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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
23rd May 2013

THE BEDROOM TAX continues to be an absolute nightmare throughout my constituency. Forgive me if you feel I’ve been guilty of talking too much about this but it honestly horrifies me how constituents are being abused by Westminster policy.

Very few people in Scotland voted to put this Government into power in London. In fact, there is just one Conservative MP in Scotland out of a total of 59 seats.

If it’s true that we get the governments we vote for, then why does Scotland keep getting governments it doesn’t vote for? While the London-based parties – Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats – see the Scottish Parliament as a step on the way to Westminster, the SNP has an entirely different view. It is our own Parliament in Scotland that matters most.

If you’re a social housing tenant in London, your options are very limited. There’s a nice advertisement for a five bedroomed flat on the new Hyde Park development at the moment. See it here: That’s right, it’s £45,000 PER WEEK!

Yes, of course, that’s not where social housing tenants are going to be given accommodation but it does give you a general indication of rental prices in London.

Scottish rentals, at least outside of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and certainly in my constituency, are a bit more realistic. You can have a luxury, furnished two bedroomed flat in The Fairways, a modern development in Hamilton, for about £200 a week, or one in Caird Garden for £110 a week.

We live in the real world around here.

Yet we find London’s so-called Welfare Reforms (a synonym for welfare cuts) imposed upon us. I can understand why a local authority in London might want to consider moving a family of five from private rented accommodation that costs, say, £2,000 a week to something a bit less expensive but these are situations that just don’t apply here.

This week I met with Maryjane Morrison in Hamilton. She’s a single parent of two children, a boy aged eight and a little girl of eight months. She has just been told that because she gives her two children a bedroom each she has to pay £44 a month in bedroom tax.

That’s because the Westminster criteria state that you can have two children of different gender sharing a room until one is 10 years old. The daft thing is that if the Clyde Valley Housing Association carries through its eviction order, Maryjane will be forced to move, probably into private and more expensively rented accommodation, for two years, at which point she is then entitled to the very house she is being forced out of.

Maryjane is distraught. She can’t find an additional £44 a month out of her already limited benefits and she clearly can’t work with an eight month old baby, nor should she be forced to.

With the power levers to do it, a SNP-led Scottish Government would approach cases like Maryjane’s in a quite different way. We would not penalise people who are already struggling. We would work to reduce the gap between rich and poor, not increase it.

In another shocking example, South Lanarkshire Council is taking a social housing tenant to court for arrears of less than £130. Angela Buskie, a mum of three, was told ‘pay up or get out’ but she can’t do that. The deductions would leave her with £10 a week to feed her family, pay for their clothes and other vital expenses.

The Labour council leader, Eddie McEvoy, who was tracked down by the newspaper in his local bar, said he didn’t know anything about it. That’s not good enough. Mr. McEvoy needs to be in touch with his own policies.

Angela’s solicitor says he knows of at least seven other cases in South Lanarkshire Council’s area so there are going to be more people slapped against the wall for daring to be vulnerable.

The Conservation-Lib Dem coalition need to get thinking about a whole bunch of people they’ll make homeless in Scotland. Where will they go?

On a lighter note, there are of course other aspects of bedrooms than taxing them. I donned some bedroom kit at the Parliament last Friday in a bid to raise awareness of National Onesie Day.

I’m sure you’ll agree I look very fetching sitting in the Think Pod in my office tucked up in aliens and robots!

The Scottish Sunday Mail newspaper organised the event to raise money for 17  charities across the country including Chest, heart and Stroke, Breast Cancer Care and Childline. They encouraged schools, nurseries, colleges, universities and businesses across the country to take part in a fun day and raise money for the Sunday Mail Centenary Fund.

I was delighted to be invited to visit the Scottish Gas Training Academy in Hamilton on Wednesday. It was great to see some of the fantastic work that’s going on there, both in up-skilling the workforce and helping to create a greener environment for all of us – something very close to the heart of the Scottish Government. The young apprentices were a fantastic bunch, especially Jackie who was very impressive.

In the last few years, this government has increased the number of Modern Apprenticeship from 15,000 to 25,000 a year and will continue to do that for the lifetime of this Parliament. That’s good news for companies like Scottish Gas in its drive to tackle climate change and build a greener and more prosperous country.

It was hugely encouraging to see those young people grasping the opportunity to build a career for themselves in the green energy sector. There is a huge appetite for it and a growing recognition that these kinds of skills are just as crucial as academic ones.

We’ve seen Scotland present the largest rise in employment on record with an increase of 54,000 people in work. That’s a good indicator of our capacity for prosperity and a fairer society.

Speaking of vulnerable people, I’ve been struck by the devastation felt by 3,500 people with disabilities who have lost their jobs in England. The decision to close all of the Remploy factories has wrecked the lives of people who had worked there for years.

The reason they were closed? They weren’t making a profit.

In Scotland, we have taken a different approach. Where people want and are able to work, we want to help them to do so.

So I was pleased when Transport and Veterans Cabinet Secretary, Keith Brown, came to visit the Remploy Veterans Employment Project in Hamilton this week.

Remploy’s Quarry Street office has found jobs for 185 people who have complex barriers to employment during the last year, in spite of the recession.

Their work with ex-armed forces personnel is caring, sensitive and important to those individuals and their families.

Keith Brown said: “There is more to a working life than making profits. I believe the Veterans Employment Project shows, in its actions, that people with disabilities have a real contribution to make and it is one that matters hugely to the confidence and self-esteem of each individual. No government should just write that off and say ‘no good, you aren’t delivering a profit.’

“That is especially true of those who have given their services in the armed forces. We owe it to them to provide the onging support they need and deserve.”

“An SNP-led Scottish Government will want to continue making the option for people with disability issues available. I have seen today just what Remploy means to the people who work here and I am horrified by Westminster’s ‘cut and run’ attitude.”]

First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy FM Nicola Sturgeon released a new document on the Scottish economy after independence on Tuesday. See it here:

The report was launched at manufacturing company, Alexander Denis, in Falkirk – a company you in the US may well be familiar with because it exports a lot of buses to you, including those Greyhounds!

The First Minister was talking not only about manufacturing but also sectors such as renewables, life sciences and food and drink. He made the clear point that Scotland is being constrained, held back, by Westminster’s constant cutting and mismanagement of the economy.

If we had the fiscal levers to do it, we could have created something like 19,000 jobs in the five years up to 2014. Instead, we’ve been subjected to Westminster’s refusal to go ahead with shovel-ready projects in infrastructure. We need to be able to instigate those projects ourselves, but at the moment, we can’t do that.

That old ‘too small, too weak, too poor’ argument collapsed once again under the figures. Nicola Sturgeon pointed out the massive strengths and advantages that the Scottish economy has and how readily it could move to doing much more with independence.

In 2011-12, Scotland generated 9.9 per cent of UK tax receipts with 8.4 per cent of the population. That is worth £56.9 billion in tax take. Now, just think what we could do with that.

I was slightly depressed by the fact that Norway now has a fund worth £450 billion based on its oil production. Now, if Scotland had been able to set up a fund like that back in the 1970s, think where we might be now?

Of course, there is no point in lamenting history but let’s get it right from here on in.

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