December 2013 and January 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster report

Autumn Statement
The political seasons seem to extend themselves these days. We have become used to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement arriving in December.

The Statement itself was a particularly noisy affair. I know people have varying views on the question of ‘Commons Noise’ and to an extent lively banter across the Commons Chamber gives debate an energy and immediacy that polite silence would not. For example, there are times when there is genuine anger at proposals the ‘other side’ is coming up with, but the way in which Ed Balls was barracked when he replied to the Chancellor was, in my view unacceptable, not simply because he is of my party, but because it was a constant wall of noise. Some of my own colleagues do their share of shouting and heckling on such occasions, but generally it is a response to specific things being said. I found it difficult to hear what he was saying, even though I was sitting in the row behind the Shadow Chancellor.

Watching the TV reports later that evening I was struck by the grins and laughs of Cameron and Osborne. They had scant regard for the many people who are struggling with cuts in real wages and the millions still out of work (Unemployment is only a little lower than it was in 2010), not to mention those households hit by the bedroom tax.

Osborne_Autumn_statement_1475605

(POST SCRIPT: PMQs was a particularly quiet one the first week back after Christmas, partly because it was overshadowed by the death that day of a very popular and well respected MP, Paul Goggins. But the verdict of the sketch writers, was ‘boring’! – see Ann Treneman in The Times (paywall), and Michael White in the Guardian)

Nelson Mandela Tribute Debate
This took place on 9 December. Many, many MPs spoke, with some extremely good speeches, including those from Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. I didn’t put into speak not least as we had a long session that afternoon at the Work & Pensions Select Committee with Iain Duncan Smith. Had I done so it would have been to recall that the Anti Apartheid movement was one of the earliest political movements of which I became aware. It is humbling to recall that it was nearly 25 years after my first wearing of the iconic badge, Mandela was released from prison and apartheid crumbled. A long road indeed.

Food Banks Debate
The last Opposition Day debate of the year was on foodbanks. Speakers on our side far exceeded the time available by some considerable margin. But I think we had hit a raw nerve for the Government by choosing this topic, as Tory attendance in the Chamber was well above average, and emotions were running high. Speakers on the Government side were anxious to refute the idea that the expansion of food bank use had anything to do with their policies. Citizens’ Advice Scotland’s evidence obtained from its bureaux shows that 73% of the referrals they make are benefit related.

Food_banks_graph_2013

Employment and Support Allowance
In December I kept up my work on Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who can’t work due to an illness or disability. Regular readers will know I’ve been concerned for some time that the assessment process for ESA is flawed. Thousands of applicants, who clearly cannot work, are being declared fit to do so and as a consequence they are refused benefit.

Earlier this year two claimants – supported by a number of charities – took legal action, arguing that when people with mental health conditions apply for ESA, the Government should take responsibility for collecting supporting evidence from appropriate professionals, such as their GPs. The court ruled in their favour in June, but the Government subsequently appealed. On 4 December the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s arguments, and I posted my reaction on my website.

In a separate development I’ve become aware that the number of incorrect assessments could be far higher than previously thought, because the current figures appear to only count cases that go to formal appeal before a tribunal judge, not those resolved by civil servants. I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about this just before Christmas, and you can my letter on my website.

Finally I released some comments following the publication of Government’s latest independent review of the ESA assessment on 12 December.

Lobbying Bill
I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents on this Bill. After three years of no action on lobbying the Government brought forward a Bill just before the summer last year which paid no attention to the extensive criticisms summed up by the Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee, and then tacked on proposals which will inhibit campaigning by voluntary organisations and charities. After rushing it through the Commons, the Government agreed to a ‘pause’ in the Lords for further ‘consultation’. Considerable work was done by peers and representatives of the voluntary sector to suggest changes. Following this the Government made some concessions but not enough. The Bill suffered three defeats on amendments in the Lords, and these came back to us last week, with only four hours of debate allowed. The Minister spoke for 47 minutes of the two hours allowed on the amendment to the first part of the Bill!

598welfare_poverty

Despite some Tory and LibDem MPs voting to support the Lords Amendments they were defeated. When that happens the Bill goes back to the Lords who vote again on whether to insist on their amendments. At this stage some cross bench peers in particular take the view that the elected chamber should prevail – and the Government got its way, after a tied vote in one case.

Whatever one thinks of the substance of this Bill, the process has been a lesson in how not to produce ‘good’ legislation.

Welfare Reform
January started with my Huffington Post article on the Government’s flagship welfare reform Universal Credit. While I acknowledge that UC isn’t a bad idea in principle, and that it could improve work incentives for some, any benefits won’t be felt for years due to IT overspends and poor project management. Meanwhile another element of the project – the heightened conditionality and increased use of benefit sanctions – is already in place and negatively impacting many claimants. Universal Credit, in my view, is presently ‘All Stick and No Carrot!’

It’s also worth highlighting a speech I made on the 13th of January – you can read a transcript here – in a debate on the impact of welfare policy on poverty. It’s often the same people who are affected by the Government’s various changes, and despite all the hardship caused, the Treasury isn’t making much in the way of savings.

East Coast
On 9 January I spoke in a debate on intercity rail investment, focussing on the Government’s decision to privatise the intercity services on the East Coast Main Line. You can read my speech here and I produced a summary of my arguments for the think-tank Progress.

eastcoast

A week later the shortlist of bidders to take over the franchise in February 2015 was announced, and I circulated a press release which is available on my website.

High Speed Rail
On a related note I lead a 90 minute debate on High Speed Two in the Commons ante-chamber Westminster Hall. Focussing on the economic benefits of the project, I reminded colleagues the project will shave up to an hour off Edinburgh-London journey times, giving businesses in both cities a boost. Over 500 people who oppose the project emailed me in advance of the debate and thus had the opportunity to address their arguments on the day. It’s worth noting that many of those who contacted me live along the proposed route, but I am very clear that MPs whose cities stand to benefit from the project will robustly endorse it. You can read a transcript of the debate on 14 January here and a joint press release I issued with Edinburgh North and Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz here.

Constituency Report

The Real Cost of Homelessness
Lack of affordable housing brings many people to my office and surgeries. The Scottish Government claims Scotland has the best homelessness legislation in Europe, but that’s a hollow boast when there just aren’t the homes for people to move into. In December I wrote an article on these issues which is available on my website.

598tenements

Caltongate Disappointment
On Wednesday, permission was granted to redevelop the Caltongate site. This was the second such vote in as many weeks where developers were successful.

I agree that development at this site is much needed, but these plans have been waved through regardless of the fact it is within our World Heritage Site. Bland, square blocked offices and hotels with flat roofs (see above) will bear no likeness to the organic medieval architecture of the Canongate. Indeed the development could be any new build site, in any city across the country.

4214590890

It is without a doubt that the Old Town thrived when permanent residents, who formed stable communities, made it a vibrant and prosperous place to live and work. But plans for just 185 apartments over a 5 acre site means that any population growth here will be minimal. There is a danger the Caltongate will become a bland haven for office workers and tourists staying at budget hotels. Any bursts of vitality and civic life will be shortlived these visitors head off home.

I’m very disappointed the community spent months contributing to the consultation process and lobbying elected members, their views have not been properly taken into account. It certainly seems current planning policies are failing to serve local communities.

The Shape of Things to Come
Last week a cross party group of MPs and MSPs met to be briefed by city planners for an update on the Local Development Plan. The Scottish Government recently rejected the view from the south east Scotland group of local authorities that the sites designated for housing should be phased rather than all done upfront. Granted, there is going to be a growth in housing demand over the next 15 to 20 years, but if too many sites are designated for housing now, there are concerns (shared by all elected members present) that developers will cherry pick the ‘greenfield’ sites, while ‘brownfield’ remains undeveloped. The Council remains committed to seeing outstanding brownfield sites (such as Craigmillar in this constituency) developed as soon as possible, but that may prove more difficult than we had hoped. I simply do not see why sites could not be designated on a rolling phased basis so that development can be properly planned.

To_review_the_Local_Development_Plan_proposals_in_your_area_head_to

To review the proposals for your area click here.

Newcraighall Residents Feel Ignored
In January the Council’s Development Management Sub-committee approved plans for developers to build 220 homes on greenfield land between Newcraighall and Gilberstoun. Needless to say the two communities, who have fought tirelessly against the plans, are devastated by the decision.

A former mining village, Newcraighall has just 150 households at present. Residents thought the matter was closed when permission for 160 homes was granted in 2012. However developers came back for more and succeeded in pushing up the number of houses at the site. David Hewitt of the Newcraighall Heritage and Community Association, and ward councillors Maureen Child and David Walker, made rousing speeches against the plans at a public hearing where the application was determined. My full report on the hearing is on my website.

Employment Plus Local
Just before Christmas I was invited to open the Salvation Army’s ‘Employment Plus Local’ at East Adam Street. With staff on hand jobseekers, homeless or not, can get help to improve skills and meet the requirements to spend several hours a week ‘job searching’ which is demanded by Job Centres. E-learning courses are also available making use of the computers provided at the centre.

Edinburgh2

Green Homes Cashback pays off
A constituent recently received some much needed news which will see her family through the chilly winter months. Weeks after having to replace her boiler she found out grants from the Energy Saving Trust were available under the Green Homes Cashback scheme. The scheme offers grants for anyone looking to install a new boiler and insulation to improve the energy efficiency – regardless of your income, and whether you are an owner, tenant or landlord.

My constituent submitted her request after the installation had taken place and was refused at first. Being on Working Tax Credits she would have been eligible for a replacement boiler and increased insulation. However, I contacted the Trust which reconsidered her position and made a retrospective payment. The family now has a much warmer home and reduced heating bills – for free. Whether you receive benefits, work and get Tax Credits, or are a higher rate taxpayer, owner or tenant, head to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk to see what you are eligible for.

Council Finally Cracks Party Flats
Just last week the Council reported on the progress it has made in dealing with ‘party flats’. Thanks to a great deal of hard work from Councillor Karen Doran and her colleagues, plus a legislative change at Holyrood thanks to the efforts of Sarah Boyack MSP, officials are now able to deal with this problem on two fronts: taking over problem flats under a ‘Management Control Order’ and requiring future party flat landlords to seek planning permission. Taking over as landlord for two flats the Council reported it was able cancel bookings for ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ parties, inspect the properties for Health and Safety concerns, and start to manage future rental more closely. The MCO was the first issued in Scotland and local residents agree there has been a real change. Properties in Holyrood Road, Lothian Road and Old Tolbooth Wynd, all in Edinburgh East, are also under investigation.

Carer Support Payments
Carers across our communities and around the UK do great work assisting loved ones, for little pay and without much recognition. It is one of my priorities to ensure that carers receive support to do that work. That’s why I am pleased the City of Edinburgh Council has reopened its scheme to award one-off carer’s support payments of £250 to those who provide unpaid care for a friend or relative who lives in Edinburgh.

If you are an unpaid carer, providing substantial and regular care for a partner, relative or friend who is over 16 and receives DLA (Care), PIP (Daily Living) or Attendance allowance you may be eligible and should head to www.edinburgh.gov.uk/carersupportpayment for further information. Funds are limited and you must apply by the end of February.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Welfare Reform and its impact on disabled people and carers

On Tuesday I took part in a debate on Welfare Reform and its impact on disabled people and carers. There were 25 Labour MPs in attendance and only 3 from the Coalition parties, showing the strength of feeling on these issues among my colleagues. I have reproduced my short speech in full below, but you can read the full debate here.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing the debate.

I am going to pre-empt the Minister, because I expect her to say in reply to the debate, as she keeps saying, “You”—not meaning any of us personally, but the Opposition—“did not have a cumulative impact assessment when you were in power.” However, I cannot think of a time when so many things have been happening simultaneously. The roll-out of incapacity benefit to ESA is still going on. We will have the change from disability living allowance to personal independence payment. We have housing benefit changes and universal credit. The reason we want a cumulative impact assessment is that what is happening is unprecedented. We need to know what will happen to people like my constituent who is 59 and has lived in her home for 30 years; she has severe back and hip problems and has just received a letter telling her she will lose housing benefit in April unless she can find somewhere to move to. Currently her grandchildren stay over for part of the week, which helps her family out. If she cannot do that any more, it will have an impact on their living and working arrangements. A ripple effect happens.

I have not yet dared tell my constituent that almost certainly she will in due course lose severe disability premium, which she currently gets because she is in receipt of income support and has no carer in the household. That, doubtless, is still to come, but I do not want to make her too fearful. The things that she does know about are happening already. They are not a myth being created by us or the disability movement.

When people become ill they experience a fantastic loss of income anyway, and an increase in costs. The Government appear to be oblivious to that. If a couple have been working—one full-time and one part-time—and the one who worked full-time suffers a stroke and must give up work, they go down to half an income and ESA. At the end of a year, if the person in question ends up in the ESA work-related activity group, their income falls again: the ESA will be lost because it is contributory; they will not qualify for the non-contributory version—even though they have worked and paid in all their lives they will not get that—so their income will go down to that of a part-time employee. Again, there are ripple effects and cumulative effects on people at a time when they are incurring greater costs. Someone who is at home more than they were when they went to work will have increased fuel and transport costs to meet. The person who is ill and has a disability may always have been the driver for the household, so there will be taxi and increased public transport costs. People in that position already have a substantial reduction in income.

I am glad that the Minister realised that the initial plans for rolling out DLA into PIP were totally unrealistic, and that the time scale has been extended, but there will still be clear losers. Our accounts are not scare stories. The information comes from the Government’s figures: 170,000 people, on reassessment, will lose DLA altogether before October 2015. That is a lot of people. That, apparently, is reality in the Government’s terms. I ask the Minister please to agree to a cumulative impact assessment.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Press Release: Sheila Gilmore MP joins forces with Edinburgh carers charity to slam uncertainty over benefit cuts

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore this week joined forces with Edinburgh based carers charity VOCAL to slam the Government over benefit cuts and the uncertainty this is causing for hard working carers.

Speaking during Carers Week, which runs from 18 to 24 June, Sheila Gilmore and VOCAL Chief Executive Sebastian Fischer criticised the Government’s plans to scrap Disability Living Allowance and replace it with Personal Independence Payment from 2013 and the uncertainty this is causing for carers.

Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore said:

Carers do fantastic work in homes across the country.

However over the last year the position of carers has remained very difficult due to the uncertainty over the Government’s decision to scrap Disability Living Allowance and replace it with Personal Independence Payment from 2013.

Currently those caring full time for anyone in receipt of the middle or higher rate care component of DLA may be able to claim Carers Allowance (although this is a complex benefit and people should always seek proper advice). It is positive that these arrangements will continue under PIP. However George Osborne has made clear that the replacement of DLA with PIP will also involve a cut in the overall budget of 20 per cent, leaving many worried that if those they care for are simply refused PIP, they will lose Carers Allowance as a result.

The Government should always ensure that carers are given sufficient support. This isn’t just the right thing to do in and of itself, but if carers were to choose not to do the work they do, the financial cost to the state would be enormous.

Sebastian Fischer, Chief Executive of VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian) said:

Money matters when you are a carer, and when times are hard, carers are often hit hardest – forced to reduce or give up work, struggling to pay bills, and often cutting back on food and heating in order to make ends meet. Uncertainty over benefits adds to the increasing pressures and stress carers are under, with many sacrificing their own health and finances to continue caring. That is simply not acceptable for people who are Scotland’s largest unpaid workforce

Notes:

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

September enewsletter: Silly season?

Westminster Report
What should have been a ‘quiet’ political period was shattered by the riots in several English cities. Comments and theories abound, from those like Peter Hitchin blaming ‘liberal’ thinking since the 1960s, Michael Gove on Newsnight telling Harriet Harman that it was all due to the 13 years of Labour Government, a leftish commentator saying it was due to the State intervening too much in working class areas and no less a person than George Osborne saying the solution was to ‘do something’ for areas and people who had been ignored for too long.  Confused?  I certainly am.

What annoys the historian in me is the total lack of historical understanding shown by the media and far too many politicians.  I heard commentators comparing these riots with those of the early 1980s and suggesting that the latter had reasons rooted in social conditions and the current ones had not.  That’s not what was being said at the time!

In that context I saw a fascinating TV programme last week about riots in Llanelli in the ‘long hot summer’ of 1911 (pre-planned for the centenary but maybe screening accelerated timeously?). Railway strikers were supported by many others in trying to stop trains getting through Llanelli. The military were called in and two local young men shot dead by the army. This was followed by burning of sheds and trucks.  What was fascinating however were the newspaper headlines ‘Looters not strikers!’.  Shortly after school children ‘struck’ and marched around the town. This apparently was the first of several such ‘school strikes’ across the country – as far north as Glasgow. No facebook or twitter then – but the word still spread, albeit in days rather than hours!

There are no ‘simple’ explanations.  That isn’t to condone criminal acts, many of which will harm the rioters’ own communities more than anyone else.  But events like this don’t arrive in a vacuum.

Economic Crisis
The other back-drop to this is the ongoing financial crisis in the Eurozone and elsewhere.  Here unemployment is rising in the period to June which is before this year’s school, college and university leavers hit the market. What struck me during the exchanges between Osborne and Balls when the Chancellor made his statement to the recalled House of Commons this month was just how far apart they were.  Osborne is not for budging and fast deficit reduction remains his only plan.  He clearly takes great pleasure in saying that the US has now agreed with him – even if it is only because of the grip the Republicans now have in Congress. Does that make them all right?  The US under Hoover and the UK under McDonald & Baldwin sang from the same hymn sheet but history (at least until very recently?) judged them to have been wrong.

Constituency visits… part two
During the Recess I have been continuing to visit organisations working in our community.  Following my Westminster Hall debate in June I was particularly keen to meet Carers’ organisations to hear direct from them what they thought the main issues are and to hear about their work locally.  In July I met with Vocal & with Mecopp (the latter being the only BME specialist carers group in Scotland). While progress has been made in recent years in recognising the important role played by informal carers, the main message I took away from this was the need to move from ‘recognition’ to the creation of real rights for carers, both to be accepted as partners in the care of their relative or friend, and for such practical help as regular respite care.

Together with Kezia Dugdale MSP I visited One Parent Families Scotland to talk about the implications of the substantial changes the Coalition Government is making to the Child Maintenance system.  The Government hopes that many more people will make voluntary arrangements in the future (and using the statutory system is going to be made more difficult and costly to the parents) but this depends on there being a great deal of support and assistance being available. Although the change is coming from Westminster, the responsibility for funding such services as mediation and relationship counselling lies with the Scottish Government.  This is a good example of the need for MPs and MSPs to work together.  Kezia is putting down parliamentary questions to find out what exactly is being funded at present by the Scottish Government and One Parent Scotland is gathering information about the reality on the ground. From Parliamentary Questions at Westminster I have discovered that there are no plans at present for money to come from Westminster to Scotland to help boost provision.

Another visit was to the Craigmillar Business Incubator, based at the Castlebrae Business Centre to hear about the help they can give to people trying to set up their own business. For more details call 0131 661 8888 or click here http://goo.gl/2ESXE.

Craigmillar’s New Library and East Neighbourhood Office
I was delighted to be present at the ‘turf cutting’ ceremony for the new Council Office and Library being built in Craigmillar – despite the appalling rain on the day!  Public investment like this provides a huge boost to the local economy. It gives work to the private construction industry which has been struggling in the last few years. It provides jobs for construction workers and the Cyrenians project is working with the building company to secure work placements and job opportunities for local people who have been unemployed.

But the economic stimulus doesn’t stop when the building work does. The council office will house around 300 staff (over 3 times the number in the current neighbourhood office) who will bring business to local shops. Just opposite Scottish Government funding has refurbished a classic 1930s roadhouse – ‘The White House’ – and one of the local hopes for its future use is to provide a café. What better place for a lunchtime coffee?

This is a small scale example of what Government should be doing to help the country grow out of recession.  The Tory/LibDem Coalitions at Westminster wants us to believe that ‘public’ spending is bad and ‘private’ good, that public spending ‘squeezes out’ private business and that we don’t need to worry about public spending cuts because the private sector will spring into life to replace the jobs and services lost.

But the truth is that the public and private sectors are inextricably linked; that many private businesses – like construction – flourish when there is ‘public’ investment.  Businesses need customers. That’s true whether you are a small shop or a large multinational company. More people out of work mean less customers.  See more: http://goo.gl/Vi8hz.

New Enterprise Allowance
From 01 August 2011, the Government may give extra help to unemployed people who want to start their own business, through the New Enterprise Allowance. The allowance is available to Jobseekers Allowance claimants that have been on JSA for over 26 weeks. Mentoring and support is provided to develop a business plan and get through the first few months of trading. All applicants need to submit a proposal which has future growth prosepts. A total package of support can be worth up to £2274 for anyone that wants to start their own business. Further information can be found here http://goo.gl/W3XJT.

Greenhouse events: FREE Allotment Visits and Workshops
Run by Craigmillar’s Community Alliance Trust, the Greenhouse is giving you the chance to see what other people are growing, learn some new skills and make some new friends! Each workshop will include a tour of the allotment site and a chance to see polytunnels, willow growing and a plastic bottle greenhouse in action. There are several events over the next four weekends being held at Greendykes, Hays and Hunters Hall. If you want to attend, visit http://goo.gl/mFvGk for more information.

Macmillan Coffee Morning – 30th September 1000-1300
I was unable to take part in the world’s biggest coffee morning in 2010 as my constituency office was still in the process of being setup – this year I wanted to make sure we played our part. So many people are helped by the work of Macmillan and we are looking forward to meeting local residents, and raising funds for the charity. It’s not the most comfortable of offices but there will be plenty of fairtrade coffee and homebaked cakes on sale to raise funds. We will be giving away free homegrown fruit as one member of staff is expecting a bumper crop of apples and pears this year. If you have never been to the office before, or would like some free apples or pears, please pop in on 30 September.

Dates for you diary

  • Edinburgh Mela Festival – 2nd – 4th September – Leith Links. For more details see http://goo.gl/VfpuE.
  • No Women No Peace Workshop – 10th September – Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace Edinburgh – register by the 5th September by emailing scottishwilpf@peaceandjustice.org.uk.
  • Moving Planet march/cycle and rally in Edinburgh to mark the Global Day of Climate Action – 24th September 2011 – Assemble outside City Chambers, High Street/Royal Mile. See http://goo.gl/DBV2m.
  • Edinburgh Annual Volunteer Recruitment Fair – 28th September 1100-1900 – St Paul’s and St George’s Church on York Place. See http://goo.gl/QThXW.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July enewsletter: Community campaigns pay off

Edition eleven – July 2011
Westminster Report
Much of my time has still been taken up with the Welfare Reform Bill.  Committee sessions ended at the end of May, but the Report Stage and Third Reading came on June 13th & 15th.  These stages were very disappointing because of the lack of time given. While this is not unique to this legislation (or to this government) this is a very lengthy piece of legislation which will be extensively recasting the Welfare State. I spoke in the Report stage http://goo.gl/Yz3nb.Not all the amendments we had tabled at Report Stage were even discussed due to shortage of time and the Third Reading was only 30 minutes with only the Secretary of State and his shadow having an opportunity to speak in this part of the debate.The Government has sought to present this Bill as being about the work shy and scroungers.  I agree that for many people work is the best way out of poverty, and that people should not be left stranded on out of work benefits for years. The last Government reduced the number of people on incapacity benefits but the process is not an easy one – as I suspect this government will soon discover!Threaded through the Bill are a number of provisions which will affect the very ‘hard working’ people the government claims it wants to protect. One example is the one which Ed Miliband raised at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday 15th June.  The Bill includes a restriction to one year for receiving contributory Employment Support Allowance (which will replace Incapacity Benefit) for people deemed able to return to work eventually, called the ‘work related activity group’.  So if you fall ill – but are expected to be able to return to work at some point – you could end up having to spend most of your savings before you are ready to get back to work. Already on a smaller income than when you were working you will only get contributory ESA for a year. After that you won’t get it if your partner earns more than £7500 a year, or if you have savings over £16,000. You may h ave been working regularly for years, paid your tax and national insurance and been saving for your retirement. Too bad – if you can’t get back to work within the year you’ll have to start using up those savings. This will include people with a wide variety of illnesses, including people recovering from cancer.  The PM showed he knew nothing about this proposal, obviously accepting his own propaganda as to what this Bill is about. See http://goo.gl/Rw2x3. This is only one of many ways in which this Bill will impact on ordinary households. If you want more information, or have personal experiences or concerns please let me know.Carers – Actions not Words
I was successful in securing a 90 minute debate in Westminster Hall during Carers Week (Westminster hall debates are short in-depth debates, which give MPs the chance to tease some answers and commitments from Ministers present at the debate.) MPs of all parties like to use Carers Week to praise carers, to have their photographs taken and to issue a suitable press release to their local paper, but we need to do much more than that.  At present carers are very worried about proposed changes to benefits which could impact on carers, and about cuts to local government spending which are reducing hours of care or limiting eligibility, which increase burdens on family and friend carers. See http://goo.gl/Yz3nb.

Newcraighall Housing – on hold – for now
Last month’s sigh of relief was short lived for residents in Newcraighall and Gilberstoun after the council said it would press ahead and consider applications to build 420 homes near to the villages. Spirits were crushed even further when council officials proposed granting the applications, contrary to the Edinburgh Local Plan, and demands from residents to refuse (Read more: http://bit.ly/lcGOKF). The Council said it is obliged to consider a submitted and paid-for application, but did not make clear under what terms the application would be heard. The Council’s own monitoring officials have decided to look at the procedures before any further steps are taken. The process has now been suspended, but this does not mean things are at an end either way. Read more: http://bit.ly/m5OGXI & http://bit.ly/jBDRSR.

Cairntows Park
What a difference a month makes! Only a matter of weeks ago, the ‘Save Cairntows Park’ residents’ group was gearing up for a tense meeting with developers who had proposed building over the Craigmillar Park. Just two days before the meeting the developers, New City Vision, cancelled the meeting and the plans, admitting they could not press ahead in the face of a fierce community campaign. I am pleased to hear how overjoyed local residents are, and I look forward to seeing New City Vision’s plans for the Niddrie Mill School conversion. Read more: http://bit.ly/lJratV.

Send my Sister to School
Send my sister to schoolThree schools in the constituency have recently presented me with hundreds of pieces artwork to promote the need for better female education in less developed countries. Across the world, 39m teenage girls are out of school and many have caring responsibilities from an early age. Providing girls with a full education helps them to grow up supporting their families, communities and future generations. I am hoping to display the works in the House of Commons in the next session of Parliament. Read more: http://goo.gl/IBbRI

PEDAL & Greener Leith wind turbine
Local groups PEDAL Porty and Greener Leith have unveiled an exciting new proposal to erect a community owned wind turbine on the Seafield coast. Utilising the strong winds we are very much used to, the turbine aims to generate energy to be sold on to the national gri d and in turn help fund future sustainable projects. As this project requires a large amount of initial funding the groups are bidding for an energyshare grant to get the project off the ground; I have backed the campaign, and also ask you to sign up – the more supporters the group gets the better chance we have of bringing community owned power to Edinburgh. To sign up click here http://bit.ly/kRat8b – it only takes two clicks if you have facebook.

Pensions Bill
A number of constituents have contacted me with their concerns about Government proposals to accelerate the equalisation of men’s and women’s pension ages. One group of women, those currently aged 56 and 57, are particularly badly affected. 500,000 women will have to wait more than a year to get their pension under these plans. 33,000 of them will have t o wait 2 years. Without adequate time to plan, this is an unacceptable change to force upon a specific group so quickly.

Despite a huge campaign from women from a wide range of backgrounds and some hints that the Government might be changing its mind, at the Second Reading of the Bill on 20th June Government ministers indicated that they would not be changing course.  The Government has had ample time to reconsider its position given that the campaign has been ongoing for several months and the Bill has been through the House of Lords.  However Ministers did appear to have put out some tantalising hints that they might ‘compromise’ or put in place ‘transitional’ measures in order to head off a revolt by their own backbenchers.  In my speech I called for the Minister in winding up to say what these changes might be, if they were real, but he failed to do so. http://goo.gl/JivMd.

Odeon: saved, again
Residents are again celebrating the preservation of the Edinburgh Odeon, after an application to demolish part of the historic B-listed building was refused in early June. The application, submitted by Duddingston House Properties, was the third such bid to demolish since the firm bought the former cinema eight years ago. Councillors decided that the cinema was not beyond repair, but campaigners are now pressing for the council to force repairs on the building and are trying to get the building upgraded to an A-listing. However, DHP has until December to appeal the decision. Read more http://bit.ly/isWgVD.

The luxury of a spare room
In June the Welfare Reform Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons. As the proposed changes to sickness and disability benefits progress, proposals to change Housing Benefit may also start to affect families in the downturn. I recently wrote about the difficulties families will face if they have a spare room and have to apply for assistance with their rent.(read more: http://bit.ly/lPWuoD). Housing Benefit will no longer be paid if a family has a spare room. Locally there are very real practical objections to this proposal, primarily because there is such a lack of suitable housing alternatives in Edinburgh, and it can also take a long time to move, especially if tenants are classed as ‘adequately housed’. Of course certain tenants require alterations and adaptations specific to their needs – it is costly to make additional alterations in a new property and a spare room is often needed for carers or equipment. For families where the earner loses their job through redundancy or illness, and have to claim housing benefit to cover their costs, they may find themselves unable to stretch under new proposals.

Craigmillar Community Alliance Trust – Greenhouse launch
Over the past few months amazing work has been done to get the Trust up and running, just months in the ‘Greenhouse’ – just a few doors down from the Whitehouse – is opening up to provide free information and advice to save money on energy and promote greener lifestyles. There will be a special launch open day on Sat 9th July 1200-1600 at the office on 64 Niddrie Mains Road. I am told that there will be kids entertainment, tips and talks on energy saving and growing your own fruit and veg, as well as free energy saving goodies to help cut your bills. More info can be found at http://www.communityalliancetrust.org.uk/.

Bingham Place Making Community Workshop
Last year the Council announced plans to open a respite centre on the site of the old Lismore Primary School. Local residents have expressed their concerns that there is still a lack of local amenities in the Bingham area and many are not sure that this proposal is the right one for rejuvenating the local area. The Place Making Workshop is another chance to discuss the plans and will be held on Thursday 30th June 2011 at 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

Digital Switchover
Scotland is officially a digital TV nation now that analogue signals have been switched off for good. I know that the process has been somewhat confusing for some constituents, especially the elderly, as channels seemed to drop off and come up every couple of days (I’ve had to retune three times). If you know anyone who is elderly or disabled and who still needs help with the switchover, the Switchover Help Scheme is open until 22 July 2011. Help can be provided with set-top boxes and retuning. Call my office below for more information.

Finally if please pass on this news to those who may be interested. Anyone can sign-up by sending me an email to sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk with ‘SUBSCRIBE’ in the subject line.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail