Press Release: Sheila Gilmore MP backs campaign to give voice to people supported by benefits

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has given her support to a campaign which aims to give a voice to the millions of people supported by benefits at some point in their lives.

Polling by the campaign, Who Benefits?, has revealed overwhelming public support for the principle that benefits should be there for those who need them. 81 percent agree that ‘benefits are an important safety net to support people when they need help’, while two-thirds (64 percent) agree that ‘we all benefit as a society when support from benefits is available for those that need it’.

Sheila Gilmore MP at the Who Benefits? Parliamentary Launch

Sheila Gilmore MP at the Who Benefits? Parliamentary Launch

But despite widespread public support, more than a quarter (27 percent) of those who currently claim benefits say they have hidden this because of what people will think. This rises to half (47 percent) of 16-24 year olds who have been supported by benefits. And more than half (51 percent) of all those who had never been supported by benefits said they would feel embarrassed to claim.

Who Benefits? argues that the overwhelming majority of those on benefits really need the support, yet too often their voices are ignored, misrepresented or at worst they are blamed for their situation.  The campaign has been launched by more than 70 charities and community groups brought together by The Children’s Society, Crisis, Gingerbread, Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind.

Sheila Gilmore MP, who attended the launch of the campaign in Westminster, said:

None of us know what lies around the corner.

At the launch of this campaign I met a woman in her fifties, who had never had to claim social security benefits in her life until she was diagnosed with cancer. She had to give up the small business she had been running. The benefits she has been able to claim have been a lifeline.

Although she found the process of being tested and retested for eligibility stressful, she is now recovering. However even though she lives in an area of relatively low unemployment, because of her age and health she is struggling to find work.

Her story is an important reminder of why we need a system of social security.

Who Benefits? is asking people to share their stories through whobenefits.org.uk.  A thousand people who have been supported by benefits have already shared their stories through the website and through social media with the hashtag #WeAllBenefit.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

Life is full of ups and downs, it can be unpredictable. But no one should go hungry because they lose their job or go into debt because they are on such a low wage. And it is reassuring to see that the public support this view.

At a time when families up and down the country are feeling the squeeze, it is important – now more than ever – that society supports those in need. The overwhelming majority of people who get benefits really need them; whether they are working, looking for work or unable to work.

Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:

At Crisis we see every day how support from benefits lifts people out of homelessness, or prevents them from ending up on the streets in the first place. With this support we see people moving into work and on to a better life. Yet all too often the realities of people’s lives and situations are just ignored. That’s why we want people to get involved with Who Benefits? – to ensure real voices are heard.

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, said:

None of us know what is around the corner for our family, which is why it can come as a huge blow to someone who’s already having a tough time to be labelled or stereotyped. It is great to see that the vast majority of the British public are behind giving support to those who need it, and we hope that our campaign will encourage more people to come forward to share their stories of how benefits have supported them.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

Support from benefits makes a huge difference to the lives of many people with mental health problems, allowing people to stay well and retain their independence; or help with the additional costs that come from having a disability.

Lots of individuals with mental health problems face stigma and discrimination, as their condition is less visible than a physical disability. These new statistics suggest those who claim benefits experience double the stigma.

ENDS

Media enquiries

  • For more information on Who Benefits?, to arrange an interview or for details of case studies, please contact The Children’s Society on 020 7841 4422 or media@childrenssociety.org.uk
  • For more information on Sheila Gilmore MP please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.

Notes to editor

  • The Who Benefits? campaign is giving a voice to people who have been supported by benefits at some point in their lives. It uses real stories to show the reality of who needs help, why they need it and the difference it makes. It was brought together by The Children’s Society, Crisis, Gingerbread, Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind. In addition, 75 charities, faith groups and community groups support the campaign.
  • To find our more about the campaign or to tell your own story please visit www.whobenefits.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @WeAllBenefit
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,955 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th – 19th September 2013.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
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May 2012 enewsletter | edition 20

Every month I produce an enewsletter with details of my work in Westminster and Edinburgh East. You can find my most recent newsletter below.

Westminster report

Immediately after the Easter recess Parliament started the process of debating the Finance Bill following on the Chancellor’s Budget Statement at the end of March. Not everything announced by the Chancellor appears in the Finance Bill. Some changes can be made through regulations and other announcements are of ‘future intent’.

In the week beginning 16th April we had the Second Reading Debate on the Finance Bill during which I spoke about the absence of any real measures which would promote growth, pointing to the fact that the Office of Budget Responsibility (set up by the Coalition to provide independent commentary on their budgets) was predicting little increased business investment in the next 2/3 years, even taking into account the reductions in Corporation Tax. (p25 http://bit.ly/JfewrE)

Normally after the second reading bills go straight into detailed scrutiny at committee but in the case of the Finance Bill there were 2 days of amendments to some of the most controversial issues being taken in the Chamber, thus giving all MPs the opportunity to take part. This covered the 50p tax rate, the changes to the age related tax allowance, and the withdrawal of child benefit for higher rate tax payers. The Child Benefit issue ran out of time and this may come back to haunt the Government; speakers from all parties tried to point out the complexities of the system being adopted are likely to cause considerable difficulties and cost.

This was also the opportunity for the more ‘colourful’ debates – at least in the eyes of the media: the ‘pasty tax’, the ‘church’ tax (charging VAT on conversions of listed buildings) and the ‘caravan’ tax. The last one was criticised widely, especially from MPs with caravan manufacturers in their constituencies. What was announced as a ‘tidying up’ exercise demonstrated the pitfalls of not working through the consequences since many people pointed out that the projected tax take could be largely outweighed if it affected both the manufacture of caravans and the holiday business. Although the change was passed it was only with a majority of 25, so it could still be something which could be rethought before the Bill passes into law. (Wednesday:http://bit.ly/JfedNw & Thursday: http://bit.ly/Jfe7Fq)

Bad News Week

I was all ready to try to ask the Prime Minister a question on April 25th but didn’t get called – here is the question I would have asked:

‘Double dip recession , a widow being asked by her council to move from London to Walsall for a house –does the Prime Minister not see that he could tackle both problems by making an urgent investment in building affordable homes?’

The story about the widow came from an interview on the Today programme that morning. The previous day there had been a press story about Newham Council looking for homes for would be tenants as far afield as Stoke. DWP ministers claimed that Newham Council was playing politics. So hearing this woman from a different London council recount her experience the very next day showed this to be part of a growing pattern.

Councils say they are having to do this because there are not enough council and housing association homes in London, and private lets are well above the rates which will be paid through Housing Benefit (paid to low paid in work as well as those not in work) following Coalition reforms.

There is no doubt that the Housing Benefit total bill is too high, but increasing levels of private rents in the last few years have been a major factor. The best way of reducing the Housing benefit bill is creating more affordable homes. at the same time creating business for construction firms and jobs for construction workers. Hence my potential question.

Once more on BSkyB

Compared with the state of the economy the story about Hunt and News International might seem a bit ‘Westminster villagey’. However it does raise some very important issues. When the issue of the possible takeover of BSkyB first came up I received many letters and emails from constituents opposing the bid. When Vince Cable was removed from the job of making the decision, many constituents expressed their concern that it was being passed over to Jeremy Hunt who was believed to be too sympathetic to News International. At the time of writing this, it appears that these concerns were not misplaced. Worth remembering too how close the bid came to being approved – only the serious allegations relating to the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone brought it to an end.

There was a long session of questions to the Culture Secretary on Wednesday 25th – you can see my question here: (p23 http://bit.ly/Jrk5rf).

Legal Aid

Although not directly applicable in Scotland, many constituents contacted me with their concerns over the Government’s Legal Aid Bill. The House of Lords passed 11 amendments seeking to protect legal aid for victims of domestic violence pursuing or defending family law cases such as disputes over children or money, for industrial injury cases and for those making social security appeals. Once again the Government’s disdain for the lengthy debates in the Lords showed in the very short time allowed for debate on the amendments – only 5 hours interspersed with votes (each of which takes the best part of 15 minutes) and the Justice Minister, Ken Clarke, spoke for a full hour on one set of amendments, A few concessions were made in the end , including making legal aid available for points of law at a second stage social security tribunal, and expanding the types of evidence to be accepted as proving domestic violence. However in the Commons the nearest the Government came to defeat was 36 votes (bearing in mind that generally the Coalition can command a majority of around 80). See 23rd April here http://bit.ly/JMuDAY.

Once we are at the stage of dealing with Lords amendments we are looking at relatively small parts of the whole Bill (important though these are) and it is easy to lose sight of what the whole ‘reform’ says about the Coalition’s views on access to justice. Justice Ministers waxed almost lyrical about the need to use ‘alternative’ means of resolving disputes e.g. mediation, and state that the availability of legal aid increases ‘litigiousness’. I have to declare an interest here as a former family lawyer, but good legal advice can and does lead to early settlement. Few cases actually go to court hearings.

And they say finally that no one is stopped from going to court. This disingenuously ignores the fact that cost is itself a ‘barrier’ to access. So those who can afford it can still litigate – others can’t. Good quality ‘alternatives to court’ also have a cost which isn’t fully recognised, or funded.

Constituency report

Portobello High School
Plans for a new Portobello High School have been at the top of everyone’s agenda in Portobello in April. Earlier last month Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) lodged an appeal after Judge Lady Dorrian confirmed that the City of Edinburgh Council did have the power to appropriate “inalienable common good land”. The Court of Session will now hold a hearing on 23 May to decide if this judgement should be reviewed, however if the appeal is progressed a judgement will not be made for several months. Portobello for a New School (PFANS) believe that the Council does have the right to build on Portobello Park, as the school will benefit local families and future generations. PFANS has organised events to protest against the delays the appeal will cause, and launched a poster campaign seen here.

 

At the last full Council meeting before the local elections, the City of Edinburgh Council voted to approve a plan to commence works at the park as soon as any legal action is complete. An emergency meeting of the Portobello Community Council was being arranged to discuss the plans. Further afield the plans have caused wider concern. At Craigmillar Community Council residents spoke of the need to replace Castlebrae High School, and pointed out that there is land available in Craigmillar. Some residents were concerned that delays with the construction of this school will impact the finance available for other schools across the city. Read more here: http://bit.ly/Iedkep.

Craigmillar Timebanking I recently attended the launch of the Craigmillar Timebanking project at a special lunch held by the Thistle Foundation. Set up by the Foundation, Edinburgh Volunteer Centre, Places for People, Community Renewal and Craigmillar Ability Network (CAN), the Time Bank allows participants to share their skills, knowledge and experience to help someone in their neighbourhood while strengthening community spirit,

Volunteers and residents in the area are encourage to give an hour of their time to perform their chosen skill – from painting a fence to taking a dog for a walk – to help local people who need assistance and odd jobs completed. Volunteers will receive credits which they can then use to ‘buy’ other peoples’ skills. I’ll keep you posted with further details when I get them.

Greenhouse closure… Whitehouse opening

Unfortunately the Craigmillar Greenhouse has closed its doors for now. The project was a great success for the people of greater Craigmillar and the Craigmillar Alliance Trust – through its work it made a real difference to hundreds of people in the community. By promoting greener living and helping hundreds of households get a cheaper deal on their energy bills it saved local people money in tough times. Some owner occupiers were also helped to insulate their home and reduce their bills (and energy consumption). The shop on Niddrie Mains Road and its outreach work was funded by the Climate Challenge Fund between April 2011 and March 2012 and was the Community Alliance Trust’s first major project. While the greenhouse may be closing (for now) the Craigmillar Alliance Trust is due to reopen the Whitehouse very shortly. For details of the Greenhouse’s successes and the plans for the Whitehouse, click here: http://bit.ly/JEzg1L.

Portobello and Leith Community Wind Turbine

Late last month Pedal Porty and Greener Leith announced that they had hit a stumbling block in developing their plans to construct a wind turbine at Seafield, to fund community projects. One year into developing the plans, Scottish Water has told the groups that the Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works PFI contractor has required that Scottish Water accept liability for any accidents involving the proposed turbine on the site. Pedal Portobello and Greener Leith state that they would be willing to insure against this risk; unfortunately Scottish Water are still to proceed with this offer.

Pedal and Greener Leith’s ‘rapid response team’ gathered together tens of residents from the area to demo against the problem on Saturday 28th (see http://bit.ly/IsOU0N). I have also written to John Swinney MSP requesting that he ask Scottish Water to look at this matter again. To read my letter, click here:

Kitchens and Bathrooms update

Some months ago I wrote a piece about my campaign to install ‘walk in’ showers for elderly tenants. I had discovered that the ‘threshold’ of need had been raised substantially and that many people were being told they did not meet this threshold. One example from spring 2011 was a lady in sheltered housing who was suffering from osteoporosis and leukaemia. I was told that she did not qualify because her need was not ‘critical’ enough. The Council did start to acknowledge this issue last year, and began to say ‘wet floor showers are always the first option in bathroom renovations in sheltered housing’. (Report to Health, Social Care and Housing Committee. August 2011. See http://bit.ly/HheDGL). So I was astonished to hear the story of a 90 year old constituent who has just had her kitchen and bathroom replaced as part of the council’s multi million modernisation programme for council properties. Her ground floor ‘pensioner’ flat is one of those with full alarm system and is considered part of the council’s sheltered provision. When she was approached about the modernisation she and her family asked for a shower instead of a bath.A brand new bathroom has been installed – but with bath and a shower over the bath. This property is the type which will be re-let in the future to someone with similar needs, so in making the adaptation while the modernisation work was going on makes sense. Read my full blog post here: http://bit.ly/HjSYtl.

Crags reopening
Shortly after becoming MP for Edinburgh East, I learnt that Edinburgh Leisure had announced its plans to close the Crags, so it was great news to hear that the Sports Centre would be reopened to the Southside community. I visited the Crags on the recent open day and I was pleased to see it back in use. The local community worked so hard for many years to retain this centre and it was a big blow when it closed down. Focusing on Basketball training, the centre has been opened by a new charity, led by Boroughmuir Blaze Basketball Club, basketballscotland and Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association. I’m sure everyone in the Southside will join me in congratulating all those involved in the ‘rebirth’! For information about the centre, and details of the activity schedule, see the website: www.cragssports.com.

Southside news

Residents in the Southside will have already welcomed the news that the Edinburgh Odeon has had its listed status upgraded to ‘A’ category. Last summer, the former Southside Community Council submitted an application to Historic Scotland requesting the status upgrade in view of the cinema’s local and national architectural importance. The application to protect the historic building was one of the Community Council’s last acts before it was dissolved in November.

I have also been in contact with Lothian Buses after Southside Association members pointed out that the number 2 service has been re-routed without any consultation. The service has been redirected via East Preston Street, with the 14 now using East Richmond Street route. The St Leonard’s area has a large residential population, including a substantial proportion of elderly people who were frequent users of the number 2 service. This service connects places which they would find it difficult to reach otherwise and also manages to cut out a lot of travel time through the city centre. Many users already had a walk from their homes to St Leonard’s Street and they are now faced with a considerable walk either to St Patrick Square or into the corner of Nicolson Square to catch this bus. I will keep you posted on the response I receive.

 

Pedal on Parliament

At the time of writing, hundreds of cyclists across Edinburgh were preparing for the Pedal on Parliament ‘flash’ bike ride on Holyrood (and a fun family day out). The cyclists will be heading to the Scottish Parliament to make a serious point about making cycling safer and easier in Edinburgh and Scotland. Cycling is the greenest, cheapest and most efficient way to get around out beautiful capital city and I am supporting everyone who was able to attend. If you were not able to attend, remember to sign the petition (http://chn.ge/I72oOS) and look at the website (www.pedalonparliament.org)

Sikh New Year

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the celebrations for the Sikh New Year at the Sikh Temple in Leith. This was the first time I had been invited to attend and I was delighted to be able to gain an insight into the culture of the Edinburgh Sikh community.

Important notice: Migration of mailing list to Mailchimp

Starting next month I will send this enewsletter using the Mailchimp newsletter mailing service. This means that your email address will be migrated to a secure Mailchimp address book. If you do not want your email address added to my Mailchimp distribution list, please send an email to david.raine@parliament.uk with ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’ in the subject line. You will still be able to read my enewsletter at www.sheilagilmore.co.uk. For full details of the Mailchimp privacy policy, please go to: mailchimp.com/legal/privacy/ .

Dates for your diary Lecture: Chronic Kidney failure epidemic linked to biofuel production – Tuesday 1st May – 1700-1900 – Medical School Teviot Place

Carr Gomm Garden Party – Saturday 12th May – 1200-1800 – Lochend Secret Garden (entrance between 6 & 8 Lochend Quadrant)

Please pass on this enewsletter to anyone who may be interested. Anyone can sign-up by sending an email to david.raine@parliament.uk with ‘SUBSCRIBE’ in the subject line.


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April 2012 enewsletter | Edition 19

Are you registered to vote? Elections to the City of Edinburgh Council will be held on Thursday 3rd May 2012. If you still need to register, click here to download a form: http://bit.ly/GYjwpX. If you want to vote by post, click here to download a form: http://bit.ly/GYjEpk. All forms need to be sent in by 18th April 2012.

Westminster Report

Budget Time
The days when budgets were ‘top secret’ till the day have long gone.  The last Government was much criticised for all the ‘leaks’ and ‘advance notice’ but this Government is no better.   But just when we thought it was all out the ‘Granny Tax’ surprises everyone!

Child Benefit & Working Tax Credit
Two proposals rushed out by the Government in October 2010 were much debated in the period leading up to the budget.  The plan to take Child Benefit from higher rate tax payers was launched by the Chancellor at the Tory Conference in 2010.  At the time the Opposition pointed out that the proposal created huge anomalies, with a ‘cliff edge’ at the point where benefit was lost, and some two earner households retaining child benefit if both earned just below the 40% tax threshold with a joint income of around £80,000 while a single earner household would lose all Child Benefit once they earned around £43,000.  Some 16 months on people on the Government side seemed to wake up to the problems.  It appears that little work had been done in the intervening period to sort these anomalies, but the debate at this time was clearly trying to persuade the Chancellor to rethink – with reported differences of view between 10 & 11 Downing Street.

Changes to Working Tax Credit were announced in the October 2010 Spending Review and are due to come into effect this April. Couples will be required to work at least 24 hours between them to qualify instead of 16 as at present.  At first blush that might not seem too hard, but it can be difficult in the current economic climate to find additional hours.  Even those with disabilities or caring responsibilities would be affected.  The oddity of all this is that it contradicts everything the Government has been saying in its Welfare Reform proposals about ‘making work pay’.  The Government has made a particular virtue of saying that under its new Universal Credit (due to start in 2013) people will be encouraged to work very short hours without being worse off.

Given the speculation that the Prime Minister might be keen to help families affected by the child benefit withdrawal anomalies, I took the opportunity of having a ‘PMQ’ on Wednesday 7th March to ask him if he did persuade his Chancellor to agree to child benefit modification would he then help the low income families about to lose up to £3000 in tax credits. See http://bit.ly/GTXv95.

So what happened in the Budget? – as predicted some modification was made to the withdrawal of Child Benefit with no reduction until £50,000 and a tapering after that with full withdrawal only at £60,000. The two earner issues remain and the complex administration may still cause problems in practice.

In contrast to this, almost no change for the couples on working tax credit due to lose up to £3000 a year. The only modification was a last minute decision to exclude carers.  Remember too these are people for whom the rise in the Income Tax threshold is irrelevant because they are already below it.  In the last few days I asked both Vince Cable (p32 http://bit.ly/HkgG97) and Danny Alexander (p66 http://bit.ly/HkgSp8) whether they fought the corner of this group.  Fairly clear for all their professed concern for the low paid that they did not.

Employment & Support Allowance – treatment of mental health and learning difficulties MPs can apply for ‘short’ debates called ‘Westminster Hall’ debates (although the room they are held in is properly called the ‘Grand Committee Room’ but that’s straightforward compared with some parts of Westminster-speak – like the Early day Motions which are anything but ‘early’) .  I was successful in bidding for one recently on a relatively technical aspect of the way in which people are assessed for the Employment and Support Allowance.  Short debates like this (only 30 minutes) are good for raising such issues and getting a Ministerial response.  You can watch the whole debate here http://bit.ly/GTXOAQ.

Work Experience
Another issue which received a lot of recent coverage is work experience for the unemployed. I wrote a piece on this in my blog called ‘Too Posh to Shelve?’ http://bit.ly/GNwAdB and also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on this topic; you can see the debate here:  http://bit.ly/GZuohp.

DWP Select Committee
We had a session with Employment Minister Chris Grayling on Monday 19th March, again covering Work Experience but also the Work Programme.  The Work Programme was launched last summer with great fanfare to provide training and work search help for the unemployed, mainly those out of work for a year (9 months for under 25s) but also for some people on Employment & Support Allowance who are expected to be ‘fit for work’ within a period of 3-6 months. There are a number of private companies providing this programme, with payment mainly if those referred not just find a job but stay in one for an extended period.  There are concerns about the quality of these schemes and about the viability of the providers – especially for some of the specialist voluntary organisations who don’t seem to be getting much of the work.  You can watch our session here http://bit.ly/GNwKSa.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has recently published a report on the scheme for people to be ‘Auto- Enrolled’ in pensions.  Pensions may not seem the most exciting of subjects but this scheme could bring many low paid people into pension provision for the first time.  http://bit.ly/GNwZMZ.

Public Bill Committee
I spent much of March on the public bill committee for the Financial Services Bill.  Very important if highly technical – important because it sets up the new regulatory system for financial services.

Long hours in this committee relieved one morning when a fellow member arriving in a rush after a travel problem started to eat a pot of porridge. As he poured in some honey the Chair suddenly announced he was using a ‘banned substance’.  He had the presence of mind to apologise aloud for eating porridge in case anyone came across a reference to a ‘banned substance’ in Hansard!

Welfare Reform Bill
The Welfare Reform Bill passed its final stage on 29th February. With some exceptions (most notably the Government backing down on removing mobility allowance from people in residential care) the Government has delivered its Welfare Reform Agenda. The Government is confident that on this Bill – unlike their NHS reforms – they have public opinion on their side. In part this is due to a ‘framing’ of the issue as being one about ‘scroungers’ and people enjoying a ‘benefits lifestyle’ .However this view would not resonate so much if people did not feel it matched with some of their own experiences. Not altogether surprising when there are indeed many more people who are ‘economically inactive’ not least because under the last Tory government there was a relentless sidelining of people off the unemployment register onto incapacity benefits. However that doesn’t mean that the current re-assessment process is running well or fairly.   (See for instance my Westminster Hall Debate above).

But underlying even this is some disturbing evidence from the British Social Attitudes Survey that there is a long term reduction in support for benefits spending. See http://bit.ly/HkmGij

Some commentators have concluded that this demonstrates that we have become a more individualistic – even selfish- society. Others suggest that this is a sign that benefits have indeed become too high and too easy to get. However I wonder if there is another partial explanation. Since 1997 benefits have improved with things like tax credits, pensioner minimum income guarantee, winter fuel allowance etc. So perhaps people are seeing less need for extra spending. It may be interesting to see if this changes in the next few years as benefits are lowered and more people are experiencing unemployment.

One of our lines of criticism is that some of the ‘savings’ may not turn out to be savings at all. Last April the rules for Housing Benefit changed for people in the private rented sector. The maximum allowed was reduced to the 30th percentile of local rents instead of half. One of the government’s arguments was that Housing Benefit was so dominant in the sector that it in itself was dragging rents upwards and that rents should now begin to fall. Here in Edinburgh the benefit allowed for a 1 bed flat fell from £115 in March 2011 to £ 109 in April but since then has risen steadily to £114 in February 2012. This is still at the 30th percentile level but average rents have risen. This appears to be happening in many parts of the country. So at best the Government will have slowed the rise in the housing benefit total spend but in cash terms there may be little if any saving. In the meantime some recipients who find it difficult to get a let within the new limits will be having to top up their rents from incomes already low (since otherwise they would not qualify for benefit)

The government convinced itself that housing benefit was driving rents up. We argued housing benefit payments were rising because rents were rising. So far it looks as if the second argument was more accurate.

 

Constituency report

Cairntows Park

You will recall that last year residents living near to Cairntows Park successfully fought off plans to develop the park for mixed use housing, preserving this greenspace for future generations. Residents have again contacted me to ask that further protection is sought for the Park. Residents have asked that the park is put forward for Fields in Trust Royal Charter protection, as part of this year’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. It is important that this park is defended from development and its recreational use is secured for future generations. I have now written to the Council asking that the Park is included in the list of parks submitted for protection. I will keep you updated on the progress of this request.

 

Allotments Consultation
Across the city, hundreds of residents keep an allotment to grow fruit and vegetables and get some physical exercise. Demand for allotment spaces has grown as people increasingly want to grow their own fresh food locally and cheaply. Two years ago the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to allocate more space for allotments as the waiting list had grown so long people were told they would have to wait eight years. In Edinburgh East the Council proposed four sites: Craigentinny Avenue North, Lochend Park, Joppa Quarry Park, and Baronscourt Park, which is now being consulted on. The plans require that 50% of plots go to local residents. To mitigate anti-social behaviour concerns, sheds are not permitted at the Baronscourt site, and keepers are not permitted to burn leaves or weeds. Residents near to the park are concerned the plans do not include a new access road. I am in touch with Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust who have said they are now working to reassure residents and communicate the plans more effectively.


The Big Switch

Last month I mentioned the British Gas £50 deal to help people get their homes insulated, this month however, I have backed a campaign calling on the markets offer deals who want to ‘collectively’ switch between energy providers. Launched last month by Which? and 38 Degrees, The Big Switch is a new way for people to buy their energy. This will be the first time in the UK that a very large number of people will join together as a group to negotiate a deal with energy companies. I would encourage constituents to join the 200,000-strong group who have already signed up to The Big Switch, and to use their collective power to try to cut their energy bills and help shake up the market. I have said before that the market as a whole needs major reform, but this is one of the many ideas that could help bring down bills, and change the way the ‘big 6’ sell energy. I have already signed the EDM, but if you want to show your support, and use your collective bargaining power, go to www.whichbigswitch.co.uk.

Anti-Social Behaviour throughout Edinburgh East
As the nights grow longer and warmer it is regrettable that anti-social behaviour increases throughout the City. Last month a 12-year-old girl was the victim of an attack by a group of youths because of the colour of her skin. I was appalled to hear about the attack which took place in Piershill. I had been in the area that week discussing the problems in the square with a number of residents. The residents I spoke to are concerned about the groups of youths that collect there in the evenings, but also want to see drug dealers evicted and CCTV installed. If the council is serious about tackling this behaviour it needs to look at its attitude to the problem as well as how it uses the resources that are available. The Council has pledged to prioritise action in Piershill and a handful of areas which have also seen an increase in anti-social behaviour.  Read my blog on this issue here http://bit.ly/GN2uu9.

Save the Independent Living Fund
A couple of months ago I mentioned a petition calling on the Government to halt the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015. For over 21 years the ILF has made payments to disabled people to purchase the services of Personal Assistants or a care agency to give them personal care and domestic assistance. The coalition plans to close the scheme in 2015, but it has still not said what will happen after this date; many fear that the care responsibilities will be passed to cash-strapped local authorities. Many people in Edinburgh have used the ILF to ensure that they can arrange their own care which is right for them. I previously urged you to sign the e-petition, and the Lothian Centre for inclusive Living have again asked that as many people as possible sign it. If you have already signed it, make sure you are asking others to do so too. To sign the petition, go to: http://bit.ly/Agwttd.

Big Things on The Beach manifesto launch
Last month BTOTB launched their manifesto which calls on Edinburgh’s next City Council to invest in the City Promenade and Beach at Portobello. You will be aware that elections to the City of Edinburgh Council will take place on May 3rd and BTOTB want the Councillors elected to commit to improve Porty Promenade. Since 2008 plans for the prom have been in place, but local residents feel that progress has slowed. When the plans were first revealed, the City Council said it would create an ‘Edinburgh Promenade’ from Granton to Joppa, to signal the city’s desire to establish Edinburgh as a world class Waterfront City, incorporating Portobello Promenade. The Council’s plan includes the creation of a ‘Portobello Piazza’ by 2013. BTOTB have a petition open until the 3rd May, which is of course polling day. For more details, see http://bit.ly/H4If9i.

Cyrenians Closure
Cyrenians, the employment and support service for people living in the ‘East neighbourhood’ will be closing at the end of the month. I have previously visited the project which works out of the Hays Business Centre to help support individuals into work, education or training. All of the staff at Cyrenians deserve a huge thank you after putting in a great deal of time and energy into this local service, which many had thought was very successful. The project has had some particular successes getting local people into construction, retail and care positions. The service also held out reach sessions in Portobello Library and at Magdalene and Bingham Community Centres. Following a decision by the Council to centralise employment services, a consortium which includes Jewel and Esk and Stevenson College will now deliver the assistance Cyrenians offered. While the consortium has said that it will deliver specialised services to specific areas where there is greater need, It is not yet clear exactly how this will be done.

2012: International Year of Cooperatives
Last year Portobello’s Just World Shop announced plans to seek Fair Trade status for the town, supported by the Community Council. Portobello has long campaigned for more Fairtrade goods to be on sale to help promote better conditions for farmers and faming cooperatives across the world. I recently attended an event held by the Co-operative Party which has also promoted the uptake of fair-trade products nationally. I met with Taysir and Riziq who produce Palestinian Olive Oil and are part the Fairtrade scheme – it’s certainly a new product that I will be looking out for.

Cycle safety tagging and marking events
Next week Lothian and Borders Police will be holding three cycle safety sessions across Edinburgh East. The Cycle Safety campaign has been set up to help prevent bike crime. Officers will register, UV mark and electronically tag your bike at these events. A limited number of bikes will be tagged for free according to promotional material (see http://bit.ly/GVJjiJ) otherwise, registration and UV marking is £5, and registration, marking and tagging is £16. Details of the events are as follows:

  • Mon 2nd      April – 11am-2pm – Waverley Court, East Market Street
  • Tues 3rd      April – 11am-2pm – Bristo Square, Edinburgh Uni
  • Wed 4th      April – 11am-2pm – The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
  • Thurs 5th      April – 11am-2pm – King’s Buildings, Edinburgh Uni


Big Lottery Young Start Fund
Big Lottery Fund, the organisation which allocates Lottery grants has launched a Young Start fund, to help children and young people work alongside old people in their community. Funding is available to deliver projects which encourage young people to become more confident, healthy and connected with older people in their community. Funds are also available to tackle youth unemployment by preparing young people to start work or set up a business. Young Start will provide grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 for up to two years for projects that provide services for young people aged 8 to 24. It can fund a range of youth activities including sports facilities, creative arts, information and communication skills, as well as setting up work experience schemes with local employers. Details are on facebook: www.facebook.com/youngstartfund.
New Surgery Schedule

Starting this month, my surgery schedule will be changing. I will now hold all of my surgeries on the second Friday of each month in three locations across Edinburgh East, which will free up more time for constituents who want individual appointments. For reference, the new surgery schedule is below:

Surgeries are held on the second Friday of each month

Central Library (George IV Bridge) – Between 10.00am – 11.00am. Served by buses: 2, 41, 42, 45, 67.

Restalrig Lochend Community Hub (198 Restalrig Road) – Between 11.30am – 12.30pm. Served by buses: 19, 21, 25, 34, 49.

Portobello Library (off Portobello High Street) – Between 14.00pm – 15.00pm. Served by buses: 15, 21, 26, 42, 49, 69.

Dates for your diary
02 April 2012 to 06 April 2012 – Lothian and Borders Cycle safety registration and tagging sessions – various locations, see http://bit.ly/GVJjiJ for full details.
12 April 2012 – ‘Living with Labels’ – a film about what it’s like to live with a label of mental illness – film launch – 1800-2000 – The Filmhouse. Anyone wishing to attend MUST register on 0131 538 7177

18 April 2012 – Last day to register to vote or vote by post – forms are available here: http://bit.ly/GYjEpk & http://bit.ly/GYjwpX

03 May 2012 – Big Things on the Beach petition closes – sign the petition here: http://bit.ly/H4If9i.

Please pass on this enewsletter to anyone who may be interested. Anyone can sign-up by sending an email to david.raine@parliament.uk with ‘SUBSCRIBE’ in the subject line.

 

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Reform in haste – repent at leisure

Tory conference announcements on benefit reform show all the signs of policy being made on the hoof.  I suspect that the decision to take child benefit away from high rate tax payers was at least in part intended to wrong foot Labour. Instead their own people – including their ‘own’ newspapers – have turned on them. So suddenly another rushed announcement – a promise to introduce a married couples’ tax relief!

David CameronOne of Ian Duncan Smith’s themes has been ‘simplification’ of the benefit system. Now who can be against that?  Anyone who has claimed benefits or helped anyone claiming benefits or helped anyone claiming benefits will know how complicated some can be.  But the child benefit proposal illustrates the pitfalls of ‘simplicity’. In the anxiety to avoid the ‘complexities’ of means testing, the Coalition Government went for a ‘simple’ cut off at a household with an earner in the higher tax band.  But ‘simple’ changes like this cause big anomalies e.g. a household with one earner just into the higher rate tax loses the benefit but one with two earners both just below that tax rate does not.

And if ‘simple’ causes such problems in this instance just wait till ‘simplification’ is applied to all benefits.  A simple ‘universal credit’ is promised by Duncan-Smith. Sounds attractive at first blush – but can ‘one size fits all’ ever be ‘fair’?

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