Parliamentary Update: 1st May 2017
As I am sure you are aware, the Prime Minister announced her desire to have a snap General Election on 17 April and subsequently got the endorsement from the Parliament, with the motion receiving the backing of both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. The election will take place on 8 June, and this will be my last parliamentary update before then.
In my view, this is a blatant bid to grab complete control of power for the foreseeable future. Theresa May is putting the interests of her party ahead of the country, and trying to sweep away all opposition to her right-wing agenda of cuts, austerity, and a disastrous hard Brexit. She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England, given the utter chaos the Labour Party are in at the moment.
Representing the people of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock in London has been an enormous privilege, and I am looking forward to the challenge of retaining this seat. This general election is fundamental to the kind of country we want to be, and we simply cannot allow the Tories to inflict deeper cuts and further austerity on Scotland.
Parliament is set to go into dissolution on Wednesday, and with it there are restrictions on what I am allowed to do on behalf of constituents. Further guidance on this issue will be sent out by separate cover.
PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENTS
An independent report has found a lack of public trust in the assessment for Personal Independence Payments. Among the key conclusions of the Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment Assessment report is that “public trust in the fairness and consistency of PIP decisions is not currently being achieved, with high levels of disputed award decisions, many of them overturned at appeal”.
The report comes after the emergency debate at Westminster in which I called on the UK Government to back away from their changes. I have has also written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, outlining my concerns and urging him to re-think the move.
Claimants have expressed a complete lack of confidence in the ability of health professionals to accurately record what is said during their assessments, and the fact that there is a 65% rate of overturned initial decisions on appeal. This shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the approach being taken by the UK Government.
The UK Government’s approach to disability support is failing those who need our help the most. They must listen to claimants and disability rights groups and take PIP back to the drawing board, to ensure disabled people receive the proper and adequate provision they need to live as independently as possible.
The Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment Assessment can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/604097/pip-assessment-second-independent-review.pdf
The Tories have used a last minute ministerial statement to announce a raft of long overdue measures to help people who are due to lose their mobility vehicles. I have been pressing the Government for some time on changes for people who rely on their vital Motability vehicles, but this cynical move - announced hours before strict government purdah rules came into force - is nowhere near enough to make up for the Tories’ record on support for disabled people.
In November last year, the DWP announced it had been discussing ways to enable Personal Independence Payment claimants to keep their vehicle pending appeal, and that they were exploring options to allow those who are not in receipt of the higher Motability component to have access to the Motability scheme. However, it took until 20 April for DWP Minister Penny Mordaunt to make her House of Commons statement that some claimants can now keep their Motability vehicles for up to six months if they are denied Personal Independence Payments after being reassessed.
While the announcement is welcome, I find it astonishing that the Tory Party think that they can pick up extra votes by simply papering over the cracks in their disastrous social policies.
You can read the Minister’s statement at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-04-20/HCWS603
Along with Alan Brown MP and Dr Philippa Whitford MP, I hosted a meeting last month with local businesses to discuss the impact of Brexit on their futures in the area. The event, which was attended by leading figures in business from across Ayrshire, was convened at NATS in Prestwick and included presentations, a panel discussion and a question and answer session.
The discussion was dominated by concerns around the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and doubts that any new trade deals would provide the same benefits as those already in place. The implications of Brexit for farming, which plays a major role in Ayrshire’s economy, and education were repeatedly raised, highlighting the uncertainty facing these important industries. With no clarity from the UK government on the status of EU nationals living and working in Scotland post-Brexit, attendees also voiced their concerns around workforce shortages and the need for an arrangement that allows young people to travel abroad for work.
It was a pleasure to meet with the business leaders and entrepreneurs who contribute so much to our area. The high turnout reflected the real and understandable fears around Brexit and what the future holds for businesses in Ayrshire and across Scotland, and shows that the UK government has failed to reassure industries, that there is a lack of confidence in the UK’s negotiating abilities, and that business owners, and the public in general, need answers from the government fast.
Listening to the deep concerns of the businesses that are so vital to Ayrshire’s economy was troubling. I will, however, take on board all the issues discussed and ensure that these inform our actions going forward.
TWO CHILD LIMIT AND RAPE CLAUSE
The two child limit and rape clause for tax credits came into force at the start of April. The new rules will be devastating for families who are already struggling to make ends meet and survivors of rape are being treated with shocking disrespect. What is even more concerning is that, in evidence published today, benefits support charity Turn2us has said that the “most worrying trend that is emerging is pregnant women asking the call handler to undertake a benefit check to ascertain what they would be entitled to if they continue with the pregnancy, citing that the outcome will help them to decide whether they continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.
We know, from independent analysis, that more than 200,000 children will be plunged into poverty across the UK as a direct result of this policy. I cannot understand how anyone, of any political persuasion, could stand by and watch as a government intentionally, with full knowledge of the results, forces innocent children into poverty.
The rape clause gives an exemption to this two child limit where a woman can prove that her third child was conceived by rape. Forcing rape victims to relive their ordeals in front of untrained assessors, all in the name of saving the government some money, is just shameful.
Faith leaders, women's welfare groups, trade unions and child poverty campaigners have all condemned the policy, with many sexual violence support charities refusing to act as third party verifiers for the Government. Governments should protect and support their people, not deliberately force children into poverty and cause untold suffering to survivors of rape. I therefore continue to urge the government to show some humanity and end this awful policy immediately.
More information on the impact of this policy can be viewed at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2015/benefit-cap-evidence-16-17/
INVESTMENT IN AYRSHIRE
I was delighted to read the Scottish Government’s publication of the update to its investment plans, which show a continued commitment to invest in vital infrastructure across Ayrshire – helping to boost the local economy and protect the area from the cuts being imposed by the UK Government.
I am particularly pleased to see many projects that had been delayed under previous administrations will now become a reality, and will bring lasting benefits for people across the region for years to come. The procurement of the main works contract for the Maybole by-pass will commence this year, with construction expected to begin in 2018-19. This will make a real difference to the quality of life for the people of Maybole, as well as providing a faster transport route for local businesses.
Investment in Ayrshire would be significantly higher if the UK Government matched the SNP’s commitment to the area – but their record is swingeing public sector cuts and a distinct lack of progress on taking forward the Ayrshire Growth Deal. The Scottish Government has a strong record of investing in Ayrshire, including investment in new affordable housing and regeneration schemes, the continued roll out of superfast broadband, improvements to drinking water quality and sustained investment in the rural economy.
The report can be viewed at http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/04/3015.
I was pleased to host my Welfare Surgery at Ayr Town Hall last week. The event brought services and organisations working in the welfare sector together with constituents who were looking for advice or assistance. I would like to thank all the local organisations who attended to advise people seeking help with problems or concerns ranging from housing and benefits to debt or addiction.
These are difficult times for many people, but there are some excellent services available to offer help and support on a wide range of issues. I was delighted so many came along to help make this event happen, and I am sure everyone involved found the event useful.
TUMBLE DRYERS DEBATE
After months of attempts to get some clarity from the UK government, I co-sponsored a Parliamentary debate last week to highlight the fire risk posed by faulty tumble dryers produced by Whirlpool, and called on the UK government to take action, following the case of one of my constituents who was offered just £175 in compensation after a tumble dryer fire left her and her family homeless.
Whirlpool, which bought household names such as Indesit, Hotpoint and Swan in 2014, has admitted that many appliances across the UK, estimated to number 5.5 million, may contain a fault that could lead to a fire. However, since discovering this in 2015, the government has failed to take meaningful action despite having the power to recall the dangerous machines.
While both Whirlpool and the government acknowledge the appliances pose a risk, they remain in people’s homes. Whirlpool have advised the public to check if their appliance is one of the affected models and, if this is the case, to keep the machine turned off. A petition calling for action from the government has been signed by more than 100,000 people.
If Whirlpool themselves have recognised that their machines pose a fire hazard – why are they still in homes up and down the country? The number one job of a government is to protect the population. And yet, despite repeated calls for action, this government continues to sit on its hands offering small snippets of advice to Whirlpool while millions of homes across the UK hold potentially life-threatening appliances. I have urged the Minister to take immediate action in agreeing to a full recall of all affected appliances and to ensure that families, like the one in my constituency, whose lives have been torn apart by this matter are fully compensated. It is the government’s duty, and it is the right thing to do.
The Whirlpool debate can be read at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-04-26/debates/36405B15-798E-4CF6-9C27-3EC0D3BC7D87/WhirlpoolProductSafetySystem
BUSINESS GROWTH IN RURAL AREAS
I met with the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Business Growth Enabler last week to discuss opportunities for supporting new business start-ups in rural areas, particularly in parts of Cumnock and Doon Valley.
Boosting self-employment and entrepreneurial activity could help turn around some of Ayrshire’s most disadvantaged places, and the Federation of Small Businesses has been carrying out some valuable research on the local business demography. Their findings show that smaller, wealthier towns are more likely to have high levels of self-employment, while towns like Bellsbank, Patna and New Cumnock are amongst lowest in the country for small business start-ups.
While the Ayrshire Growth Deal is an exciting opportunity to boost Ayrshire’s economy, I am keen to explore innovative ways to make sure that any investment would support entrepreneurship in areas with higher levels of unemployment and poverty. The meeting was a productive one, and I hope to be able to provide an update on its outcomes in due course.
LOCAL COUNCIL ELECTIONS
This week we all go to the polls to determine the make-up of our local councils. Council elections decide who is responsible for running your local services and will determine whether we see investment or cuts in the heart of our communities. There are many great candidates standing for election so, whomever you support, make sure you use your vote on Thursday.