Home and Homelessness
Christmas is coming. For lots of us it’ll be a fun
time spent with family and friends; probably too much to eat and perhaps
a bit much to drink as well. Enjoy yourselves, one and all. We certainly
But it’s a good time of year to reflect upon those
who are more vulnerable and less fortunate than you and I. The
Westminster austerity measures, especially the Bedroom Tax, are
inevitably going to see more people in Scotland either homeless or
without enough to eat over the festive period.
We have some fantastic voluntary organisations like
the Salvation Army, the Trussell Trust and the Cyrenians but what kind
of society has this UK Government brought about that Five times more
Scots are turning to food banks for emergency aid than last year?
Between April and September, 23,073 people
were referred to the Trussell Trust for three days worth of food. Taken
across the UK as a whole, the Trust, which is the UK’s biggest provider
of food banks, has seen referrals treble to 350,000 this year. See:
That means you are less likely to be in so much need
in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. As a percentage of the population,
Scots could expect to have around 35,000 people in this predicament. Not
until we have the full leavers of independence will we be able to do
more than mitigate the worst effects of this journey into misery.
Westminster seems to be drawing us back towards a
very narrow idea of who in society ‘merits’ help and support. It is an
idea based, as far as I can see, around a belief that in fact no one who
falls on hard times should be entitled to any help from the state. They
should just go without or, at best, have to fight every inch of the way
to get anything.
And those using the food banks are not solely the
unemployed, sick or disabled. Many are working but for wages that are
too low for them to survive. This is a precipice that more and more
people are being pushed off. That is a really shocking state of affairs.
With a bit of the right kind of help and support,
folk really do change their lives, even when the odds seem stacked
I was incredibly impressed by a group of young mums I
met last week in Hamilton. This was an end-of-course event for them and
listening to their personal stories was hugely impressive and lived up
to the Transforming Lives course title.
Just think. You’re 15, you’re pregnant, your mum
isn’t too enamoured, your boyfriend has vanished and your big sister
thinks you’re mad to even consider having a baby. So what do you do?
You find the kind of support that One Parent Families
Scotland provides through this programme.
They were talking about how they’ve formed lifelong
friendships and seen opportunities that they never visualised for
themselves. Now they want to get out and grab every chance they can.
These women, mostly in their late teens or early
twenties, have made a huge impression on me. Through Transforming Lives,
they’ve discovered what they’re capable of and they’re fired up now to
go and achieve.
I would like especially to stress just how fantastic
Margaret McTaggart, who leads this programme, is. To her it’s much more
than just helping these young women to get to grips with the
practicalities of motherhood. It includes that of course but goes far
As she explains: “Sessions cover a lot of ground
dealing with practical issues like housing and money, looking towards
employment opportunities, getting qualifications, building a positive
attitude, discussing good qualities of your own, listening to others,
communications, trust and how to get the support you need as a young and
perhaps isolated mum.
“This is nothing to do with being smart or academic.
It’s about real life; about having the opportunities that will allow you
to make a real contribution for yourself, for your child and for the
wider community too.”
The Scottish Government believes this country’s
children are our future and we are proving that with our commitment to
increased free childcare.
Already, through the Children and Young People Bill,
we are increasing the available free hours to 600 a year. Come
independence, this Scottish Government will go far further: if
re-elected, we will introduce 1140 hours of free childcare for
pre-school children. That is the equivalent of a full school week and it
will not only help close the attainment gap, it will help mothers to
fulfil their own ambitions with the support of our society behind them.
As I’m sure many of you already know, UK Prime
Minister David Cameron has privatised Royal Mail. It’s not what any of
us in Scotland want. We believe that such an essential service ought to
remain in public ownership.
We have determined that, on independence, we will
reverse privatisation here. Because, of course, we ‘own’ a share of that
UK asset, First Minister Alex Salmond has made it very clear that a
Scottish Government led by the SNP will be in public hands.
Royal Mail staff here are certainly not convinced
that privatisation is good for them so it was interesting to go and talk
to Stewart Donaldson, the Royal Mail Centre manager in Hamilton and to
hear his views on the subject.
The leaflet he’s holding details our stance and it’s
one that he and the staff in Hamilton are entirely in agreement with!
They all know very well that jobs will be lost, pay scales, terms and
conditions changed beyond recognition with Royal Mail in private
As well as that, there is the anxiety that daily mail
deliveries, especially to the more remote parts of Scotland, are now
under serious threat and that the cost of postage is certain to
increase, probably dramatically.
On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day and the 65th
anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Roseanna
Cunningham, MSP, introduced Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human
Rights 2013-2017. It was rather apposite that everyone in the Chamber
was acutely conscious of the passing of Nelson Mandela and Roseanna
spoke of a towering statesman with integrity, humanity and compassion
who was an outstanding champion of universal human rights everywhere.
Introducing the debate, the Minister said: “The
creation of a modern inclusive Scotland that protects, respects and
realises the universal human rights of all our citizens is a core
ambition of this Government which is why the Scottish Human Rights
Commission’s efforts over the past 18 months to develop a national
action plan for human rights have enjoyed our support and our active
Scotland’s National Action Plan is the first of its
kind to be developed within the UK and I firmly believe and support its
path through to becoming an integral element in our Constitution when it