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Parliamentary Update: 4th February 2016

CARER’S ALLOWANCE

The Department of Work and Pensions announced last week that those claiming carer's allowance would be exempt from the benefits cap, which limits the amount of support any one household can receive. The cap was introduced across the UK in 2013 but following a legal challenge from two adult carers a High Court judge ruled last year that the cap "indirectly discriminated against disabled people".

This is entirely the right decision and I am pleased that claimants of carer's allowance will be exempt but, sadly for far too many, this announcement comes too late. It should not take a legal challenge for the Government to realise the damage their policies are inflicting on disabled people, or for a High Court judge to determine that including carers in the benefits cap actually has a negative impact on the people they look after.

This U-turn is long overdue and I hope that the Tories will consider this experience when it comes to other welfare reforms and seek to fully investigate the impact of any cuts long before the changes are implemented.

BEDROOM TAX COURT RULING WELCOMED

On a similar vein, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the bedroom tax is discriminatory. My colleagues and I have argued against the bedroom tax since the UK government first proposed it, and the Scottish Government has committed £90million since 2013 to mitigating the impact of the tax on 72,000 households in Scotland – eighty per cent of which are the home of a disabled adult, and around 11,000 households of which have one or more children.

The Government need to scrap this unfair and discriminatory tax on some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society. This is a tax that has no support but hits disadvantaged people the hardest. It epitomises the uncaring, unthinking and ultimately self-defeating approach of this Government. The Scottish Government has committed £90 million to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax in order to ensure that Scottish households avoid the hardship, rent arrears and threats of eviction associated with its introduction. That’s £90 million we could be spending on health or education.

As we have seen from this court case, the impact of this policy has been particularly damaging for those facing domestic abuse, and families with disabled children. In light of this ruling - and the overwhelming evidence of how detrimental this policy has been – the UK government must now think again.

DONALD TRUMP DEBATE

I was pleased to have the opportunity to stand up for the constituency in the recent debate on the public petition to ban Donald Trump from the UK. While I am delighted that over half a million people across the UK chose to stand up to Trump by signing the petition that sparked the debate, I believe that a ban would have been a disproportionate response.

Donald Trump is a divisive character, and I in no way condone his recent comments on Muslims. His comments on Chinese people, on Mexican immigrants, and on women have been deplorable, and certainly do not mirror the type of politics we aspire to in Scotland. But this area can ill afford to spurn the investment of the Trump Organisation because the head of the family business is spouting offensive right-wing rhetoric in an attempt to win Republican votes.

Being banned from the UK would ultimately have been little more than a minor irritant for Trump, but if his organisation pulled out of Turnberry it would be catastrophic for the resort, and a tragedy for the local community.

OPENCAST RESTORATION

I met with Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Damien Hinds at the Scotland Office in London this week to discuss UK Government support for the restoration of former open cast mines in Ayrshire, and across Scotland.

Despite undertaking to work with the Scottish Government to find a solution enabling the restoration of opencast sites almost a year ago, the UK Government has continued to reject all suggestions for a solution.

While the meeting was constructive, it is extremely frustrating that the UK Government continues to come up with reasons not to help communities across Scotland blighted by former opencast mines which lie abandoned following the collapse of the industry. Coal companies have left many parts of the constituency scarred through their negligence to restore sites and it is simply not feasible to expect local authorities to be able to shoulder the burden alone.

The Scottish Coal Industry Taskforce has worked hard to come up with solutions, but every attempt to get the UK Government to step up has been met with excuses. Despite receiving the revenues when times were good, they now appear to be passing the buck to the Scottish Government when it comes to footing the bill to make it right. I will continue to work on this issue, as we just cannot allow huge swathes of the countryside to be left like this.

FISCAL FRAMEWORK

There is a growing consensus in favour of the Scottish Government’s position in the fiscal framework negotiations after the STUC branded Tory plans to use the negotiations to cut Scotland’s budget by the back door as “entirely unacceptable”.

General Secretary of the STUC Grahame Smith said that anything other than the Scottish Government’s preferred option “would be to the severe detriment of future public spending in Scotland” and called on the UK government to “honour pledges made during the Independence Referendum that Scotland would enjoy the best of both worlds in voting to remain in the Union and agreeing additional fiscal powers.”

This intervention follows analysis earlier this week published by Professor Anton Muscatelli, which showed that some suggested mechanisms for adjusting Scotland’s budget following the devolution of further powers could see Scotland’s budget fall by at least £3.5 billion over 10 years.

Neither the Vow nor the Smith Agreement stated that more powers should be delivered with a deal that locks in billions of pounds of cuts – in fact both pledged protection for the Barnett Formula and a deal that would not disadvantage Scotland or the UK. The Scottish Government has set out clear, fair plans which would guarantee the powers we were promised are delivered with a financial deal which would ensure Scotland’s budget is not cut by the back door.