Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
In these difficult times, with most of our normal activity at a standstill, it's difficult to share with you much about what is happening in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
But keep going. It will pass. The more we avoid anything that might increase the spread of Covid-19, the sooner we will be able to begin returning to our normal lives.
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.
COVID – 19
We may all be a bit weary of the restrictions on our movement, the closed shops and our inability to go to the gym, wander around the park for hours with a handful of pals, go to a football match or enjoy your leisure time as you normally would is helping to save lives.
It is essential for all of us to hang on in there, not only for the sake of others but for our own sake too.
The Scottish Government has published an outline of the circumstances under which the lockdown may be gradually lifted and I urge everyone to take the time to read the document.
It is vital that any decision to ease restrictions is based on the best scientific advice possible – but we are in uncharted territory and we must be prepared to adapt. That might mean having to reapply restrictions after they are lifted.
It is only when we are sure the virus is under control that we can even start to ease any of the restrictions because the virus will not have gone away.
In the coming days and weeks members of the public will be invited to contribute their thoughts and views on the next steps we must make together.
Even with this guidance, it is crucial we still follow social distancing. That means staying at home, maintaining physical distance (2 metres/ 6 feet), washing hands and good hygiene remain the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be considered an alternative to any of these most important precautions.
The Scottish Government has stressed that face covering do not mean surgical or other medical grade masks, instead a piece of fabric such as cloth or other textiles which cover the mouth and nose and are able to breathe through such as a scarf.
It is also important to note that you wash your hands first to avoid touching your face. After each use, you must wash the face covering at 60 degrees centigrade or dispose of safely. Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of two years and may not be appropriate for those with certain health conditions - for example asthma.
You can find lots more information about aspects of Covid-19 on my Facebook page.
Supporting victims of domestic abuse
As you all know, I've been a powerful voice for the interests of anyone who is a victim of some kind of domestic abuse.
I have been challenging this kind of abuse - and it takes very many forms - for many, many years. It has, and always will be, an issue close to my heart. I have met with so many people who have been on the wrong side of domestic abuse, I have developed not only an empathy but an understanding of just how important it is that we squeeze out this criminal behviour.
Social isolation measures put in place to tackle coronavirus (COVID-19) may be adding pressure to those in abusive domestic situations.
No one experiencing this kind of violence can be ignored. There is no excuse for isolation or helplessness among victims of this horrific abuse.
All of the essential services for anyone in that kind of situation are up and available. Do not,, for one moment, feel that in the current time, your issues are any less important than Covid-19. Get in touch with people who can help you. There are contact points listed at the end of this Newsletter, or contact me directly.
Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is available on 0800 027 1234 or visit sdafmh.org.uk to email or webchat. Visit Safer.Scot for further information.
Our foodbanks need donations
If you can spare some tins and long-life product to help the Hamilton District Food Bank, I urge you to donate them to people for whom the lockdown has taken or reduced their incomes. Many people are falling through the cracks and can’t get help from the existing support mechanisms. That can leave families struggling to put food on the table.
Some 90% of the food distributed comes from public donations, so to coin someone else’s catch phrase, ‘every little helps.’
Most needed foods are:
Tinned rice pudding/custard
You can go to the Facebook page. Look for Hamilton District Foodbank.
If you are happy to drop off food donations there are trolleys located in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s & Co-Op in Hamilton and Asda in Blantyre. You can also drop off at any of the Foodbank centres during the opening times. The Hamilton District one is at 22 Townhead Street.
You may not have heard the phrase, but you'll have seen - and felt - the impact of crazed price inflation for items in high demand.
There will always be firms out to raise a quick buck out of a tragic situation. I have heard numerous accounts of people paying out ridiculous amounts of money to get a hand sanitiser or a couple of toilet rolls.
Campaigning SNP MP Owen Thompson has called for UK government action to help prevent unjustifiable hikes in prices of essential items by online retailers during emergencies.
The call comes after reports of excessive prices were being charged for in-demand items such as cleaning products and baby formula during the Covid-19 crisis - particularly through online marketplaces such as Ebay and Amazon. Which? found a 1000% increase from the typical price on products like Dettol cleaning spray by some third-party sellers online - and in response has launched an app whereby consumers can report price gouging.
The Midlothian MP has welcomed the app and said that stronger regulations are required to enable the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate and take more effective action to tackle the issue. Mr Thompson has tabled a series of parliamentary questions to the Chancellor on the issue of price gouging.
Commenting, Owen Thompson MP said: “Making excessive profits on high demand products during a global health crisis is disgraceful. I’ve heard too many reports of sellers charging ridiculous prices for things like cleaning spray since the crisis began.
“Many vulnerable people may feel they have no choice but to stump up, while others go without. It could prevent charities and keyworkers accessing the products they need – and could ultimately cost lives. Stronger action is needed to stop this kind of unscrupulous practice.
“I welcome the launch from the consumer champions Which? of a tool to help people more easily report coronavirus profiteering and would urge constituents to report any incidences they come across.
“I am urging the big online marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay to do more to monitor what their sellers are charging and take action when bad practice is found.
“There is still a lack of existing legislation to protect from price gouging, however, and this is something that needs tackled. The UK government must take the necessary steps to give Competition and Markets Authority the powers it needs to investigate and take stronger action on this. That way we can protect people now and in any future emergency by keeping prices reasonable.”
The Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) is the watchdog body and it has set up a coronavirus taskforce to crack down on companies that cash in during the outbreak by bumping up prices or exploiting people’s fears with misleading claims about products.
The Authority says it has already been in contact with traders and online trading platforms about excessive pricing of hand sanitiser, sales of which have soared as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
Action, say the CMA, will be taken against firms that breach consumer protection or competition laws if they do not respond to warnings. The taskforce will also advise government on emergency legislation if problems cannot be addressed through existing powers.
Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable. We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible. We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers. We hope that such action will not be necessary but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”
Report the scammers
Another group keen to exploit public misery are the scammers. I’m encouraging people in South Lanarkshire to be aware of scams following an increase in reports across Scotland about scam emails, text messages and doorstep callers.
Police Scotland has now launched a new ‘Shut Out Scammers’ resource to protect the public and businesses from COVID-19 related scams. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has also launched an email reporting service, which the public can use to report any suspicious activity.
While the community response to the coronavirus outbreak in South Lanarkshire has been overwhelmingly positive, it's disappointing to see a few individuals taking advantage of the situation with unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages.
During this coronavirus crisis, everyone in South Lanarkshire should take extra care to ensure that they only share information from trusted sources, ask for identification from all doorstep callers, and never hand over any personal information.
It’s vital that people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse remain vigilant against scams during this challenging time and report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
Universal basic income for all
Our SNP colleagues in Westminster are pressing hard for a Universal Basic Income for all as the right way forward, not only now but as the economy starts to recover post-Covid-19. Drew Hendry SNP MP, says: “A universal basic income will help settle economic stability and lead to increased spending in local economies, supporting businesses and communities.
“UK Government schemes such as the 'Job Retention Scheme' have been a welcome lifeline to a lot of people. Their financial woes are on ice because they have a temporary safety net.
“Yet still, insecurity remains. Sure, they can benefit from 80% of their wages, but people don't routinely save 20% of their salaries. With their household income reduced, any savings on regular transport costs can quickly be eaten up by higher domestic bills.
“And they are the lucky ones. Just think of what it's like for those who rely on seasonal work, people who have been working in the gig economy and the newly self-employed. They find themselves having to live off the woefully inadequate 'Universal Credit' social security payment. That's after they wait over two weeks for a call-back, with a further five-week wait for payment.”
Universal Credit Claims
Household claims for Universal Credit in Scotland have increased from an average of 20,000 per month in 2019 to over 110,000 between 1 March and 7 April, highlighting the impact the pandemic is having on people’s finances.
That’s why the Scottish Government, in partnership with the Citizens Advice network, is launching a new campaign to raise awareness of the financial support available to people.
Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “This huge increase in claims for Universal Credit demonstrates just how many people across the country are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are difficult and worrying times for everyone, with many people requiring financial support for the first time and even more pressure on those who were already struggling to make ends meet.
“It is welcome that people are claiming the support that they are entitled to from the DWP, and I would encourage people to look into what additional help is available. Even if you are not entitled to Universal Credit, there could be other assistance that you can access so it is worth checking.
“That’s why we’ve been working with the Citizens Advice network in Scotland to create this central source of information - with everything from guidance on benefits, right through to what you can do if you are worried about paying your mortgage or rent.”
Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice network in Scotland is known for always being there to help and the support we give will be more important than ever to help people avoid getting into crisis. There may also be lots of people who have never used our services before and it’s crucial that they know our information and advice is there for them too.
“Our national network of Citizens Advice Bureaux is still operating for those who need it – if you have been financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help make sure you have access to all the income you are entitled to, as well as giving tailored advice about what’s on offer within local communities across Scotland.
“There’s increased demand for our advice on financial services, that’s why we’ve created dedicated COVID-19 content online so people get the information they need 24/7 and from the comfort of their own homes.
“We’ve also got a dedicated helpline for people who might not be able to access our services online. If you have been financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and require free, confidential, financial support, please visit cas.org.uk or call 0800 028 1456.
“Local Citizens Advice Bureaux are situated around the country. To find your local service, simply enter your postcode at https://www.cas.org.uk/bureaux
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP?
The community spirit shown by people across Lanarkshire has been heart-warming. If you would like to offer your help, there are a whole host of new groups working across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
They are working together to help spread cheer and make sure the most vulnerable in our area are getting the necessities they need.
The range of services provided include delivering shopping to elderly or vulnerable neighbours, using online group chats to combat social isolation and loneliness, and handing out care packages to the elderly and vulnerable.
If you are in Hamilton, you can find more information about the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142
If you are in Larkhall, you can find out more information about the COVID-19 Rainbows – Larkhall here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1092656721095368/permalink/1092743704420003
If you are in Stonehouse, you can find out more information about Stonehouse Coronavirus Community Support here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3402877913061116
At this time, it has never been more important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.
HELP SERVICES AVAILABLE
For Scottish Government information - https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/
For NHS Scotland information - https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus
For Resilience planning information - https://www.readyscotland.org/
For young people - https://young.scot/
For parents https://www.parentclub.scot/ and https://www.children1st.org.uk/help-for-families/parentline-scotland/
For older people - https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/
For information on charities and third sector - https://scvo.org.uk/support/coronavirus
For non-domestic rates business support - https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/