Tagged: Scottish Parliament

English Democrats enter election race in Berwick

The English Democrats have joined the general election race in the Berwick constituency by putting up a candidate for the May 7 vote.

Neil Humphrey has been selected as the party’s representative for the Berwick seat, giving voters six choices on the ballot paper next month.

►Scott Dickinson (Labour)

►Nigel Coghill-Marshall (UKIP)

►Neil Humphrey (English Democrats)

►Julie Pörksen (Liberal Democrats)

►Rachael Roberts (Green Party)

►Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Conservative)

The English Democrats are campaigning for the creation of an English Parliament and executive within the United Kingdom with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and executive.

The party’s main policies include restricting immigration to a points system. They would like to make St George’s Day a national holiday. The English Democrats also believe England should leave the EU via a referendum.

Mr Humphrey was a member of the Labour Party for 30 years before moving to UKIP, and then joined the English Democrats.

He says he would campaign for the A1 to be upgraded to a dual carriageway all the way up to the Scottish border. It follows the government’s financial pledge at the end of last year to dual the A1 only as far as Ellingham.

He believes pedestrian access, lorry turning and icy conditions have not been taken into account.

Mr Humphrey says the Berwick electorate should be concerned about concessions made to the SNP if they end up holding the balance of power after the election.

He said: “I think the constituency should be concerned about sleazy, back-room ‘horsetrading’ for a SNP backed coalition.

“I want a commitment that there can be no border move without a referendum on an area by area basis.”

Mr Humphrey says he understand the pressure on the NHS and wants things to change.

He said: “My wife is a retired ambulance woman. For some time I have been against super-hospitals, which move A&E further away and the running down of services.”

Mr Humphrey would also like to reintroduce so-called “Men’s Sheds” and open this up to younger ages.

He said: “Tools experience and career knowledge can be shared. We will fight to keep open libraries and protect budgets nationally from cuts.

“Working in control systems automation, there are very few senior engineers younger than myself. In 10-15 years time, we’ll all be retiring. All that infrastructure we rely on … we will have to import foreign immigrants. I believe we should be transferring those skills to the younger generation.

“I would like to see those who can program their mobile phones, or wire a car stereo, to be shown how in demand their skills could be in automation. That includes younger adolescences tempted by crime.”

Mr Humphrey’s also said he would like to see more professionals encouraged to enter politics and become members of parliament.

Source – Berwick Advertiser, 07 Apr 2015

Advertisements

SNP will not contest Berwick election seat

SNP politician Christine Grahame’s proposal to contest the Berwick constituency at next year’s General Election has been ruled out.

Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale in the Scottish Parliament, had previously expressed her willingness to be a candidate in the English seat currently held by long-serving Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith.

She felt it would secure the SNP leadership a place in any UK-wide television debates to be screened in the run-up to May. That way the SNP could claim to be standing right across the UK because it would have candidates in England as well as Scotland.

However, the idea has been rejected by the SNP executive.

Ms Grahame said:

“I am disappointed but not surprised that the SNP’s governing body has rejected my offer. I, of course, accept the ruling.”

The idea sparked debate among voters on both sides of the border.

The proposal certainly captured the imagination south of the border, with some predicting she could collect a significant numbers of votes from disaffected Berwickers.

While she was never likely to win a seat that is seen as a two-horse race between Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Liberal Democrat Julie Porksen, an SNP candidate might have been able to pick up support from voters disillusioned, most recently, by the failure of the coalition partners to commit to dualling the last 25 miles of the A1 up to Berwick.

Ms Graham’s proposal also received a favourable reaction from the North-East Party, which seeks greater devolution for Berwick and the north east of England generally.

She added:

“I have contacted Hilton Dawson, of the North-East Party, offering to assist them in their campaign if they think that would be helpful.

“But to stand in Berwick to promote devolution for the north east and to lay to rest the scare stories about Scotland cutting itself off from England in the event of independence (I am English born) I required approval from my party’s executive.”

Ms Grahame is no stranger to Berwick’s political scene.

In September she took part in the BBC’s pre-referendum ‘Scotland and Us’ debate at The Maltings, arguing that Scotland breaking away from England would be good for the area and would stimulate the case for devolution of powers to the north of England.

And in the run up to the 2008 general election she lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to “return to the fold” although politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval.

Source –  Berwick Advertiser,  12 Dec 2014

SNP willing to contest Berwick seat at election

An SNP politician has offered to stand for the Berwick seat at next year’s general election in a bid to help her party earn 
a spot in the nationwide TV leaders’ debates.

Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, says broadcasters have no plans to include the SNP leadership in any UK-wide debates to be screened in the run-up to May.

Her solution? To offer to stand as a candidate south of the border.

That way the SNP could claim to be standing right across the UK because it would have candidates in England as well as Scotland. Ms Grahame believes that would justify a place on the national stage for new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon when it comes to pre-election leader debates.

Ms Grahame said:

“I have offered to stand in Berwick as a candidate so we can get equal coverage on the television because we fight throughout the UK.

“I can still keep my seat in the Scottish Parliament but then they would have to say we stand all over the UK, we should have all our leaders in these debates.”

And this isn’t the first time English-born Ms Grahame has set her sights on Berwick, where she took part in the independence referendum debate in September.

Speaking at the BBC’s pre Scottish referendum ‘Scotland and Us’ debate at Berwick’s Maltings Theatre, she told the audience that Scotland breaking away from England would be good for the area and would stimulate the case for devolution of powers to the north of England.

And in the run up to the 2008 general election she lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to “return to the fold”.

Politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval, and afterwards Ms Grahame, said: “It was a semi-light hearted referendum but I think everyone was quite surprised what came out of it.

“Everyone seemed to find Scotland quite attractive.”

Source –  Berwick Advertiser,  20 Nov 2014

Labour ‘Locked Into The Tory Austerity Agenda’, Say SNP

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is calling on Westminster parties to clarify as to whether child benefit will be included in devolved powers on offer to Scotland.

The call comes after the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls revealed that a future Labour government would freeze child benefit rises at just 1% until 2017 – a real-terms cut.

Labour’s plan to cut child benefit is a clear indication that they are “locked into the Tory austerity agenda”, at a time when many families are already struggling and forced to turn to food banks, say the SNP.

SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said:

As Ed Balls has made clear in his speech [yesterday], Labour are locked into the Tory austerity agenda. This means more cuts that would hit Scotland hard.

“In the last few years, we have had cuts on top of cuts from the Tories. And it is clear that this will continue to be the case no matter what government we have in Westminster after next May’s General Election.

“Labour’s proposal to cut Child Benefit in real terms would hit families across Scotland in the pocket – at a time when many are already suffering at the hands of Tory cuts.

“Over the past year, the number of people using foodbanks has rocketed by 400 per cent. Westminster has proved time and time again that it cannot be trusted to look out for the vulnerable. For this reason, welfare needs to be devolved to Scotland.

“However, the reality is that Labour’s devolution commission proposals completely fail to outline what welfare powers they would devolve to Scotland – and make no mention of Child Benefit.

“The Labour Party need to remember that 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted Yes last week – and polling has shown that a further quarter of No voters cast their vote in the expectation that substantial further powers would be devolved to Scotland in the coming months.

“Ed Balls’ statement that he would not increase borrowing to fund capital investment also raises questions about the effectiveness of the borrowing powers that are already supposed to be coming to the Scottish Parliament.

“The Westminster parties must now honour their commitment on further powers to the people of Scotland – and the first thing they must do is outline exactly what powers they are proposing for the Scottish Parliament.

“It is only with this much needed clarity we can move forward and work to get the best possible deal for Scotland in the circumstances.”

Source –  Welfare News Service,  23 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/labour-locked-tory-austerity-agenda-say-snp/

Campaigner calls for Scottish border to reach the south bank of the Tyne

Scots are heading to the polls later this month to decide on the possibility of independence.

But one Newcastle man thinks the borders of any new country should be redrawn – south of the Tyne.

Andrew Gray, a member of the Green Party, has launched a petition that he hopes could lead to a referendum which could see Newcastle vote to leave England.

While the eyes of the nation have been on Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Mr Gray, who lives in Heaton, believes the independence debate should extend beyond the Scottish borders.

Distance from London, tuition fees, the rising cost of social care and the privatisation of the NHS are among a hat-trick of reasons Mr Gray believes Newcastle should join Scotland.

He said:

“Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically.

“The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, higher education without tuition fees, and, if there’s a yes vote in the referendum, defence without the threat of Trident.

“We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas.

“We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland.

“We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.”

Dr Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, said the idea was “interesting” but that Scotland is unlikely to expand.

He said feelings of neglect by Westminster have helped lead to the Scottish independence debate as well as devolved power for Northern Ireland and Wales, and those are shared by the region.

He said:

It’s an interesting idea and obviously there’s a lot of sympathy and shared feeling and a lot of links between Scotland and the North of England.

“The issue that it points to is that the north has not been well-governed from Westminster.”

But he added:

“I do not think anyone has interest in moving the border. I don’t really think Scotland wants to add stacks of territory and I don’t really think England would want to give it up.

“There is no political will behind this and you would need considerable political will to make this move.”

The referendum on Scottish independence is due to take place on September 18.

> Why stop at the north bank of the Tyne ? Extend the Scottish border to the north bank of the Tees !

Source – Newcastle Journal,  01 Sept 2014

Tory Minister Admits Link Between Welfare Cuts And Food Banks

Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:

After months of denial, a UK [Conservative Party] Minister has finally admitted there is a link between Westminster welfare cuts and the increase in food bank use across Scotland.

 Giving evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee in the Scottish Parliament, Under Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell* said there “isn’t any doubt” that some people have been forced to go to food banks “because they have been subject, for example, to sanctions or delays in receiving benefits.

The evidence the committee heard today is in stark contrast to evidence given to the committee by DWP director Neil Couling, who said that growing reliance on food banks was a result of the poorest people in society having to “maximise their economic choices”. This was later backed up by Employment Minister Esther McVey in a letter to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.

Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud has also previously claimed there was no link between Tory welfare cuts and soaring food bank use.

During the committee meeting, David Mundell also said he wanted the UK Government to produce an analysis of the use of food banks – something that has not yet been carried out, despite evidence from the Trussell Trust that reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent in the past year.

The Trust’s figures also show that 22,387 children in Scotland used food banks in 2013/14 alone – an increase of over 1000 per cent since 2011/12.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – who previously described the UK welfare system as “fantastic” – was scheduled to appear at the committee, but cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.

SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:

While it is welcome that a UK Government Minister has finally faced up to the fact that Westminster’s attack on welfare is responsible for the growing number of people forced to rely on food banks, this admission is long overdue. For months, Westminster has ducked responsibility and tried to blame the poor for the devastating impact cuts to benefits are having.

“David Mundell has said he would like to see a UK Government analysis on food banks – something that has not yet been produced, despite the fact reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent. Given we now have 22,387 children in Scotland relying on food banks for a square meal, we desperately need a change of direction.

“Scotland is brimming with resources and talent – and is richer per head than the UK, France and Japan – but while it is tied the Westminster system the most vulnerable people in society are forced to use food banks. Only a Yes vote in September can give Scotland the opportunity to build the fairer country we know we can be.”

Commenting on Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s cancellation of his appearance before the committee with less than 24 hours’ notice, Annabelle Ewing said:

It was very disappointing that Alistair Carmichael did not attend the Welfare Reform Committee today. While everyone understands the importance of the commemoration on World War 1, Alistair Carmichael has a duty to appear before the Scottish Parliament and explain why the UK welfare system is ‘fantastic’ as he has previously claimed, and it would be good if it could be rescheduled.”

 

*David Mundell is the Conservative Party member of parliament  for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (2014).

 

Source: Minister admits welfare cuts link to food bank use

Source – Welfare News Service, 26 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/tory-minister-admits-link-welfare-cuts-food-banks/

‘Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution’, says Welfare Reform Committee

Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.

In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.

Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.

The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –

  • a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
  • a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
  • a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
  • a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
  • the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
  • the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
  • the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.

Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.

Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:

“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.

“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?

“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.

Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk

Source –  Benefits & Work,  12 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2800-benefit-sanctions-can-lead-to-a-spiral-of-decline-and-potentially-destitution-says-welfare-reform-committee

UK Government ‘In Denial’ Over Food Banks And Welfare Reforms, Say MSPs

The Welfare Reform Committee in Holyrood has accused the UK Government of being “in denial” over the link between welfare reforms and increasing demand on food banks.

Committee members visited a number of food banks across Scotland and took written evidence from providers including Trussell Trust, Oxfam Scotland and the British Red Cross, as part of an inquiry into the supposed link between benefit changes and food bank usage.

The committee also commissioned research from the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

 According to the Trussell Trust, the demand for food banks has increased by 400% since the UK Government began their relentless attack on social security benefits.

The committee raised concerned that the increased use of benefit sanctions against some of the poorest sections of society is behind the startling rise in food bank usage.

In the year leading up to September 2013, official Government figures show that nearly 900,000 Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants had their benefit payments cut or stopped completely – the highest figure since JSA was introduced.

22,840 sick and disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were also sanctioned during this period.

This, in part, has led to MSPs arguing that it is “insulting to suggest” that there is “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”, as suggested by Tory employment minister Esther McVey in a letter to the Scottish Government.

McVey recently postponed a meeting with the committee to discuss the impact of welfare reform in Scotland. This resulted in Labour MSP Ken Macintosh accusing the UK Government of deliberately trying to “avoid answering questions” about the “significant and negative impact the welfare changes have had on some of our most vulnerable”.

Scottish Labour MSP and convener of the committee, Michael McMahon said:

The UK Government can no longer ignore the evidence that their welfare reforms are having a real impact on people’s ability to feed themselves.

“There can be no place for this in a modern, prosperous nation, just as there should be no need for food banks.

“Our evidence showed some low paid workers need to access food banks.

“This makes it even more insulting for them to insist that people using food banks are anything other than in desperate need of help. Help the welfare system should be providing, not charities.

“Allowing this Dickensian model of welfare to take root is simply unacceptable. Ignoring the problem cannot be part of the solution.”

The committee’s Deputy convener and SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, said:

All our committee members visited food banks across Scotland.

“We were impressed by the professional and respectful way that the volunteers dealt with people who came to them, often in their hour of greatest need.”

Hepburn said that the UK Government needed to “own up to the role it is playing in causing the increase in demand and stop pretending this is simply all about people looking for something for nothing”, and that any such suggestion “insults the vulnerable members of our society using food banks and the volunteers that run them”.

Hepburn slammed the government’s welfare changes for “pushing people to the brink – and often beyond”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report as not being “based on solid evidence, but on the opinions of those interviewed”, adding:

The truth is that employment is going up, benefits are being paid to claimants more quickly and independent experts tell us that there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago.

“The Trussell Trust and other foodbanks agree that increased awareness has helped to explain their recent growth.

“We spend £94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system provides a safety net that supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed.

“Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

> Said the DWP spokesperson, as their nose grew another metre…

Source – Welfare News Service,  02 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/uk-government-denial-food-banks-welfare-reforms-say-msps/

Sanctions ineffective, jobcentre staff say

Jobcentre staff do not believe stopping people’s benefits encourages them to look for work, according to a PCS union  survey.

Echoing the government’s own research, in a survey of their members who work as jobcentre advisors, 70% of respondents said sanctions had no positive impact.

> But were they meant to have a “positive” impact ? I dont think that was every the case, they have always been a form of punishment.

More than three quarters of those who took part said they had seen an increase in referrals to foodbanks.

The findings contrast sharply with outrageous comments made yesterday by one of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ most senior civil servants.

Questioned by Members of the Scottish Parliament, Neil Couling said many people who face benefit sanctions “welcome the jolt” it can give them.

He also claimed poor people were “maximising their economic choices” by turning to foodbanks.

When PCS exposed the prevalence of advisers being given targets for referring claimants for sanctions last year, it was Couling who tried to rubbish it, despite the overwhelming evidence.

Targets for sanctions

In the survey, 23% said they had been given an explicit target for making sanction referrals and 81% said there was an ‘expectation‘ level.

Almost two thirds said they had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately.

More than one third stated they had been placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) for not making “enough” referrals and 10% had gone as far as formal performance procedures.

The performance system can lead to dismissal so this kind of pressure is a thinly veiled threat to people’s jobs.

> As opposed to the explicit threat of sanctioning those who have no job at all…

The DWP is yet to provide any evidence that advisers who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged in the same way.

Damaging effects

The stricter regime has led to an increase in violence and threats, with 72% of respondents reporting an increase in verbal abuse and 37% seeing an increase in physical abuse.

While we do not believe it is acceptable, we understand the anger directed towards jobcentre staff and we have a shared interest with claimants in bringing this counterproductive system to an end.

> Well, let us know when you start… my personal experience is that there are far too many Jobcentre workers who seem quite enthusiastic about sanctioning people. Perhaps they’re not PCS members ?

We continue to work with Unite Community branches, Unemployed Workers Centres and others and are raising our concerns with senior officials.

We believe the government must fully analyse and take responsibility for the damaging effects sanctions are having on claimants and their families.

> In the meantime ?  PCS are in the position of really damaging this increasingly insane strategy by instructing members not to sanction anyone. They cant sack everyone.

But I fear the PCS has no teeth and no spine.

Source – PCS website  30 April 2014

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/sanctions-ineffective-jobcentre-staff-say

No Relationship Between Benefit Sanctions And Food Banks, Say DWP

 Department For Work And Pensions Director, Neil Couling, has claimed that there is no relationship between the increased used of benefit sanctions against unemployed jobseeker’s and the rising number of people turning to food banks.

According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), the claim was made during a Scottish Welfare Reform Committee session, where Mr Couling was standing in for the conservative Employment Minister, Esther McVey MP.

The SNP also claim that Mr Couling ‘took issue’ with existing evidence showing there has been a 209 per cent increase in the number of sanctions handed out against benefit claimants in Scotland since 2006, and Mr Couling joked that sanctioned benefit claimants were bringing ‘Thank You’ cards to his office.

Figures suggest that the number of instances where a benefit claimants has had their benefits cut or stopped completely, as a result of having their benefits sanctioned, more than tripled between 2006 – 2013, from 25,953 to 80,305.

 The coalition government toughened the existing benefit sanction regime in 2012 and has recently introduced the ‘Claimant Commitment‘. Charities fear this could increase the number of sanctions being dished out against unemployed jobseeker’s even further.

Under the new system benefit claimants who fail to adhere to tough new requirements could find their payments being docked for four weeks, increasing to up to three years for repeat offenders.

A growing number of politicians, charities and benefit claimants themselves are drawing attention to instances where unemployed people have had their benefits slashed for long periods inappropriately.

These include not applying for enough jobs in a single week, even though the unemployed person has evidence that they had applied for dozens of job vacancies, as well as instances where jobseeker’s have had their benefits sanctioned for failing to turn up to a jobcentre appointment, despite having informed their adviser that they were attending a hospital appointment or the funeral of a family member.

Speaking after the committee session at the Scottish Parliament, Kevin Stewart MSP said:

“Mr Couling should visit the food banks in Scotland to speak to the people who have had their welfare benefits sanctioned and now face huge difficulties feeding themselves and their families.

“Perhaps if Mr Couling listened to the expert evidence the committee heard today from the Head of Policy at Barnardo’s Scotland; Citizens Advice Scotland; the Head of Oxfam Scotland and others including Dr John Ip, GP of the British Medical Association, then he might have had a better understanding of the reality of the situation.

“Mr Couling may have been joking when he claimed that Welfare sanctions were bringing  ‘Thank-you’ cards from benefits claimants to his office but there is nothing funny about people who have to line up in order to receive vital food parcels for their hungry children.

“Amidst Mr Couling’s contradictory claims he did concede that ‘the chances of having a sanction is going up’ and that is the grim reality of people unable to find work – which means they have no income and are forced to use food banks.

“As Labour MSP Ken Macintosh pointed out, the Scottish Government has indeed given a further £1million towards food banks – but as Mark Ballard from Barnardo’s highlighted, the Scottish Government hasn’t the powers to totally mitigate the harmful Westminster benefit cuts.

“Instead of people in Scotland being forced to rely upon a Westminster welfare system that is being aggressively cut and sanctioning thousands people who need support, we need a system that truly reflects Scotland’s values.

“With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build that kind of system and ensure that the priorities of people in Scotland are truly reflected in our welfare system.

“It is only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum that will secure that opportunity for Scotland and restore people’s faith that they will receive the support they need from the rest of society when they are facing difficult times.”

Source – Welfare News Service    30 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/relationship-benefit-sanctions-food-banks-say-dwp/