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.
Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I do 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 for anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can phone or email me at any time.
You also have the option of visiting my constituency sugeries each Monday. You don't need to make an appointment.
If you haven't yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we send out every two weeks, please do sign up here. Do feel free to forward it on to anyone else you think might be interested in reading it.
Holocaust Memorial Day
On Monday, 27 January, we all marked Holocaust Memorial Day. It is now 75 years since the liberation of the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The miserable historical record of 1.1m people, mainly Jews, but also LGBT people, Roma and other communities, who were murdered at Auschwitz.
These individuals can never be forgotten or ignored. In total, somewhere in the region of 6m Jews died at the hands of the Nazi regime, and a total of something around 11m when other groups are included.
Statistics don’t equate with the real people, the families, the older people and the youngest ones. Their personal stories, how they were taken, how little they understood about what was going on at the time.
Continually, and rightly, we urge that these innocent people are never forgotten. We try to make sure that our children have an understanding of these tragic events
Pictures, voices, memories bring to life what ‘life’ in one of the death camps was like - for as long as a life lasted. Many went straight to the gas chambers from the station at the end of the line, especially those who were sick or disabled in any way, and the babies who were unable to work.
There seems to be no depths to which human depravity will not sink.
40,000 disabled Scots lose benefits
High levels of human depravity are daily occurrences. Almost 40,000 disabled Scots ‘have lost benefits completely’ as more than half of applications in Scotland to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have been rejected since 2013 when it took over from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Since then, there have been 167,000 new claims in Scotland that have been rejected, accounting for 54% of all applications. The share of new claimants securing PIP has decreased since its introduction from 74% to 56%.
The data suggests 39,000 people in Scotland have lost their disability benefits completely, costing them income loss of between £1200 and £7740 a year, after loosing their DLA entitlement before being reassessed and refused PIP.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Government’s social security secretary, was critical of the findings, saying 30,000 people had gone through a “stressful” appeals process since the introduction of PIP – 21,000 of those going to court.
She said: “For disabled people, the stress and anxiety of the application process and face-to-face assessment process are already hallmarks of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.
“Now this latest analysis shows that those most in need in our society are less likely to get help or have to fight through the courts to get what they are entitled to.
“Tens of thousands of disabled people are facing greater hardship because they have completely lost their benefits.”
She added: “We will do things differently as we start delivery of disability benefits over the next 18 months.
“Social security is an investment in the people of Scotland and we want people to receive all the support they are entitled to.”
I have battled against PIP since it began. Its method of assessment leads to people recovering from a heart attack (Remember ‘I Daniel Blake’), veterans suffering from PTSD, people with serious mental problems such as schizophrenia, agoraphobia, paranoia and many other conditions that qualified them for DLA, are being told that they are fit to work.
Not because their condition has improved but that overnight, by some remarkable flight of fancy, they are all fit for work.
The Scottish Government is working to at least mitigate some of the worst examples. We don’t yet have the power to run a social services system that puts people at its centre, but we’re working on it enthusiastically.
This Tory government doesn’t make positive change easily. Boris Johnson prefers to chase an imperialist, colonial British Empire at his centre. The impossibility as well as the undesirability of this escapes him.
It’s now only a couple of days until the UK leaves Europe.
In Westminster, on Friday 24 January, Ian Blackford SNP MP, said: “In just one week’s time, Scotland faces being dragged out of the EU and into the Brexit abyss against its will – harming people’s livelihoods and jeopardising our communities and businesses.”
We have enjoyed more than 40 years of peace in Europe, with the benefits of the prosperity which has come with that, at least until the start of Tory austerity.
Keep a particular eye on whether Boris Johnson decides to go for an extension in July – that’s the latest point at which that option is open to him – and, if not, then I fear we will begin to see the real damage of Brexit.
Many experts have written and spoken around the issues and almost all, including the Government’s own advisers, see only lost jobs, rising prices, and the loss of many of the protections the EU gives us.
The Brexit Job Loss index put the figure at 420,348 UK-wide and 29, 836 in Scotland, at the end of September. That is, job losses as a direct result of Brexit, not the knock-on impact which is impossible to measure.
Glasgow is placed number one of the 10 cities that are going to be hardest hit. The UK total annual amount of wages lost is calculated at £12,054,319,596
The cost of the reduction in annual income tax and national insurance receipts stands at £3,610,314,326.76. You can find more information and detail at https://smallbusinessprices.co.uk/brexit-index/
The cost of Brexit to date comes in at £83bn and rising by around £727 every second. See: https://costofbrexit.netlify.com/
Ian Blackford added: “Despite the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all refusing to give consent to Westminster's Withdrawal Agreement, the Tory government has continued with its policy of riding roughshod over devolution and threatening its very foundations.
“The Tories' toxic, race to the bottom Brexit plans and their contempt for Scotland and the other devolved parliaments will seal the fate of the union. It's little wonder they are running scared of democracy in Scotland – but their anti-democratic stance is unsustainable.
"Our voices and votes have been disregarded, our Parliament disrespected, and our democratic decision to stay in the EU overridden. It’s clear beyond any doubt that Scotland will never be treated as an equal partner in the UK.
“With the SNP winning a landslide victory at the general election - securing 80% of seats in Scotland on a cast-iron mandate to hold an independence referendum – the people of Scotland must have that choice over our future.
“That decision lies solely with the people of Scotland - not a detached and dangerous Tory government acting against Scotland’s interests.”
We won’t see big changes instantly. There are another 12 months before the solid black curtain falls and the so-called UK becomes a small backwater of little interest or relevance globally; certainly not the Utopian Empire that has been the focus of leaving Europe.
Never have these four nations ever been so disunited. Three of us are tiny minorities and are treated as either loathed or irrelevant, as revealed particularly when both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted decisively to remain in the EU.
I will not be celebrating departure from the EU; I am lamenting it along with the majority of voters here and in Northern Ireland.
Pupil exclusion in South Lanarkshire
Children across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse have missed out on 2217 days of schooling last year.
It’s a shocking figure, though on the low side of the national average. While SLC say that exclusion is a ‘last resource’ and recognises that missed days may have a long-term impact upon a child’s ability to gain qualifications that will provide entry to career options.
The greatest number of exclusions are classed as ‘general or persistent disobedience’ but damage to school property, fire-raising and verbal abuse were just some of the other reasons given.
The overall rate per 1000 pupils sits at 21.2, putting Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse at the low end of the scale.
Furthermore, the number of exclusions in the SLC area has been more than halved since 2006-7 as a result of the commitment from the Scottish Government to help schools build and improve relationships with pupils and parents.
What makes children behave badly at school? The reasons are numerous – problems at home, abuse, bad company, lack of responsible parenting as well as less common but highly significant other factors.
In my view, we need to do more of what we are already doing. That is, to develop stronger networks between pupils, staff and parents so that all are involved in school life. We need to help those children who begin to show signs of repetitive bad behaviour so that a negative cry for help can be turned into a positive sense of belonging and of taking responsibility rather than just kicking out.
Many interventions are already in place, as Anne Donaldson, Head of Education (inclusion) at SLC says: “The important part about planning around an exclusion is the process to reset the situation so that the pupil returns in a frame of mind that reduces the chances that further exclusions will occur.
“This is around what we call return-to-school planning and will involve the pupil, parents and school staff in creating a restorative approach to the circumstances that led to the exclusion and building on the positive experience the child will have in school.
“Exclusion from school is not in itself a cause of further difficulties in later life, but it is an indicator of other issues which contribute to antisocial behaviour.
“Giving every child a strong start in life includes meeting the needs of young people who need more choices and chances, and who are at risk of not engaging with or benefiting from compulsory education.
“During an exclusion, the school will provide work and engage in structured interactive contact with the child and family.
“During and after the exclusion, the school staff will look at the interventions that are in place for the child in order that they can manage their school experience.
“These interventions are too numerous to detail in full but can include therapeutic work in nurture rooms, behaviour support, changes to class environments and support through visual timetables and support in class to help the child manage their time and work.
“This work is done through our Staged Intervention process, which all our schools use to take forward planning for individual children.
“Anything that is agreed with pupils and parents can be set out in additional support plans or behaviour assessment and support plans.”
Exclusion from school can have a huge impact on the pupils excluded, their families and the wider school community. It is clear that it should only ever be considered in cases as an absolute last resort.
Where possible other less disruptive ways of resolving problem behaviours and situations should be used to keep pupils in the school system. Sadly for vulnerable young people the loss of their place at school can exacerbate any problems they face.
I know this belief is something that the education team in the council agree with strongly and that is likely one of the reasons that South Lanarkshire Council’s number of exclusion incidents is lower than the national average. I welcome this but of course there is always more we can do.
I am confident that the SNP administration in South Lanarkshire Council will continue to build on their success, giving all our young people the best chance to succeed in life.
Every teacher puts fantastic effort into helping children to reach their full potential. This Scottish Government recently offered the best pay deal of any UK country and SLC has taken steps to markedly reduce the number of teaching vacancies.