weak grades has increased. However, services in Fife have improved, with now over 95% achieving grades of adequate or better. Continue reading

Action needed to help Kingdom’s renters

Ahead of the Housing (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 debate next week I have called for action to reform the rental market in Scotland. Amongst proposals brought forward by Scottish Labour are plans to limit rent increases to once a year along with capping those increases. We have also, through my colleague James Kelly MSP, called for an increase in the level of tenancy from 6 months to 3 years.

These proposals come on the back of recent figures that highlights that over a fifth of those receiving benefits in Fife find themselves within the private rented sector. The moves that we have brought forward are essential to tackle the housing crisis faced by many across Scotland.

With many households facing ever increasing bills we must do all that we can to relieve the pressures families are continuing to face. Affordable rents are one way to achieve this and that is why I support Labour’s proposals for a capping rent increases in the private sector and limiting them to only once a year. Continue reading

Hat-trick of missed targets Embarrassing for Government.

Responding to the release of the latest climate change emissions that shows Scotland has missed its yearly target for a third year in a row, Scottish Labour’s Environment spokesperson Claire Baker MSP said:

“The news that Ministers have delivered a hat-trick of missed climate change targets is deeply embarrassing for a Scottish Government that continually heralds them as world leading.

“The latest statistics are worse than what was expected with emissions actually rising in the past year. The Minister must now fully explain why, under his watch, emissions have risen in the past year and the SNP Government have failed to make the step-change needed.

“It is 5 years since the Climate Change Act was passed by the Parliament but so far the Government’s lack of action has led to a significant lack of progress on a number of environmental targets. Continue reading

Claire celebrates the Scottish Spud

MSPs gather to celebrate 10 years of the Grow Your Own Potatoes programme in Scotland -

MSPs joined representatives from the Scottish potato industry on Thursday, 5 June 2014 at a lunch event in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate 10 years of the Grow Your Own Potatoes (GYOP) programme in Scotland’s schools.

In the past decade the GYOP programme has inspired over two million children to grow their own food and taught them about the health benefits and sustainability of home grown foods like potatoes. Today the programme is run in over 800 schools across Scotland involving 20,000 children each year.

The event was sponsored by Claire Baker MSP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Continue reading

Claire meets local Kinship Care Group

Recently I met with a local kinship care group to hear first-hand the challenges they face as kinship carers in Fife. The meeting, which took place in Fair Isle Nursery school, also offered the carers the opportunity to quiz me on care issues within the Parliament.

It was great to meet local kinship carers at Fair Isle nursery and hear about the children they care for.  They are providing grandchildren, nieces and nephews with stable loving homes when their parents, for whatever reason, aren’t able to do so.

The group, who meet regularly, are open to new members from within the Kirkcaldy and surrounding areas. Their support group is a great idea and is open and welcoming to other kinship carers in the area. They meet every Tuesday and I would urge other kinship carers to head along for a cup of tea and a chat along with support for the important role they are doing. Bringing up children is hard work, and we should do all we can to support kinship carers.  Continue reading

Claire backs calls for reform of the private rented sector

I have backed plans to reform the private rented sector in Scotland following the SNP failing to support Labour’s amendments at the committee stage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Labour is proposing amendments to the bill which is currently making its way through Parliament that will cap rent rises.

Such a move would impact on approximately 17,000 households in Fife as 10% of housing in the region is privately rented. The amendments also propose making 3 years the market standard for renting tenure in Scotland, offering renters in Fife peace of mind in their homes.

We need to take action to tackle the rising rent costs facing some in the private renting sector throughout the Kingdom. With pay-packets being increasingly stretched we should be doing all within our power to help ensure households aren’t faced with a choice between heating their homes and putting food on the table.  Continue reading