Keeping up with you
Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.
My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can phone or email me at any time.
You also have the option of visiting constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.
If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do sign up here.
Christmas Window Competition
Christmas is coming and we have a special treat for the local BID businesses and their staff.
We want BID businesses to produce their best Christmas window display. The best displays will win £200 towards a staff Christmas night out. There will be 2 prizes this year – the business with the most likes on Facebook and directors’ choice.
So get your tinsel out and get creative and join in the fun in Hamilton this Christmas.
The competition closes at 12pm on Monday 17 December. The winners will be announced on Tuesday 18 December.
Good luck everyone.
World Aids Day
MSPs marked the 30th World AIDS Day in the Scottish Parliament last week. We all want to raise awareness of HIV and challenge the stigma which still surrounds the condition.
Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse is no more immune to HIV, the virus that causes Aids, than any other part of the country.
The debate in the Scottish Parliament was led by SNP MSP Emma Harper, who reflected on the work of the Scottish Government, alongside organisations such as Waverley Care, to make HIV a manageable condition and help those diagnosed with HIV lead long, healthy lives.
It was recently announced that the Scottish Government had met the UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets – a series of targets set out in 2014 to challenge aids globally.
In 2017, there were 369 diagnoses of HIV reported in Scotland, and there are an estimated 5,786 people living with HIV across the country.
Speaking in the debate, Emma Harper MSP said:
“I would like to thank colleagues from across the Chamber who have added their support to my motion, which has allowed me to have this important 30th World Aids Day debate in Parliament.
“I commend the joint work of Waverley Care and Scotland's NHS boards for their promotion of undetectable equals un-transmittable, ‘U = U’ – which is a key message of this 30th World Aids Day.
"This means that if a person who is living with HIV achieves and maintains an undetectable viral load by adhering to their prescribed medication, the HIV virus cannot be passed to another person through sex. Being HIV-positive today is completely different from how it was 30 years ago.
“Having had experience of working with prominent researchers, practitioners and medical professionals both at home and in the USA, I am acutely aware of how important it is to tackle the stigma around HIV and Aids, and I encourage everyone to know their HIV status.”
Cashless at Christmas
You have all heard me relentlessly pushing for an improved social security system that does not contain the kinds of horrors that continue to emerge out of the Universal Credit failed concept. I noted Theresa May declaring to Parliament that there was no such thing a five week wait for payment. She should talk to a few of my constituents in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse who will tell a very different story.
I find the idea of withholding money for five weeks not just abhorrent but completely horrific. Christmas highlights that, though it is as true for any time of the year.
Yes, you can get a loan, but a loan has to be paid back and when you’re struggling already, another demand on your very limited income can only push families back further into even more poverty.
Anyone making a new claim for Universal Credit faces spending the festive season without money, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said today.
The in-built wait of a minimum of five weeks before payment means that anyone making a claim this week will need to survive until January without money to which they are entitled.
Ms Somerville criticised the delay as she met with people receiving benefits on a visit to a Citizen’s Advice Scotland office in Leith – the full service roll out of Universal Credit by the UK Government began to be rolled out in Edinburgh last week.
Ms Somerville said:
“Christmas is a time of additional expense for most people but it’s particularly hard for families with little money to begin with.
“It is therefore unacceptable that anyone making a claim for Universal Credit from last week will not see their money until after Christmas. This is an appalling situation for many across Scotland and why we have repeatedly called for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit.
“The minimum five week wait for a first payment is just one of the many problems with Universal Credit, the roll out of which has led to sharp rises in the use of food banks and rent arrears.
“While the DWP do offer advance payments, this needs to be paid back from future payments, locking families in to further debt at the start of a new year.
“The Scottish Government cannot change Universal Credit. It’s a benefit delivered by the UK Government. However, we do have limited powers to make the delivery of Universal Credit better suited to the needs of people. Since last year, our Universal Credit Scottish choices have given people the choice to receive their Universal Credit award twice monthly and have the housing costs paid directly to their landlord.
“We are spending significant amounts to mitigate the worst effects of UK Government cuts and support those on low incomes - £125 million this year alone - £20 million more than last year.
“Previous calls for the roll out to be halted have been ignored and Universal Credit will be available in all areas before Christmas. The UK Government must now make the fundamental changes needed to make Universal Credit fit for purpose before the managed migration of people on legacy benefits begins next summer.”
The roll out of Universal Credit full service across Scotland has now been completed. This means that anyone who would have made a claim to one of the six legacy benefits will now have to claim Universal Credit. Anyone who currently receives a legacy benefit will also be moved onto Universal Credit should there be a change in their circumstances.
Due to the in-built minimum five week wait for a first payment of Universal Credit, anyone making a new claim will have to wait until after Christmas to receive that payment.
#GoodCauseSantaClaus Christina visits the Christmas charity project in Larkhall
I would like to encourage everyone in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse to participate in ‘Good Cause Santa Claus’ a Secret Santa challenge launched by the Charity Retail Association.
Secret Santa is a popular game amongst families, friends and work colleagues in which participants randomly assign another member of the group to buy an anonymous gift for. Good Cause Santa Claus involves the same challenge but gifts are to be purchased only in charity shops.
I'm backing the challenge and highlighting the benefits of Christmas shopping in local charity shops.
Participating in the Secret Santa charity shop challenge is a fun way to give back in this festive season.
The challenge is great for the environment and beneficial for local charities who rely on shop funds to provide vital services at this time of year.
Charity shops bring huge social value to the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse communities, support countless volunteers and boost our local high streets.
Rachel Blair, Public Affairs and Communications Officer for the Charity Retail Association in Scotland said:
“Good Cause Santa Claus allows shoppers to think about how they can help their community this Christmas.
“Gifts bought from charity shops are better for the environment, contribute to a good cause and can surprise your recipient with something a bit different.”
Be a #GoodCauseSantaClaus this Christmas and buy your Secret Santa gift in your local Charity Shop.
Bank of Scotland closures slammed in Parliament
I met with representatives of the Bank of Scotland, following up from my request. I was given an opportunity to explain how negatively I believe the closure of the Stonehouse branch is in terms of the community as a whole.
I can’t declare that I have managed to persuade the Bank of Scotland to change its decision, though I tried very hard. On at least a slightly more positive note, the Bank representative with whom I met told me that BoS has put in place a services contract that will allow its local customers to be able to carry on their normal banking via the Post Office.
Meanwhile in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP MSP Sandra White led a members' debate condemning the Bank of Scotland’s latest proposed closures.
Following the announcement, a group of seven SNP MSPs wrote to the Managing Director of Bank of Scotland, Robin Bulloch, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the plans.
Commenting ahead of the debate, SNP MSP Sandra White said:
“Bank branches across Scotland have been closing at an alarming rate.
“Since 2015 more than 230 bank branches in Scotland have been shut or marked for closure. Research suggests that local branches are closing faster in Scotland than any other part of the UK.
“A continued face-to-face banking service is indispensable for many of our most vulnerable constituents.
“Parties from across the chamber have made clear today that it’s time for Bank of Scotland to go back to the drawing board and think again about these proposals.
“I will continue to fight tooth and nail alongside my SNP colleagues to keep every one of the branches threatened with closure open.”
What are your thoughts? Does this decision impact upon you directly? What would you like to see Bank of Scotland do?
Following up: The devastating reality of violence against women and girls
I introduced the recent debate on violence against women and girls at the Scottish Parliament, marking the 16 days of action. Here are some extracts:
“Violence against women and girls is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. It has to stop, and meaningful action must be taken to stop it. The 16 days of action provide an opportunity for us to come together, give new momentum to our ambitions and review just how far we have come. The occasion is being marked all across Scotland, and I look forward to joining the many events over the next 16 days.
“At the weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend an event that focused on the catalyst for the campaign. On 25 November 1960, sisters Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three political activists who actively opposed the cruelty and systematic violence of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, were clubbed to death and dumped at the bottom of a cliff by Trujillo’s secret police.
“The Mirabal sisters became symbols of the feminist resistance and, in 1980, in commemoration of their deaths, 25 November was declared international day for the elimination of violence against women in Latin America. The international day was formally recognised by the United Nations in 1999. Today, the campaign takes place annually to remember those who have been lost to gender-based violence and to commend the bravery and sacrifice of those activists who have striven to end violence against women and girls all over the world.
“This debate takes place at a time when violence against women and girls is very much in the spotlight. We have all been moved by the stories told through the #MeToo movement, which has prompted thousands of women to disclose that they, too, have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. If #MeToo has achieved anything, it has given women the voice to stand up to everyday sexism, gender-based stereotypes, sexual harassment, glass ceilings—the list goes on. Behaviour that was once written off or tacitly ignored is finally being challenged and perpetrators are being held to account.
“Earlier this year, I was thrilled to visit St John Ogilvie high school, in my constituency—I have visited it on many occasions—to find students giving an assembly on equally safe. Next week, I look forward to visiting Denny high school to see its work to embed equally safe principles throughout its institution. When I was in St John Ogilvie high school, one of the amazing young women activists who were delivering the project reminded me of a quote from Elizabeth Edwards: ‘She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.’
“It is important that we raise awareness of and embed understanding of gender-based violence, but the bigger challenge is in delivering a societal shift whereby women no longer occupy a subordinate position to men. We need to make progress in advancing women’s equality in a range of spaces: economic, civic, social and cultural. The work of the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls is important in that regard, and I look forward to seeing its first report early next year.
“We also need to act here and now to ensure that those who experience violence and abuse get the help and support that they need. Specialist third sector services play a vital role in providing that support, which is why we are providing three years’ funding for those organisations to enable them to plan for the future. I put on record my personal tribute to all the organisations that have persisted in ensuring that we get the right information in order to make the decisions that we make here in Parliament.
“More than £12 million from the equality budget is being invested this year to support services and tackle the underlying issues that create the conditions for violence. Last month, in recognition of the significant demand that rape crisis centres face for their valuable support services, I was pleased to announce additional funding of £1.5 million over the next three years to help those centres to better meet that demand. There has been a significant amount of activity this year by the Government and its partners, but I recognise that more remains to be done, and we will continue to keep up the pace.
“As I stated at the outset, the theme of this year’s 16 days concerns ending gender-based violence in the world of work. I know that this Parliament has taken steps to tackle sexual harassment in this workplace, which is welcome. I am also pleased to inform the chamber that the Scottish Government is running its own internal campaign during the 16 days, which will involve a number of events to raise awareness and send a clear message that harassment and abuse are never acceptable. It will be a clear reminder that it falls to us all to take action in this area.
“A lot has been achieved, but there is more to be done. We cannot rest until violence against women and girls is consigned to history. I will end with a quote from Emma Watson, the UN women goodwill ambassador. She says: ‘How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?’ I urge us all to actively participate in the conversation, today in this chamber, tomorrow and until we have ensured that every woman in Scotland lives free from violence.”
Domestic abuse statistics: the realities
New statistics from Scotland’s Chief Statistician have been released.
The main findings include:
Levels of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland have remained relatively stable since 2011-12, with around 58.000 to 60,000 incidents a year. The police recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18, an increase on 1% compared to the previous year.
In 2017-18, 44% of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland resulted in at least one crime or offence being committed.
The crime or offence that was most frequently recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident in 2017-18 was Common assault (accounting for 37% of all crimes and offences recorded). This was followed by Breach of the peace etc. which accounted for 31% of crimes and offences.
Where gender information was recorded, around four in every five incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18 had a female victim and a male accused. This proportion has remained very stable since 2011-12.
In 2017-18, the 26-30 years old age group has the highest rate for both victims (272 incidents recorded per 10,000 population) and accused (246 incidents recorded per 10,000 population).
Incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police are more common at weekends with 35% of all incidents in 2017-18 occurring on a Saturday or Sunday.
In 2017-18, 88% of all incidents of domestic abuse occurred in a home or dwelling.
While glad that the figures aren’t getting worse, this is still a shocking, shameful set of findings. We must all pull together properly to shed this notion that domestic violence is somehow just part of what we have to live with. It isn’t.
As regular readers will know, this is a cause I’ve been talking about for many years. The Blue Ribbon campaign which I talked about in the last Newsletter tackles violence where it starts – among the men who mostly perpetuate it – and there are many other initiatives all working towards shaking off this daft notion that somehow domestic violence is so normal we need to just accept it.
I will never, ever sit back and accept that kind of mindset. Things have changed positively in the last several years but there remains a long way to go before we in Scotland completely outlaw domestic abuse.
Improving Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Scotland will help people with drug and alcohol addictions by treating wider problems such as housing and employment, and supporting their families.
The Scottish Government’s strategy for preventing and reducing drug and alcohol-related harm, Rights, Respect and Recovery, says Scotland will take a health approach to substance misuse and ensure services treat people as individuals.
This includes diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system where appropriate, and tackling people’s wider issues such as housing, employment and mental health. Families will also get support and be closely involved in their loved one’s treatment.
The strategy also emphasises education and early intervention for young people and those most at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Launching the strategy at Gowrie Care’s Cairn Centre in Dundee, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said:
“Improving how we support people harmed by drugs and alcohol is one of the hardest and most complex problems we face. But I am clear that the ill-health and deaths caused by substance misuse are avoidable and we must do everything we can to prevent them. This means treating people and all their complex needs, not just the addiction, tackling the inequalities and traumas behind substance misuse, and intervening early to prevent people at risk.
“We are supporting this strategy with an additional £20 million a year on top of our considerable existing investment in drug and alcohol treatment and prevention. We want to see innovative, evidence-based approaches, regardless of whether these make people uncomfortable. This money mustn’t just produce more of the same.”
Gowrie Care managing director Joy Dunlop said:
“I’m delighted to welcome Joe FitzPatrick MSP to our service to launch such an important strategy. Gowrie’s ethos encourages innovation so that services remain relevant and we continue to deliver meaningful outcomes for the people we support – key to this is ensuring the people we support are at the heart of everything we do.
“The Scottish Government’s investment is very much welcomed and will support the fantastic work that our staff and others in the sector do to support people in recovery.”
An end to homelessness?
It is truly outrageous that homelessness not only exists but thrives throughout Scotland. My colleague, Kevin Stewart MSP, put a motion put up to the Scottish Parliament on this subject. It says:
“That the Parliament agrees that everyone should have a safe, warm, settled home; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to end homelessness and rough sleeping and transform temporary accommodation; welcomes the comprehensive work of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and the Local Government and Communities Committee to set out recommendations and actions to achieve this shared ambition; supports the publication of the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, which addresses these recommendations and sets out the steps that the Scottish Government will take in partnership with COSLA, local authorities, the third and public sectors and others across housing, and welcomes the role of the cross-sector Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group in overseeing implementation of this action plan to deliver an end to homelessness and rough sleeping.”.
The Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan sets out measures for national and local government and the third sector who provide frontline services.
It follows a list of 70 recommendations set out by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, which were all accepted by the Scottish Government earlier this year.
The plan will focus on:
People who are living in temporary accommodation or at risk of homelessness are already being supported quickly into permanent homes through investment of £23.5 million, which is part of the £50m Ending Homelessness Together Fund.
Communities secretary Aileen Campbell launched the plan while visiting Cyrenians’ distribution centre in Edinburgh.
She said: “Everyone needs a safe, warm place to call home. It’s more than a place to live it’s where we feel secure, have roots and a sense of belonging.
“The causes of homelessness can be complex and that’s why all services need to be joined up. Working together we can end homelessness for good.
“The First Minister made a commitment in this year’s Programme for Government to end rough sleeping and homelessness and this is what will get us there. The plan builds on the many changes in homelessness and affordable housing we have delivered in recent years, including more than £3 billion to deliver 35,000 homes for social rent and the multi-million pound Ending Homelessness Together Fund.
“I’d like to thank the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group for all their hard work that has led to this action plan.”
Cllr Elena Whitham, COSLA’s community wellbeing spokesperson, added: “Access to good quality affordable housing is fundamental to us all – the key actions contained in this plan, to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place, personalise decisions for those affected and prioritise settled housing will contribute to better outcomes for communities across Scotland. The continued focus on services being joined up remains critical – I know Councils and our partners across the various sectors are committed to delivering on the actions contained within this plan.”
Rough sleeping prevention and a shift towards rapid rehousing are among the key aims of a new Scottish Government action plan to bring an end to homelessness in Scotland.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who chaired the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, said: “This is an ambitious plan that firmly positions Scotland as a world-leader in ending homelessness. The turnaround has been swift and the approach is bold but achievable if the commitment is shared across local government, housing associations and homelessness charities. The plan has people at its heart and makes clear that the best approach is to prevent homelessness in the first place, however we need to see a prevention duty in law for all public bodies as well as an ambitious set of targets which demonstrates that homelessness has been ended for more people.
“However, overall this plan presents us with a chance to get behind bold and transformative reforms, and see Scotland lead the way once again. It is a unique opportunity to get policies and services right for homeless people, but also to look beyond homelessness into the wider systemic issues of inequality and poverty to bring an end to the injustice of homelessness in Scotland once and for all.”