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Parliamentary Update: 10th June 2016

CARERS

I was delighted to be able to draw attention to the work of the East Ayrshire Carers Centre at Dalmellington House this week in a speech which discussed the challenges which face carers across the UK.

The debate was held to coincide with Carers Week, the annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

This organisation does a fantastic job for local carers, but they are just one example of the many groups and organisations the length and breadth of the country who are making a huge difference for those of us who have caring responsibilities.

I was also keen use the debate to point out the challenges carers experience when it comes to juggling work and caring. Unpaid carers are the backbone of community care and play an indispensable role in supporting the needs of their loved ones, often at enormous cost to their own health and wellbeing. A lack of carer friendly workplace policies such as paid care leave and flexible working mean that an increasing number of employees, more often than not women, are forced to either give up work at the peak of their careers, or move to part-time working.

As demand for care continues to increase and the state pension age rises, we have a responsibility to break down the barriers facing carers’ access to employment opportunities.

You can read my contribution to the debate at https://hansard.digiminster.com/Commons/2016-06-09/debates/16060925000001/Carers#contribution-16060926000001.

INVESTAGATORY POWERS BILL

The Investigatory Powers Bill passed its third reading this week, despite the SNP group voting against it. While we support giving law enforcement and the intelligence and security services necessary and proportionate powers to fight crime and terrorism, we don’t believe the UK government has made the case for new and far reaching powers in the Bill or delivered the necessary robust safeguards and independent oversight that such powers require.

We wanted to support those parts of the bill which maintain and codify law enforcements existing powers, and we would have been happy to support putting in place an enhanced oversight regime. However, the new powers that the UK government are attempting to give the state are immense and far reaching – these are powers that would allow the state to acquire the personal and private data of all citizens, including significantly unfettered collection and access to Internet Connection records and other communications data. We cannot support them.

The limited concessions that have been made are welcome but they have been considerably exaggerated by the government. It is disappointing that Labour MPs chose to back the Tory government and declined to support SNP amendments that would have protected civil liberties – including our amendments to delete bulk powers from the Bill until the case has been made for their necessity, to remove internet connection records, to create a proper oversight body, to ensure whistleblower protection, to extend judicial warranty and to narrow and focus the scope of warrants and the grounds upon which they can be granted.

WOMEN’S FUND FOR SCOTLAND

Thanks to a £600k grant from the UK Government’s Tampon Tax Fund, the Women’s Fund for Scotland (WFS) is inviting applications to a new grant making programme from community organisations across the country who empower women and girls to reach their full potential.

This significant boost to funding has allowed the WFS to extend its grant making. While retaining its existing small grants programme, which distributes grants of £500 to £2,000, they are introducing a multi-year large grants programme – up to £30,000 over three years.

Applicants to the fund must meet at least one of four investment themes: Building skills and confidence; improving health and well-being; building social networks; and moving on from violence. To apply, please visit www.foundationscotland.org.uk/programmes/womens-fund-for-scotland/ no later than 28 June.

VOLUNTEERS’ WEEK SCOTLAND

From 1 to 12 June, Volunteers’ Week Scotland is taking place as part of a UK-wide series of events to highlight the invaluable work done by volunteers up and down the country. Events are already planned in communities as far apart as Shetland and Galashiels. This year Volunteers’ Week is running for an extra five days to coincide with the Queen’s Patron’s Lunch on 12 June.

The range of services and events that only happen because of the time and effort of volunteers is astonishing. From running toddler groups and parent councils to providing befriending services, running foodbanks and putting on gala days, volunteers can often act as the glue that holds communities together.

Having undertaken voluntary work myself, I can testify to the personal satisfaction gained from helping others. Volunteers play a critical role here in Ayrshire, and I’ve also benefitted from our local volunteers.

The latest research tells us that 27 per cent of Scottish adults provided unpaid help to organisations or groups in the last 12 months. 75 per cent of them do so for up to 10 hours a week. These volunteers offer up their skills and time across an enormous range of activities, through which most of us have benefitted in some way, and they deserve our heartfelt thanks.

EU REFERENDUM

In the last few years, Scotland has seen higher levels of political engagement than we have in generations – and I hope to see that continue this month with as many people as possible making their voice heard in the EU referendum. It mustn’t be allowed to descend into a fight between David Cameron and Boris Johnson – it’s far more important than that.

Many people have suggested that, as someone who supports independence for Scotland from the UK, it is odd to support continued membership of the European Union. But while Westminster is focused on pulling sovereignty to it, the EU is about pooling our own sovereignty and working together. The EU, as an international organisation, is more akin to the UN than the UK, and I want independence for Scotland not to withdraw from the world and shun our neighbours, but to enable us to interact with them as equals.

If you want to know more about the referendum, I have organised three events across the constituency on Saturday 18 June, where you can come along and ask questions. I’ll be in Cumnock Town Hall from 11.30am – 12.30pm with Alyn Smith MEP, Jeane Freeman MSP and Cllr Douglas Reid. Alyn and I will be joined by Cllr Allan Dorans at the SNP stall at the Holy Fair on the Low Green between 1pm - 2.30pm, and Allan and I will meet up with Jeane between 3pm – 4pm in Maybole Town Hall. Please do come along to any one of these events if you want to find out more about the case to stay in the European Union.