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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
13th December 2013

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 intend to!

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.

Transforming Lives

With a bit of the right kind of help and support, folk really do change their lives, even when the odds seem stacked against them.

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 beyond it.

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.

Royal Mail

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 ownership.

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.

Human Rights

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 engagement.”

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 is composed.

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