Benefits - or not?
With Labour having backed the Tory/LibDems on £30 billion of cuts, we in Scotland are set to receive a lot more austerity. New benefit controls are going to see more claimants suffering - as ever, it'll be the least well off, the disabled and most vulnerable who are hardest hit. Citizens Advice Scotland www.cas.org.uk has urged the UK Government to halt the introduction of the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to disabled claimants in Scotland.
PIP is the replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was introduced as part of wider reforms to the welfare system.
But under the Smith Commission proposals for further devolution to Holyrood, control of this benefit is due to be handed to the Scottish Government in 2017.
CAS has argued that this will see Scottish claimants being switched to another system now, only to be moved again in two years' time.
CAS chief execuitve Margaret Lynch has said: "As we know that the Scottish Government will be developing and introducing its own PIP equivalen, we don't want to see disabled claimants having to go through changes in their own payments, how they are paid, and how much they are paid, twice in a short period of time.
"I think this will be of major detriment to claimants and is unneccessary and possibly very distressing. In addition it seems a waste of resources to pay for the assessments of tens of thousands of disabled people to transfer them on to a system that they will not be staying on."
But since when has logic ever been a driver for Iain Duncan Smith? Delays, assessments, decisions - when they come - are leaving our most vulnerable to face severe hardship, unable to meet the costs of living and getting into debt. Let' face it, the whole welfare system is in a complete meltdown.
For the moment, there is little the Scottish Government can do. We mitigate where we can but we're up against poorly trained staff instructed not to tell claimants about Hardship Payments and other emergency arrangements that may be available to them. Have a look at Channel 4's Britain's Business Benefits Crackdown for more depressing realities: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/
Westminster's disastrous welfare reforms are causing real hardship for vulnerble people across Scotland - with record numbers forced to rely on food banks to put a meal on the table.
This is exactly why full powers over welfare shuld be in Scotland's hands rather than in the hands of an out of touch Westminster establishment who seem ore interested in attacking vulnerable people than supporting them.
Until the process of legislating for Scotland's new powers is agreed, it is absolutely essential that the roll-out of Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Credit should be halted in Scotland as supported by CAS and organisations from across the third sector.
And it's why we need to make sure there is a strong group of SNP MPs at Westminster to push for that devolved change.
It really doesn't need to be like this
It all starts with inequality - something I've been speaking about in the Scottish Parliament just recently - and you can see the full debate here: http://tinyurl.com/ozrf6uu
Westminster has failed Scotland - unless you are already very wealthy and basking in your country estate or grand mansion - people are watching their prosperity dwindle along with their benefits.
Increasing levels of poverty and inequality are a clear sign that the economic and social policies of the UK Government are failing us.
Building equality isn't an overnight job but the Scottish Government is actively facilitating it with vastly improved childcare arrangements, better resources for people setting up a new business and the maximum allowed funds to mitigate the worst of the benefit cuts agenda.
We need the powers to work out the best benefits sytem for Scotland. Westminster's policies aren't going to work here.
South Lanarkshire Cares Network (SLCN)
I recently went to an SLCN event to applaud the services of Robert Anderson who received an MBE. Robert is the power behind SLCN, though characteristically he says the award "is testament to solid partnership working."
Robert Anderson MBE
Unpaid carers make a huge contribution and it's good to know that there is a support network available locally. Robert's wife, Nan, suffered a couple of strokes some 27 years ago and he's been her carer ever since: "It was then that I realised that there wasn't a lot of support or information available for people in my situation - especially when the chips are down.
"The caring role often feels overwhelming and ccan leave the person feeling very isolated as they can soon become cut off from peers and friends because of the demands.
"I realised things then needed to change."
Robert established SLCN in August 1998 to provide a voice for carers and point them towards support, short breaks and financial avice.
Funding for action
I was delighted to hear that Craigbank Primary School in Larkhall had been successful in applying to Awards For All Scotland. The school has been given £9,950 of funding to allow them to enhance their playground area and build an outdoor classroom.
Awards For All Scotland gives groups a chance to apply for a grant of up to £10,000 for projects that aim to help improve local communities and the lives of people most in need.
Good news for kids and teachers!
Also in receipt of some useful funds is Larkhall-based Families Like Us who received a £9,996 grant from the Communities and Family Fund, which is supported by the Scottish Government and the Big Lottery Fund. The chairtable group aims to improve early learning, health and wellbeing for children under eight. The group provides support for one parent families and unemployed parents.
Families Like Us will be using the grant to open a 'Family Like Us Cafe' where parents will attend workshops on how to find employment, build their confidence and learn to eat healthily.
Lanarkshire Rape Crisis Centre has received a Young Start grant of £47,646 which is good news. The Centre will use the money to set up a youth empowerment programme. The project will promote self-confidience and positive attitudes to gender and sexuality among local young people.
It will work with up to 40 young people aged 16 to 24 delivering workshops and going to conferences, community activities and media events.
South Lanarkshire Council
Well, it's been an interesting time at the Council! Council leader, Eddie McAvoy, decided he wouldn't have any more discussions with the SNP group. Why? They had the audacity to ask some awkward questions about teacher numbers, especially about early learning teachers and those working with children who have special needs.
Since the Finance Secretary had offered £51 million across Scotland's councils so that they could sustain teacher numbers, and SLC signed up to the deal, it struck the SNP group as a bit odd that they were still going to cut teacher numbers.
The Council told us that they weren't really cutting numbers. These were just unfilled posts. Meanwhile, teachers occupying the unfilled posts were taking a look at their options.
I've written twice to the head of educational resources at the Council, Jim Gilhooley, but haven't been able to attract a response to clarify the question.