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 not as open as it normally would be and we are working from home.
If you need help or advice, it's still very much available so phone or email me at any time.
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.
The Covid-19 virus
Whatever I write just now will be out of date by the time you read it. That much, we can be certain of. The only other certainty in this surreal environment is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Expert assessment suggests that the peak of the virus will be around 18 June.
We all know the rules and for the most part, people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse will be sticking to the key advice – keep washing your hands, avoid touching your face, don’t shake hands or hug people as you might normally do, avoid crowds anywhere and don’t travel in crowded buses, trains or planes unless it’s genuinely essential.
To date, in Scotland, 14 people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died.
In the Lanarkshire Health Board area, we have 41 cases confirmed but there will be more every day.
There may well be more people, perhaps many more, who have the virus but have not been tested, as well as those who have already had the virus and recovered from it.
We know that people over 70 have been advised to self-isolate for the next three months.
And according to the UK advice, that means staying in your own house but the advice can be very changeable.
Listening to a radio programme, government 'expert' told a 79 year old that certainly "you can take your dog for a walk as normal. It's good for you to be out of doors."
A little later, PM Boris Johnson said than anyone over 70 should remain isolated in their own home and avoid contact with anyone.
Anyone with a history of respiratory problems such as asthma or COPD is at high risk. People with weakened immunity as a result of chemotherapy for instance and including everyone who has had a transplant of any kind, will be at high risk regardless of age.
If you can reach out to elderly or infirm people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse who are self-isolating, then I would encourage you to do that in a risk-free way.
If someone needs food or medications delivered, you can speak on the phone (or through the front door!) then leave the items on the doorstep. You should not have physical contact.
The Scottish Government
Our devolved powers limit how much our Government can do in this crisis. It was, though, a relief to hear from Boris Johnson with Friday’s package of support to employees unable to work.
They are guaranteed 80% of their normal salary/wage paid by the UK Government. The remaining 20% will hopefully made by employers but they will not be forced to pay this. Still, at least 80% of your normal pay is guaranteed.
The self-employed, from window cleaners to high-tech engineers and including a wide group of services suppliers like journalists, couriers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers, mechanics, repair people, farmers and many more are in a different situation entirely.
These people have absolutely no employment protection. They pay tax and national insurance but they are not entitled to sick pay or to that 80% pay guarantee by Westminster’s government.
Those on zero-hour contracts will be in the same situation, without worker protection.
SNP MP Alison Thewliss has said introducing a financial package of support for self-employed and unemployed people "must be a key priority" for the Chancellor this week.
The SNP Shadow Chancellor has repeated calls for an urgent cross-party meeting to discuss the range of measures that should be taken to protect the incomes of freelancers, the self-employed, and unemployed people.
Commenting, SNP Shadow Chancellor Alison Thewliss MP (above) said:
"Millions of freelancers, self-employed and unemployed people are understandably concerned about their incomes during this unprecedented emergency.
"There is broad consensus that bringing forward a comprehensive financial package of support for self-employed and unemployed people must be a key priority for the Chancellor this week.
"The SNP want the UK government to use the tax and welfare system to introduce a guaranteed income for everyone, raise UK Statutory Sick Pay to the EU average, and strengthen welfare protections by increasing Child Benefit and making Universal Credit more flexible.
"Political parties should get round the table on Monday to ensure all measures are considered and a meaningful financial package can be introduced as soon as possible. I urge the Chancellor to make that happen so we can ensure no one is left behind."
Scottish Government funding to support local communities
The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell MSP announced a £350 million package which will be focussed on specifically on mitigating the impact COVID-19 will have on local communities.
The money is designed to dispense with as much red tape as possible to allow areas to feel the benefit as soon as possible. It will be open to councils, charities, businesses and community groups across Scotland.
£95 million of this will go direct to councils with £45 million of that being added to the existing Scottish Welfare Fund which makes Community Grants and Crisis Grants available to those in immediate need.
This more than doubles the current £35.5 million fund, which is administered by local authorities. They will be given more flexibility in how it is used to ensure they can fully support people in financial crisis, including workers in the ‘gig economy’.
Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors
The folk who make up the Hamilton COVID-19 warriors show community support in action. The group formed up just last week to make sure that no one in the community would be left without anywhere to turn. Social distancing can be very isolating and lonely, so having help and support – on the phone, the doorstep, via Skype, Facebook, Twitter – is invaluable.
I took part in a meeting with local elected members to see how we could help them overcome some of the challenges new volunteer organisations face in this new and uncertain environment. I will continue to work closely with local organisations like the Hamilton COVID-19 warriors.
You can find some useful guidance on volunteering here: http://www.gcvs.org.uk/blog/community-responses-to-covid-19-do-the-right-thing-safely/
You can find the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142/
During these challenging and unprecedented times, many of us are going to feel at least unhappy, bored, sometimes thoroughly miserable and depressed.
You are not alone. Support is out there so long as you know where to seek it. Here is a list of helplines you can reach out to:
? Call Age Scotlandon 0800 12 44 222 for coronavirus advice, help, or simply a friendly voice of support.
? Call Breathing Space Scotland on 0800 83 85 87 for listening, advice and information if you're feeling low, stressed or anxious.
? Call the Scottish Government's official helpline for businesses on 0300 303 0660 for all questions related to #COVID19financial support and essential advice.
? Call the Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 for confidential support from highly-trained female advisers.
? Call Healthy Working Lives on 0800 019 2211 for practical advice on health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace.
? Call LGBT Helpline Scotland on 0300 123 2523 for information and emotional support, or simply a friendly voice.
? Call Shelter Scotlandon 0808 800 444 for advice and answers on homelessness, evictions, housing benefit, repairs and more.
? Call Parentline Scotland on 0800 028 2233 for tips, advice and support for parents, or if you simply need to talk.
You can’t get it anywhere. So The Glasgow Distillery Company stepped up to the problem and offered to make some up and give it away free to both the NHS and places like care homes, homeless hostels, charities helping provide support, and to others who need the product. Other distilleries have offered to follow Glasgow’s lead.
But…the idea hit a brick wall when it emerged that Glasgow North MP Patrick Grady (above) was contacted by The Glasgow Distillery Company face the challenge of paying duty on the product even if it’s not being sold - because of the Ethanol/Grain Neutral Spirit (pure alcohol) needed - costing around £20 per litre of hand sanitiser produced.
Rather than washing your hands with whisky, Patrick Grady MP has suggested that the Chancellor might offer, in the same ‘spirit,’ a duty waiver so that the distillers can deliver on their kind offer
The change is backed by Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP who has written to Rishi Sunak calling for greater flexibility on alcohol tax and regulations for alcoholic drink manufacturers that are now looking to produce hand sanitiser in response to Covid-19.
Commenting, Patrick Grady MP said:
"We know many local companies like Glasgow Distillery are looking to do their bit to tackle Coronavirus and support their communities by producing hand sanitiser. HMRC should be helping them by waiving the duty, which can otherwise make it prohibitive.
"There is a real shortage of hand sanitiser in the quantities needed for our care homes, homeless charities, and other bodies. Small distilleries can help out with this emergency, if the UK government is willing to lift the red tape."
Liam Hughes (above), co-founder and CEO of the distillery said: “Glasgow Distillery and many other distilleries across Scotland are ready and willing to help meet the demand for sanitiser.
"We’ve been inundated by calls from care homes and other front line organisations including the NHS and Councils, but HMRC’s red tape means we have to pay duty of up to £20 per litre produced – so we literally can’t give it away.
”A stroke of a pen and some common sense at HRMC is all that’s needed to get more of our distilleries helping towards the effort to tackle coronavirus.”
A plea to Boots
I have written to the Managing Director of Boots calling on the company to scrap their delivery charges to ease the pressure on many vulnerable households during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Boots faced a public backlash after first introducing the charges back in September 2019. It can cost customers £5 for delivery of prescriptions with an annual subscription for the year costing an eyewatering £55. Boots offers free delivery for prescriptions ordered online but this does not help many older scots who may not have access to the internet.
I am particularly concerned that older people and those on lower incomes may face having to choose between risking infection and paying up to £5 for medications to be delivered.
At a time when Government is strongly advising older people to limit social contact, it is entirely wrong that they may be forced to choose between exposing themselves to risk of infection or cutting back on essentials.
More than 500,000 over 60s in Scotland do not use the internet and more than 150,000 older Scottish people live in poverty. This group of people is particularly vulnerable to the dangers posed by the Covid-19 we should all be working together to ensure they are as protected as possible.
While it has been heart-warming to see the community coming together to provide support for so many different groups who are at risk we want to ensure that the burden placed on volunteers is as light as possible.
That is why Boots have an opportunity to take real leadership here. By scrapping these charges during this crisis, they can help to ensure that members of Scotland’s older community are not forced to take unnecessary risks and give volunteers the time to focus on other vital tasks.
Sadly, Covid-19 is going to infect more people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse than it has already.
The First Minister announced on Friday, quickly followed by Boris Johnson, that no pubs, clubs, restaurants, leisure centre will be allowed open as attempts to stop the spread of the virus continue.
All SQA examinations have been cancelled, the first time since 1888 this move has ever been made. It came after schools were closed until summer on Friday.
The First Minister announced the action in Scotland to protect the resilience of the emergency services until the impact of the virus has lessened substantially.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "We expect the number of cases to rise and Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus. There is currently no treatment or vaccine so early detection measures will continue to be vital in helping to prevent the spread of the virus."
The Scottish Government has warned up to 80% of the population could become infected, with potentially 4% of this group requiring hospital treatment.
As I write, there are 499 positive tests in Scotland, and there have been 14 deaths.
Figures can be misleading. Most people are following the UK advice to stay at home and have no contact with anyone for up to 14 days.
I am sorry that this Newsletter is so sad. I really do appreciate how difficult it is for those who are essentially confined to home for the next three months. I encourage everyone who can help in any safe way to do what they can, especially for the older and more vulnerable people in your community.
Use the phone, use messaging, use Facetime and Skype where you can. Some people who don’t have access to this technology will be feeling even more isolated, so if you’re able, call at the door from a distance and see if you can help somehow.
Meantime, stick to the social distancing advice plus the hand-washing, sneezing or coughing symptoms.
If you are in the slightest doubt, then self-isolate.
Please find below a link to all up to date information on the current crisis.
Also please follow my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ChristinaSNP/
And my Twitter @christinasnp for regular updates.
I know this is a difficult time for everyone but the amount of local activism to support people is amazing if you know of any group/individual/business stepping up please let me know. There is funding from ScotGov for some of this life saving activity.
Take care of each other and be careful of fake news.