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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
Pay to appeal

Pay to appeal

In another of Westminster’s moves to diminish still further the living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable, Chancellor George Osborne has surpassed himself. He wants to charge those whose benefits have been stopped to be able to lodge an appeal. The Guardian was the first newspaper to reveal the story:

Westminster Tory Chancellor, George Osborne

Imagine your reaction. You are suddenly informed that you have been stripped of your benefits. You will no longer receive a benefit such as the Disability Living Allowance which you have relied upon for many years to make ends meet. This money will have been crucial for you to meet special costs associated with your disability needs and to allow you to stay independent.

“Well,” you think, “I’ll appeal against this decision. Surely an independent judge will see that my position hasn’t changed; that I need this money as much as I have ever done? There is universal free access to justice in this country, isn’t there?”

Not for much longer it would seem. On top of having introduced a charge of £250 to begin an Employment Tribunal if you feel you’ve been wrongly dismissed from your job, you may have to pay another £250 to appeal a decision that stops your benefit.

In the past year in the UK, nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped. We’re not talking money to go partying. We’re talking the funds to heat a home and buy food.

That’s why there is a 170% rise in the number of people in the UK now using food banks to survive in the last 12 months. The figure has leapt from 128,697 to 346,992. You can’t just drift into a food bank and ask for items. You have to prove your legitimacy as a recipient first so these are people, a third of them children, who really need food urgently and on an ongoing basis. Scotland’s biggest food bank has now run out of food as the number of poverty-stricken Scots reaches its highest level ever:

Only with independence can Scotland ensure that we have the powers we need to guarantee that our most vulnerable families and groups are protected. That this kind of situation exists in the 21st century in a modern, developed country is outrageous and profoundly shocking. With Westminster in power, the situation is going to get worse and worse here in Scotland.

There is only one democratic answer to this Westminster-imposed agenda – one that PM David Cameron describes as a ‘moral crusade’ incidentally – and that, of course, is a vote for independence.

Scotland generates massive wealth and puts more than its fair share into the London Treasury but we do not reap the rewards. Instead our most disadvantaged people are facing the brunt of government cuts through unfair measures such as this.

Speaking of hypocrisy

You will probably be aware of the News International/phone hacking scandal and the court case going on at the Old Bailey in London. We get the news from the trial on a daily basis. The latest news is that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had secretly advised the then editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, to forget about the phone hacking that had gone on during her watch: “It’ll all pass. Take some sleeping pills.”

You can see the report here:

Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair

Just six days before Ms Brooks was arrested, Mr. Blair was advising her to set up her own inquiry, likening it to a ‘Hutton-style’ approach. The Hutton inquiry, you may remember, was the one that looked into the doctoring of the weapons of mass destruction document issued by 10 Downing Street during Blair’s own watch. It culminated in the tragic death, allegedly by suicide, of bioweapons expert Dr David Kelly. The report was widely interpreted as a complete whitewash of the whole sordid affair and indeed one UK national newspaper famously produced a white full front page headed WHITEWASH?

Media perception of the investigation commissioned by Tony Blair

Happier days

I’m delighted to be able to say that there are a lot of wonderful, inspiring moments in this job.

As most of you will know, Glasgow is this year hosting the Commonwealth Games this summer and there is huge excitement in the run-up to the visit by 6,500 athletes selected by 70 organisations. Those athletes will participate in 17 different sports.

Now, you’ll work out that means a lot of bedrooms and the Athletes’ Village in Glasgow’s East End is near completion. The village is built to low carbon and energy efficient criteria and the buildings will undergo a refit after the Games to convert the athletes’ accommodation into 700 homes and flats for people to live in.

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games organisation is running a competition for primary school children. In each of the athletes’ bedrooms there will be a piece of artwork selected from the entries offered by each school in Scotland.

So it was with some trepidation as well as delight that I went off to judge which of the 49 pictures from Larkhall’s Robert Smillie Memorial Primary School should be selected for the next round of judging.

This is one of the happiest schools I’ve ever known. Built a few years ago, it has a fantastic atmosphere and brilliant teachers. The head teacher is Jean Devlin, a really inspired principal who emphasises every child’s unique contribution while encouraging collaborative efforts and creativity alongside the core subjects. Her emphasis on community exchange is central to the school’s ethos.

Alongside her team of teachers, Robert Smillie primary school is achieving what the best schools manage. It pays tribute to its own history but looks ahead and keeps up with technology too. Find out more about the school here:

So here are all these young children in front of me, their faces full of anticipation, and out of the 49 of their offerings I somehow have to pick eight! Well, their teacher allows me to have the maximum of 10 because it’s so difficult.

Every contribution has been worked carefully and thought about in detail. There are certain restrictions: each picture must convey just one of the 17 sports and must use only crayon, pencils and pen.

For these children, that’s no boundary and their imaginations have clearly been busy. They have also learned about different art techniques and have worked to help one another.

I make my choices and we tell the children. It’s such a mixture of delight and anguish but everyone claps and cheers for every winner. To me, none of them are losers. They are all great winners and I hope that Robert Smillie Memorial Primary manages to land one of its great works onto an athlete’s bedroom wall during the games!

The 10 children from Robert Smillie Memorial Primary School whose pictures will go through to the next round of judging – but there are no losers here           

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