Over half working low income households struggle with energy costs

New research by the national charity Turn2us has found that over half (55%) of low income households in Scotland are struggling with their energy costs, despite being in work. Worryingly, of those households who are struggling, over half (52%) have done so for more than a year.

As the weather turns colder, the research also reveals that more than half (55%) of low income workers in Scotland are worried about paying their energy costs this winter. As a result, more than two-thirds (68%) of households feel they will have to cut back on or not use their heating whilst nearly half (49%) said they would resort to cutting back on food. Over two fifths (42%) anticipate that their energy bills will cause further stress and worry in the coming months.

Turn2us’ research also suggests a lack of awareness of the help that might be available to low income working households in Scotland, or potential reluctance to access it. Of those who are struggling to pay their energy costs, only 17% have told their energy supplier about their situation, and only 10% have turned to an advice organisation for help.

Furthermore, over four in five (82%) of all low income households in Scotland have not checked their eligibility for welfare benefits in the last twelve months, whilst a huge 84% are unaware that some energy suppliers have charitable trusts set up to help certain customers.

As a result, Turn2us is running its No Cold Homes campaign specifically to help more people who are unable to afford to heat their homes. The charity is encouraging anyone in financial hardship to use its free online service to see if they are eligible for welfare benefits, charitable grants and other support – additional income which could help them manage their energy costs over the colder months.


The No Cold Homes campaign runs from 18 November to 16 December 2015. For more information, click here.

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Crosshouse Primary

Like most MSPs I try to spend Mondays and Fridays getting around the area I represent, and when you are a regional MSP for South Scotland, there is a lot of ground to cover.

Today one of my first meetings was with Primary 6 pupils at Crosshouse Primary. I do get a lot of opportunities to speak to young people – at primary and secondary schools – and I am so often impressed and intrigued by the questions they ask, and by what they think that the role of a MSP is.

I am very grateful to the pupils for all their questions today. And hope that the answers were as helpful as intended.

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World Diabetes Day

Tomorrow is World Diabetes Day.

More than 276,000 people are currently living with diabetes in Scotland.

Diabetes requires constant management, so that people can live well and avoid long-term complications. But managing it is challenging, and people need access to support and education to give them the skills and confidence to manage their diabetes well.

There is clear evidence that diabetes education courses can prevent serious and costly complications, such as blindness, kidney failure or amputations. Diabetes education not only improves day-to-day management and quality of life, but also provides high value healthcare and can even save the NHS money. That is why The Diabetes Improvement Plan identified access to ‘consistent, high quality education’ as a national priority.

This is why Diabetes Scotland have a new campaign, Taking Control, about the importance  of diabetes education. The campaign recommends that every Health Board has a plan to ensure that everyone with diabetes has access to a diabetes education course. They also recommend that everyone has access to a range of options to learn about their diabetes on an on-going basis.

I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are living with diabetes and who are part of the campaign. As a result I am writing to health boards in South Scotland to ask about their diabetes education plans.

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Pensions Ombudsman’s findings in Milne vs. the Government Actuary’s Department – Update

For those affected, and I know that there are many in South Scotland, there has been an update in the case of the Pensions Ombudsman’s findings in Milne vs. the Government Actuary’s Department.

Following the Pensions Ombudsman’s recent Determination on the complaint brought by Mr W Milne it has been agreed that additional payments are to be made to scheme members whose pension commenced between:

Males:      1st December 2001 and 21st August 2006 (for Firefighters) or
                   1st December 2001 and 30th November 2006 (for Police)
Females:  1st December 2004 and 21st August 2006 (for Firefighters) or
                    1st December 2004 and 30th November 2006 (for Police)

and who chose to commute their pension for lump sum at retirement. This is to address the Ombudsman’s conclusion that the scheme’s commutation factors should have been reviewed before 2006.

The Milne Team are now finalising the redress calculations and payments will be made to the majority of retired scheme members along with their monthly pensions between 13th November and 1st December 2015. Advisory letters will be issued prior to payments being made.

For more information click here.

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Policing Review Report published today

I was proud to publish my Policing Review report today.

I was asked to undertake the review to assess the effectiveness of the single police force and propose reforms to restore local accountability and reverse the impact of the damaging SNP government cuts to staff and services.

Through hearing from rank and file officers, staff and the public I have heard a worryingly consistent story, one of two Police Scotlands – the front line and the executive. Scotland’s police officers and staff are working hard and doing their best to deliver for the communities that they serve, whereas those at the top of Police Scotland, the Scottish Policing Authority and the Scottish Government have put in place an organisation lacking in local accountability and good governance.

I am grateful to all those who contributed to the review. To those who came to the meetings in Dundee, Inverness, Dumfries, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Edinburgh; and to all those who called or wrote in – your contributions were really helpful in drawing a comprehensive picture of how Police Scotland is working across Scotland.

Here are the Review recommendations:

  • Improve Parliamentary oversight – The Scottish Parliament should convene a committee of the Parliament to oversee the national emergency services of police, fire and rescue, ambulance and coast guard in the context of the national infrastructure arrangements and preparedness for emergencies.
  • Ensure resources meet local needs – A resource audit must now be conducted across the country to identify accurately the staff and resource allocation for each ‘community’, whether that be at local authority or police divisional levels, as decided by local committees.
  • Build a link between local committees and the SPA – Convenors of local committees should be given a right of audience at the Scottish Police Authority board meetings regarding issues that are beyond resolution at the local level.
  • Ensure a properly balanced force – The Chief Constable with the agreement of the SPA should determine the balance of the force required; to ensure the most effective police force possible.
  • Enable better local oversight – All members of local committees should be trained so that they can properly hold Police Scotland to account. There should be a formal recognition that the primary purpose of local committees is to hold divisional commanders to account on the issues that are important to those committees.
  • Share best practice and concerns – There should be a recognised voice for deputy and assistant chief constables in the gathering of information in terms of policy.  With the end of ACPOS no recognised forum is currently available to capture those views.
  • A more robust SPA – The SPA must adapt its role in order to scrutinise genuine governance in order to ensure high levels of public accountability for police activities and budgets. The Chair of the SPA should be made confirmable by a vote of the whole parliament
  • Urgently review IT infrastructure – There is an urgent need for an active review of IT strategy and IT deliverables.  Given that accurate information and intelligence is vital to policing the absence of a dependable end to end IT provision is a risk too far in this modern age.  We can buy products across the world from Amazon and eBay more easily than police can access their own databases across Scotland.
  • Clear complaint handling – The Police Investigation and Review Commissioner (PIRC) should be given the sole responsibility for the conduct of investigations alleging misconduct and criminality affecting the service. All cases should be referred to PIRC who can refer back low level complaints to Police Scotland.
  • Learn from the past: a full business case is crucial – There should be an acknowledgement from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Police Authority that the absence of a full business case before the commencement of Police Scotland has created significant problems when taking forward a reform of this magnitude.

You can read the full report here.

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The right to palliative care

Supporting Marie Curie right to palliative care 5-11-15I am proud to be supporting the Marie Curie campaign that everyone should have the right to palliative care when they need to.

I know that this is an issue that a lot of constituents in South Scotland care very deeply about and many have written to me to express just how deeply.

Marie Curie offers care and support to people living with a terminal illness, and their families. I know how much such support means to the people cared for and it is support which should be available to everyone who needs it.

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Tax Credits

Working families in the South of Scotland will be protected by Tory cuts to Tax Credits by Scottish Labour.

The party announced that they would protect working families in Scotland from tax credit cuts using the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament.

Party leader Kezia Dugdale announced the move in her keynote speech to Scottish Labour conference in Perth last week, outlining that the party would pay for the move by cancelling planned SNP tax cuts on air passenger duty and Tory cuts for higher rate tax payers.

Tax credits work. They make work pay for families in the South of Scotland and across Scotland. They lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, and they allow families to aspire to more than just making it to the end of the month.

That’s why the Labour Government introduced them in the first place and why Scottish Labour would ruse the powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to reverse the Tories plans to cut them.

This is about different choices between Labour and the SNP when it comes to priorities. It’s about standing up for working families.

The SNP want to make a plane ticket cheaper, I don’t think that’s the right priority when there are families in the South of Scotland who can’t afford the weekly shop.

This is about what we stand for and who we stand with. Labour will put the incomes of working class families before the price of a business class flights.


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Graeme backs Charity’s Service supporting young deaf constituents in to employment

Graeme Pearson MSP is backing charity Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Moving On service which offers support for young deaf people in Ayrshire to fulfil their training or employment aspirations.

Graeme Pearson MSP and Teri Devine Action on Hearing Loss Scotland Nov 15Moving On, which is funded by The Big Lottery Fund Scotland, supports young deaf or hard of hearing people aged 16-25 into employment, training, education and volunteering opportunities.

The charity’s Employment Advisers, who sign to a high level of British Sign Language (BSL), provide specialist support to build the confidence of clients as well as giving practical advice about preparing CVs, interview training and ensuring that potential employers know how to book BSL / English interpreters or other communication support for job interviews.

Moving On also provides information to help employers to meet their legal responsibilities to be accessible for job-seekers who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Graeme  said: “Young people who are deaf or have hearing loss often face barriers when seeking life-changing employment or training opportunities, and Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Moving On service can play a vital role in supporting them to progress towards reaching their full potential.

“I urge employers across Ayrshire to contact Moving On to find out how they can make their recruitment processes accessible and ensure that talented local young deaf or hard of hearing people have the chance to progress in their preferred careers.”

Delia Henry, Director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, said: “We’re delighted to have Graeme Pearson MSP’s backing for our specialist Moving On service which can provide information to help employers to be accessible for job-seekers who are deaf or have hearing loss.

“We look forward to supporting young people across Ayrshire who are deaf or have hearing loss to gain valuable work and volunteering experiences which meet their individual needs and help them achieve their aspirations.”

For information about Moving On, email: movingon@hearingloss.org.uk or visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/MovingOn

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Knox Academy awaits

I will shortly be heading to Knox Academy to meet with S6 pupils taking Advanced Higher Modern Studies. As part of their course they have to write a dissertation, and the criminal justice system will be the focus.

I have met with the Advanced Higher class in previous years, and have been impressed with the preparation and the questions so I am looking forward to today.

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Scottish Labour Conference

This morning I am heading to Perth for the Scottish Labour Conference. As well as discussing justice issues in the Conference Hall, I will also be Chairing two fringe meetings, one for the Scottish Police Federation and one for the Moira Fund. I am looking forward to discussing many issues including support for victims of crime and support for our Police service.

I also wanted to share an article that I wrote for LabourHame earlier this week:

The past four years in opposition have been particularly frustrating as a member of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament. This SNP Government has persisted in using their absolute majority in the Parliament to ignore amendments and motions from Scottish Labour.

As a result of their approach, the reform of policing in Scotland has degenerated into chaos. Our demand for a properly worked out business plan reflecting a commitment to local policing was refused, as was our attempt to ensure redundancy plans, office closures and control room closures were fully examined and assessed.

The high handed response from Kenny Macaskill during his time as Cabinet Secretary led to a series of controversies. Troubling issues arose around the use of firearms by police on routine patrol, the sheer excess of stop and searches across the country, and incidents such as the M9 road accident – all of which have had a detrimental effect on public confidence in the police.

From the outset, Scottish Labour sought to create a committee at the Parliament with a duty of oversight in respect of emergency services at the national level. After more than a year of resistance, the Government finally gave ground and supported the creation of a sub-committee of the Justice Committee with a role of scrutinising policing. In the past eighteen months this committee has opened up the facts around Police Scotland’s policies and revealed the extent of support staff redundancies, the resultant back office filling by police officers as well as the frustrations faced by officers struggling to adhere to a culture of targets.

In relation to the courts system, Scottish Labour has, in the time of this Parliament, challenged the Government over the cuts to Legal Aid that largely affect working people whilst allowing criminals who repeatedly appear in our courts unaffected.

We have also focused very heavily on the experiences of victims and witnesses as they play their part in the justice system. Scottish Labour has gathered an abundance of evidence to justify a radical change to our approach in this area. Although there has been significant changes to the way in which courts operate, those changes have not in fact enabled witnesses or victims’ families to access the courts in a way that leaves them without feeling further victimised. We need to address these issues in the next Parliament.

Prison reform in terms of what we expect from the Scottish Prison Service is long overdue. Our previous commitment to privatising prisons was in my view inappropriate. Scottish Labour would for the future seek the Prison Service to deliver more effectively in relation to re offending rates.

Too often ‘purposeful activity’ in prison parlance means merely football and access to the gym. We need to see a prison environment which ensures family relationships for prisoners are enabled, educational and skills related opportunities are promoted and the issues around substance abuse are effectively dealt with.

Finally, in the area of prisoner access, Scottish Labour wants to see a greater use of video conferencing to enable prisoner interviews with solicitors as well as court appearances around the country. Effective use of technology should not only assist in the effective administration of justice, it would also cut ongoing costs and benefit the environment by reducing the substantial traffic that comes and goes from prisons around the country each day.

There are many more subject areas that deserve our attention: the legislation dealing with sectarianism at football grounds, the threat to the principle of corroboration not to mention the use of covert surveillance by the police in regard to journalists. Time in the Parliament is surprisingly short when it comes to debating these issues but the public can be confident Scottish Labour will continue to focus on the real issues affecting working people with a view to making Scotland safe and fair for all of our citizens.

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