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Parliamentary Update: 24th November 2016

AUTUMN STATEMENT

Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement has revealed the full impact of Brexit as economic growth is now forecast to be slower, inflation higher, borrowing higher, and debt higher.

As a whole GDP growth was forecast to be 2.4% lower over the next 5 years, and was attributed to Brexit uncertainty. The Government will no longer aim for a budget surplus by 2019/20. There will still be a deficit of £17.2bn in 2021/22. Meanwhile Government debt is expected to hit 90.2% of GDP in 2017/18, the highest it's been in 40 years.

On the plus side, the Chancellor announced that the National Living Wage (the minimum wage) will be increased to £7.50 an hour. And the Universal Credit taper for those whose earnings increase has been reduced from 65% to 63%. The triple lock for pensions was maintained until 2020, as was the 0.7% of GNI to be spent on foreign aid, and the planned fuel duty rise was cancelled.

Corporation tax will fall as previously announced to 17%. The Chancellor also hopes to raise £2bn by targeting tax avoidance schemes. Insurance premium tax will be increased from 10% to 12% while £6.7bn will be spent to reduce business rates.

The personal allowance will continue to rise to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament, and the 40% rate of tax will increase to £50,000.

It is my view while any climb-down on the devastating cuts the Tories have made to support for families is welcome, today’s announcements are small fry and the UK government spin has been beyond shameless. Reversing a fraction of the £12billion cuts to social security support can hardly be described as a boost when the vast majority of the cuts to families, the disabled, the poorest and most vulnerable will still go ahead. This is not a budget that delivers for working people.

For more information you can find the Autumn Statement summary here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/autumn-statement-2016-some-of-the-things-weve-announced

The Chancellor's speech can be found here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/autumn-statement-2016-philip-hammonds-speech

The full documents are here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/autumn-statement-2016-documents

PAYDAY LOANS

I have backed calls from StepChange Debt Charity for the Financial Conduct Authority to look at tightening the regulations around the payday loan market. Their most recent report has found that regulations have “not fixed” the payday lending market, with some payday loan providers still not engaging in best practice.

Last year, 6.5% of those who contacted StepChange Debt Charity from this constituency had a payday loan debt, with their average payday debt balance at £999. Although the charity has reported fewer people seeking help with payday debt, those who are turning to payday loans do not always get a fair deal.

Poor lending practices and the poor treatment of people in financial difficulty have serious consequences. They trap people in a cycle of repeated borrowing and as their balances continue to grow, so does the stress and anxiety that comes with severe problem debt. As the UK Government’s cuts continue to have a huge impact on the poorest families here in Ayrshire and across Scotland, there is a clear and immediate need for the Government to examine more affordable forms of borrowing for financially vulnerable people who are often left with nowhere else to turn in their hour of need.

ACCESSIBLE TRANSPORT

I was pleased to hear from the Guide Dogs charity about the importance of disability equality training for taxi drivers and audio-visual announcements on buses in Westminster this month.

Although illegal under the Equality Act 2010, 3 in 4 assistance dog owners have been refused entry to taxis and businesses during the last year, with taxi and minicabs reported as the worst offenders. Meanwhile, 7 in 10 passengers with sight loss have been forgotten on a bus. For a sighted person missing a stop is an annoyance, but for someone with sight loss, it is potentially dangerous.

I was shocked to learn how often blind people miss their stop because they do not know where they are. The Bus Services Bill is the biggest reform of buses since the 1980s so it is a unique opportunity to make sure that blind people can use buses safely too. I’m delighted that the UK government has listened and included talking buses in the bill.

The emotional impact of facing discrimination when using taxis and public transport takes a significant toll on disabled people. It can lead to a loss of independence and confidence and make it more difficult to secure employment and undertake everyday activities. To stop this from happening, drivers need a full understanding of the rights of disabled people and the appropriate training.

UN REPORT ON UK GOVERNMENT

A UN report was commissioned after a call by campaigners who issued a formal complaint to the international body about potential violations of disabled people’s rights by the UK government. The findings in the report claim that measures implemented by the UK government since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits, have disproportionately affected disabled people.

The UN report also condemned the government for bulldozing ahead with the changes to social security knowing they would have an adverse impact on disabled people and calls on the UK government to carry out a study of the impact of all spending cuts on those with disabilities. In its conclusions it highlights that: “There is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met.”

The report shows at length how it is the disabled and the sick who are disproportionately affected by the slashing of social security support, and I have urged the government to undertake its recommendations.

Theresa May seems to have abandoned her pledge on the steps of Downing Street of being on the side of the vulnerable. The UK government cannot simply turn away from the findings of an internationally respected organisation which explicitly states that the rights of disabled people have been violated.

FOODBANK AND TOYS FOR CHRISTMAS APPEAL

Following on from my foodbank appeal this month, I am now extending my call for donations of tinned food, cereals, rice, diluting juice, biscuits, tea, coffee and sugar into December. I am also opening my constituency office up for donations of new and good quality used toys, children’s books, jigsaws, selection boxes and hats, gloves and scarves for distribution through the food bank network.

More than one in four children growing up in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock are living in poverty, with this figure rising to on in three in some areas. As in-work poverty and benefit sanctions continue to force a rising dependency on food banks, many impoverished families are looking at a bleak Christmas. We are not looking for expensive gifts but anything, large or small, that would help make Christmas a little more joyful this year for some of our struggling families. The people of this constituency have proved their generosity time and again, and I am confident they will help ensure no local child wakes up on Christmas morning to find Santa hasn’t visited just because their family can’t afford it.

Donations can be made at my Constituency Office at 45a Fort Street in Ayr, between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, up until 13 December. Please note, however, some office closures as noted below. If you are unable to come into the office, please call 01292 288623 and staff can advise on the nearest drop-off point.