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Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

In these difficult times, with most of our normal activity at a standstill, it's difficult to share with you much about what is happening in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

But keep going. It will pass. The more we avoid anything that might increase the spread of Covid-19, the sooner we will be able to begin returning to our normal lives.

I can't carry out local surgeries for now, but if you have an issue, please do seek support by phoning the normal office number 01698 403 310 or you can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 
COVID – 19
We may all be a bit weary of the restrictions on our movement, the closed shops and our inability to go to the gym, wander around the park for hours with a handful of pals, go to a football match or enjoy your leisure time as you normally would is helping to save lives.
 
It is essential for all of us to hang on in there, not only for the sake of others but for our own sake too.


 
The Scottish Government has published an outline of the circumstances under which the lockdown may be gradually lifted and I urge everyone to take the time to read the document.
 


It is vital that any decision to ease restrictions is based on the best scientific advice possible – but we are in uncharted territory and we must be prepared to adapt. That might mean having to reapply restrictions after they are lifted.
 
It is only when we are sure the virus is under control that we can even start to ease any of the restrictions because the virus will not have gone away.
 
In the coming days and weeks members of the public will be invited to contribute their thoughts and views on the next steps we must make together.

Even with this guidance, it is crucial we still follow social distancing.  That means staying at home, maintaining physical distance (2 metres/ 6 feet), washing hands and good hygiene remain the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be considered an alternative to any of these most important precautions.

The Scottish Government has stressed that face covering do not mean surgical or other medical grade masks, instead a piece of fabric such as cloth or other textiles which cover the mouth and nose and are able to breathe through such as a scarf.

It is also important to note that you wash your hands first to avoid touching your face. After each use, you must wash the face covering at 60 degrees centigrade or dispose of safely. Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of two years and may not be appropriate for those with certain health conditions - for example asthma.

You can find lots more information about aspects of Covid-19 on my Facebook page.
 
Supporting victims of domestic abuse
As you all know, I've been a powerful voice for the interests of anyone who is a victim of some kind of domestic abuse.

I have been challenging this kind of abuse - and it takes very many forms - for many, many years. It has, and always will be, an issue close to my heart. I have met with so many people who have been on the wrong side of domestic abuse, I have developed not only an empathy but an understanding of just how important it is that we squeeze out this criminal behviour.

Social isolation measures put in place to tackle coronavirus (COVID-19) may be adding pressure to those in abusive domestic situations.

No one experiencing this kind of violence can be ignored. There is no excuse for isolation or helplessness among victims of this horrific abuse.

All of the essential services for anyone in that kind of situation are up and available. Do not,, for one moment, feel that in the current time, your issues are any less important than Covid-19. Get in touch with people who can help you. There are contact points listed at the end of this Newsletter, or contact me directly.

Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is available on 0800 027 1234 or visit sdafmh.org.uk to email or webchat. Visit Safer.Scot for further information.

Our foodbanks need donations
If you can spare some tins and long-life product to help the Hamilton District Food Bank, I urge you to donate them to people for whom the lockdown has taken or reduced their incomes. Many people are falling through the cracks and can’t get help from the existing support mechanisms. That can leave families struggling to put food on the table.
 
Some 90% of the food distributed comes from public donations, so to coin someone else’s catch phrase, ‘every little helps.’
 

Most needed foods are:
UHT milk
Sugar
Diluting juice
Tinned fruit
Tinned rice pudding/custard
Tinned tomatoes
Tinned fish
Tinned veg
Pasta/rice
Coffee/tea
Biscuits/chocolate
Toiletries
 
You can go to the Facebook page. Look for Hamilton District Foodbank.
 
If you are happy to drop off food donations there are trolleys located in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s & Co-Op in Hamilton and Asda in Blantyre. You can also drop off at any of the Foodbank centres during the opening times. The Hamilton District one is at 22 Townhead Street.
 
Price gouging
You may not have heard the phrase, but you'll have seen - and felt - the impact of crazed price inflation for items in high demand.

There will always be firms out to raise a quick buck out of a tragic situation. I have heard numerous accounts of people paying out ridiculous amounts of money to get a hand sanitiser or a couple of toilet rolls.
 
Campaigning SNP MP Owen Thompson has called for UK government action to help prevent unjustifiable hikes in prices of essential items by online retailers during emergencies.
 


The call comes after reports of excessive prices were being charged for in-demand items such as cleaning products and baby formula during the Covid-19 crisis - particularly through online marketplaces such as Ebay and Amazon. Which? found a 1000% increase from the typical price on products like Dettol cleaning spray by some third-party sellers online - and in response has launched an app whereby consumers can report price gouging.
 
The Midlothian MP has welcomed the app and said that stronger regulations are required to enable the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate and take more effective action to tackle the issue. Mr Thompson has tabled a series of parliamentary questions to the Chancellor on the issue of price gouging.
 
Commenting, Owen Thompson MP said: “Making excessive profits on high demand products during a global health crisis is disgraceful. I’ve heard too many reports of sellers charging ridiculous prices for things like cleaning spray since the crisis began.
 
“Many vulnerable people may feel they have no choice but to stump up, while others go without. It could prevent charities and keyworkers accessing the products they need – and could ultimately cost lives. Stronger action is needed to stop this kind of unscrupulous practice.
 
“I welcome the launch from the consumer champions Which? of a tool to help people more easily report coronavirus profiteering and would urge constituents to report any incidences they come across.
 
“I am urging the big online marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay to do more to monitor what their sellers are charging and take action when bad practice is found.
 
“There is still a lack of existing legislation to protect from price gouging, however, and this is something that needs tackled. The UK government must take the necessary steps to give Competition and Markets Authority the powers it needs to investigate and take stronger action on this. That way we can protect people now and in any future emergency by keeping prices reasonable.”



The Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) is the watchdog body and it has set up a coronavirus taskforce to crack down on companies that cash in during the outbreak by bumping up prices or exploiting people’s fears with misleading claims about products.
 
The Authority says it has already been in contact with traders and online  trading platforms about excessive pricing of hand sanitiser, sales of which have soared as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

Action, say the CMA, will be taken against firms that breach consumer protection or competition laws if they do not respond to warnings. The taskforce will also advise government on emergency legislation if problems cannot be addressed through existing powers.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable. We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak.



“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible. We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers. We hope that such action will not be necessary but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”

Report the scammers
Another group keen to exploit public misery are the scammers. I’m encouraging people in South Lanarkshire to be aware of scams following an increase in reports across Scotland about scam emails, text messages and doorstep callers.



Police Scotland has now launched a new ‘Shut Out Scammers’ resource to protect the public and businesses from COVID-19 related scams. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has also launched an email reporting service, which the public can use to report any suspicious activity.
 
While the community response to the coronavirus outbreak in South Lanarkshire has been overwhelmingly positive, it's disappointing to see a few individuals taking advantage of the situation with unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages. 
 
During this coronavirus crisis, everyone in South Lanarkshire should take extra care to ensure that they only share information from trusted sources, ask for identification from all doorstep callers, and never hand over any personal information.
 
It’s vital that people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse remain vigilant against scams during this challenging time and report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
 
Universal basic income for all 
Our SNP colleagues in Westminster are pressing hard for a Universal Basic Income for all as the right way forward, not only now but as the economy starts to recover post-Covid-19. Drew Hendry SNP MP, says: “A universal basic income will help settle economic stability and lead to increased spending in local economies, supporting businesses and communities.
 


“UK Government schemes such as the 'Job Retention Scheme' have been a welcome lifeline to a lot of people. Their financial woes are on ice because they have a temporary safety net.

“Yet still, insecurity remains.  Sure, they can benefit from 80% of their wages, but people don't routinely save 20% of their salaries. With their household income reduced, any savings on regular transport costs can quickly be eaten up by higher domestic bills.

“And they are the lucky ones. Just think of what it's like for those who rely on seasonal work, people who have been working in the gig economy and the newly self-employed. They find themselves having to live off the woefully inadequate 'Universal Credit' social security payment. That's after they wait over two weeks for a call-back, with a further five-week wait for payment.”
 
Universal Credit Claims
Household claims for Universal Credit in Scotland have increased from an average of 20,000 per month in 2019 to over 110,000 between 1 March and 7 April, highlighting the impact the pandemic is having on people’s finances.



That’s why the Scottish Government, in partnership with the Citizens Advice network, is launching a new campaign to raise awareness of the financial support available to people.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “This huge increase in claims for Universal Credit demonstrates just how many people across the country are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are difficult and worrying times for everyone, with many people requiring financial support for the first time and even more pressure on those who were already struggling to make ends meet.

“It is welcome that people are claiming the support that they are entitled to from the DWP, and I would encourage people to look into what additional help is available. Even if you are not entitled to Universal Credit, there could be other assistance that you can access so it is worth checking.

“That’s why we’ve been working with the Citizens Advice network in Scotland to create this central source of information - with everything from guidance on benefits, right through to what you can do if you are worried about paying your mortgage or rent.”



Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice network in Scotland is known for always being there to help and the support we give will be more important than ever to help people avoid getting into crisis. There may also be lots of people who have never used our services before and it’s crucial that they know our information and advice is there for them too.

“Our national network of Citizens Advice Bureaux is still operating for those who need it – if you have been financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help make sure you have access to all the income you are entitled to, as well as giving tailored advice about what’s on offer within local communities across Scotland.

“There’s increased demand for our advice on financial services, that’s why we’ve created dedicated COVID-19 content online so people get the information they need 24/7 and from the comfort of their own homes.

“We’ve also got a dedicated helpline for people who might not be able to access our services online. If you have been financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and require free, confidential, financial support, please visit cas.org.uk or call 0800 028 1456.

“Local Citizens Advice Bureaux are situated around the country. To find your local service, simply enter your postcode at https://www.cas.org.uk/bureaux 
 
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP?
The community spirit shown by people across Lanarkshire has been heart-warming. If you would like to offer your help, there are a whole host of new groups working across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

They are working together to help spread cheer and make sure the most vulnerable in our area are getting the necessities they need.

The range of services provided include delivering shopping to elderly or vulnerable neighbours, using online group chats to combat social isolation and loneliness, and handing out care packages to the elderly and vulnerable.

If you are in Hamilton, you can find more information about the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142

If you are in Larkhall, you can find out more information about the COVID-19 Rainbows – Larkhall here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1092656721095368/permalink/1092743704420003

If you are in Stonehouse, you can find out more information about Stonehouse Coronavirus Community Support here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3402877913061116

If you do not have Facebook but are keen to do your bit locally, then feel free to email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I can put you in touch with one of your local groups.


At this time, it has never been more important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.
 
HELP SERVICES AVAILABLE
For Scottish Government information - https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

For NHS Scotland information - https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus

For Resilience planning information - https://www.readyscotland.org/

For young people - https://young.scot/

For parents  https://www.parentclub.scot/ and https://www.children1st.org.uk/help-for-families/parentline-scotland/

For older people - https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/

 For information on charities and third sector - https://scvo.org.uk/support/coronavirus

For non-domestic rates business support - https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 

Covid-19
It’s some surreal sci-fi movie where the aliens are taking over the planet, isn’t it? Of course not, yet even though we all know that and have learned to comprehend the realities, we still have people who will selfishly refuse to accept the rules. They don’t seem to perceive the damage they are doing, the death threat they are adding to.
 

 

So it grieves me to discover that Lanarkshire is the fourth largest area in the country for people breaking lockdown rules.
 
While most of us comply with social distancing rules, accepting (if not particularly enjoying) that we all need to care for one another and staying at home is the only way to do that effectively
 
Yet people flout the guidance. Police have so far handed out more than 144 penalty notices to offenders in Scotland, 17 of them in Lanarkshire.
 
According to media sources, dozens of cars filled with families were in the car park at Chatelherault a few days ago, ignoring the many times repeated warnings to stay at home.

The regulations have not been set down out of some sort of aggression; they exist for the protection of everyone. For a small minority to threaten the lives of the many is irresponsible and cruel as well as incomprehensible.
 
David Booth, General Manager of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture, has been in touch with the police who are now running spot checks at the entrance. They have been giving out advice as well as Fixed Penalty Notices.

 

 

There is now no access for any vehicles other than emergency ones.

Remember and pay attention to the rules: go out for a nearby walk with members of your own household only.

Don’t take the car off to some scenic park or beach and start chatting to other visitors.

Helping the most vulnerable
For those of us who are in the highest risk category, who are ‘shielding’ from the virus for at least 12 weeks, getting essentials can be a challenge.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon announced in Sunday’s briefing that the Government is providing an extra £38m for local authorities to address local needs in ways they feel are most appropriate and urgent in their own areas.

These are the people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse who have existing medical issues that mean catching the virus could be fatal for them. The reasons could be old age, diabetes, immune suppressant drugs, MS, MND, cancer or heart conditions for example.

 

At an earlier Scottish Government briefing, the First Minister announced an initiative allowing this group of people to receive deliveries of food and other essential items through a text messaging service.

This is great news. While family and friends are a great support for some, others may not have access to that kind of help.

 

 

Information on how to register for the service was included in a letter to people in the ‘shielded’ group. Already, more that 8000 people have signed up.

The First Minister has asked everyone who receives the letter to sign up for the service.

She said: “You might not feel you need help right now, you might have family and friends who are providing the support you need.

“But registering now will help us to keep in touch with you if you need help later on.”

Universal Credit


The muddle, chaos and general misery around the entire Universal Credit scheme has yet again been exhibited. 

In Westminster, the SNP MPs have been highlighting the failures that are emerging alongside a million new applications in the last two weeks.

 

My colleague, SNP Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Neil Gray MP has rightly said: "The staggering news that almost a million people have applied for Universal Credit in the past fortnight alone highlights the huge scale of the crisis we face - and proves beyond doubt that more support is needed.

"The UK government must listen to those of us who have been calling for welfare protections to be significantly strengthened to help people through this unprecedented emergency.

"The SNP has repeatedly called for the Chancellor to introduce a guaranteed minimum income for everyone. That is the simplest way to ensure everyone has the support they need. It is clear that the current jobs retention and self-employed schemes are failing to cover everyone.

"A huge proportion of the popuation is worried about how they are going to make ends meet. Every MP will have constituents who are desperate for greater help. The UK Government rightly brought in the rules to keep people socially isolated but they must now match that by protecting their incomes. With Universal Credit they have not done nearly enough.

"The flaws in the UK's welfare system are not new - but the scale of this crisis means they must now be urgently addressed so millions are not left struggling to get by."

 

Would you like to help?

The community spirit shown by people across Lanarkshire has been heart-warming. If you would like to offer your help, there are a whole host of new groups working across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

They are working together to help spread cheer and make sure the most vulnerable in our area are getting the necessities they need.

The range of services provided include delivering shopping to elderly or vulnerable neighbours, using online group chats to combat social isolation and loneliness, and handing out care packages to the elderly and vulnerable.

If you are in Hamilton, you can find more information about the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142


If you are in Larkhall, you can find out more information about the COVID-19 Rainbows – Larkhall here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1092656721095368/permalink/1092743704420003


If you are in Stonehouse, you can find out more information about Stonehouse Coronavirus Community Support here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3402877913061116


If you do not have Facebook but are keen to do your bit locally, then feel free to email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I can put you in touch with one of your local groups.

At this time, it has never been more important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is not as open as it normally would be and we are working from home.

If you need help or advice, it's still very much available so  phone or email me at any time.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do sign up here.

Covid-19


The Covid-19 virus

Whatever I write just now will be out of date by the time you read it. That much, we can be certain of. The only other certainty in this surreal environment is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
 
Expert assessment suggests that the peak of the virus will be around 18 June.
 
We all know the rules and for the most part, people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse will be sticking to the key advice – keep washing your hands, avoid touching your face, don’t shake hands or hug people as you might normally do, avoid crowds anywhere and don’t travel in crowded buses, trains or planes unless it’s genuinely essential.
 
To date, in Scotland, 14 people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died.
 
In the Lanarkshire Health Board area, we have 41 cases confirmed but there will be more every day.
 
There may well be more people, perhaps many more, who have the virus but have not been tested, as well as those who have already had the virus and recovered from it.
 
Vulnerable people
We know that people over 70 have been advised to self-isolate for the next three months.

And according to the UK advice, that means staying in your own house but the advice can be very changeable.

Listening to a radio programme, government 'expert' told a 79 year old that certainly "you can take your dog for a walk as normal. It's good for you to be out of doors."

A little later, PM Boris Johnson said than anyone over 70 should remain isolated in their own home and avoid contact with anyone.
 
Anyone with a history of respiratory problems such as asthma or COPD is at high risk. People with weakened immunity as a result of chemotherapy for instance and including everyone who has had a transplant of any kind, will be at high risk regardless of age.
 
If you can reach out to elderly or infirm people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse who are self-isolating, then I would encourage you to do that in a risk-free way. 

If someone needs food or medications delivered, you can speak on the phone (or through the front door!) then leave the items on the doorstep. You should not have physical contact.
 
The Scottish Government
Our devolved powers limit how much our Government can do in this crisis. It was, though, a relief to hear from Boris Johnson with Friday’s package of support to employees unable to work.

They are guaranteed 80% of their normal salary/wage paid by the UK Government. The remaining 20% will hopefully made by employers but they will not be forced to pay this. Still, at least 80% of your normal pay is guaranteed.
 


The self-employed, from window cleaners to high-tech engineers and including a wide group of services suppliers like journalists, couriers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers, mechanics, repair people, farmers and many more are in a different situation entirely.
 
These people have absolutely no employment protection. They pay tax and national insurance but they are not entitled to sick pay or to that 80% pay guarantee by Westminster’s government.
 
Those on zero-hour contracts will be in the same situation, without worker protection.
 
SNP MP Alison Thewliss has said introducing a financial package of support for self-employed and unemployed people "must be a key priority" for the Chancellor this week.



The SNP Shadow Chancellor has repeated calls for an urgent cross-party meeting to discuss the range of measures that should be taken to protect the incomes of freelancers, the self-employed, and unemployed people.
 
Commenting, SNP Shadow Chancellor Alison Thewliss MP (above) said:

"Millions of freelancers, self-employed and unemployed people are understandably concerned about their incomes during this unprecedented emergency.

"There is broad consensus that bringing forward a comprehensive financial package of support for self-employed and unemployed people must be a key priority for the Chancellor this week.

"The SNP want the UK government to use the tax and welfare system to introduce a guaranteed income for everyone, raise UK Statutory Sick Pay to the EU average, and strengthen welfare protections by increasing Child Benefit and making Universal Credit more flexible.

"Political parties should get round the table on Monday to ensure all measures are considered and a meaningful financial package can be introduced as soon as possible. I urge the Chancellor to make that happen so we can ensure no one is left behind."
 
Scottish Government funding to support local communities



The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell MSP announced a £350 million package which will be focussed on specifically on mitigating the impact COVID-19 will have on local communities.

The money is designed to dispense with as much red tape as possible to allow areas to feel the benefit as soon as possible. It will be open to councils, charities, businesses and community groups across Scotland.

£95 million of this will go direct to councils with £45 million of that being added to the existing Scottish Welfare Fund which makes Community Grants and Crisis Grants available to those in immediate need.

This more than doubles the current £35.5 million fund, which is administered by local authorities. They will be given more flexibility in how it is used to ensure they can fully support people in financial crisis, including workers in the ‘gig economy’.

In addition:

  • a £70 million Food Fund will help organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors address issues of food insecurity, especially for older people, and families who may not be able to rely on free school meals
  • a £50 million Wellbeing Fund will help charities and others who require additional capacity to work with at-risk people who may be worst affected by the crisis, including homeless people and those experiencing fuel poverty
  • a £40 million Supporting Communities Fund will be used to support the rapidly growing and inspiring community efforts at a local level which will be vital to national resilience, including supporting people at risk because of age, isolation, carers, homeless people and asylum seekers and signposting people to sources of help such as applying for benefits
  • £50 million will go to meet an anticipated increase in applications for the existing Council Tax Reduction Scheme and Scottish social security benefits
  • £20 million will be allocated to a Third Sector Resilience Fund, to help ensure the health and continued viability of the third sector organisations affected by cash flow and other problems, which have a key role to play in our national response
  • £25 million will be kept in reserve to allow swift and flexible responses to rapidly changing circumstances


Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors     
The folk who make up the Hamilton COVID-19 warriors show community support in action. The group formed up just last week to make sure that no one in the community would be left without anywhere to turn. Social distancing can be very isolating and lonely, so having help and support – on the phone, the doorstep, via Skype, Facebook, Twitter – is invaluable.  

I took part in a meeting with local elected members to see how we could help them overcome some of the challenges new volunteer organisations face in this new and uncertain environment. I will continue to work closely with local organisations like the Hamilton COVID-19 warriors. 

You can find some useful guidance on volunteering here: http://www.gcvs.org.uk/blog/community-responses-to-covid-19-do-the-right-thing-safely/

You can find the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142/

Helplines
During these challenging and unprecedented times, many of us are going to feel at least unhappy, bored, sometimes thoroughly miserable and depressed.
You are not alone.  Support is out there so long as you know where to seek it. Here is a list of helplines you can reach out to: 
📞 Call Age Scotlandon 0800 12 44 222 for coronavirus advice, help, or simply a friendly voice of support.
📞 Call Breathing Space Scotland on 0800 83 85 87 for listening, advice and information if you're feeling low, stressed or anxious.
📞 Call the Scottish Government's official helpline for businesses on 0300 303 0660 for all questions related to #COVID19financial support and essential advice.
📞 Call the Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 for confidential support from highly-trained female advisers.
📞 Call Healthy Working Lives on 0800 019 2211 for practical advice on health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace.
📞 Call LGBT Helpline Scotland on 0300 123 2523 for information and emotional support, or simply a friendly voice.
📞 Call Shelter Scotlandon 0808 800 444 for advice and answers on homelessness, evictions, housing benefit, repairs and more.
📞 Call Parentline Scotland on 0800 028 2233 for tips, advice and support for parents, or if you simply need to talk.
📞🖥 Email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call my office on 01698 403 311 if you are a constituent and you need help.
 
 
 
Hand sanitizer


You can’t get it anywhere. So The Glasgow Distillery Company stepped up to the problem and offered to make some up and give it away free to both the NHS and places like care homes, homeless hostels, charities helping provide support, and to others who need the product. Other distilleries have offered to follow Glasgow’s lead.
 


But…the idea hit a brick wall when it emerged that Glasgow North MP Patrick Grady (above) was contacted by The Glasgow Distillery Company face the challenge of paying duty on the product even if it’s not being sold - because of the Ethanol/Grain Neutral Spirit (pure alcohol) needed - costing around £20 per litre of hand sanitiser produced.
 
Rather than washing your hands with whisky, Patrick Grady MP has suggested that the Chancellor might offer, in the same ‘spirit,’ a duty waiver so that the distillers can deliver on their kind offer

The change is backed by Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP who has written to Rishi Sunak calling for greater flexibility on alcohol tax and regulations for alcoholic drink manufacturers that are now looking to produce hand sanitiser in response to Covid-19.

Commenting, Patrick Grady MP said:

"We know many local companies like Glasgow Distillery are looking to do their bit to tackle Coronavirus and support their communities by producing hand sanitiser. HMRC should be helping them by waiving the duty, which can otherwise make it prohibitive.

"There is a real shortage of hand sanitiser in the quantities needed for our care homes, homeless charities, and other bodies. Small distilleries can help out with this emergency, if the UK government is willing to lift the red tape."



Liam Hughes (above), co-founder and CEO of the distillery said: “Glasgow Distillery and many other distilleries across Scotland are ready and willing to help meet the demand for sanitiser. 

"We’ve been inundated by calls from care homes and other front line organisations including the NHS and Councils, but HMRC’s red tape means we have to pay duty of up to £20 per litre produced – so we literally can’t give it away.

”A stroke of a pen and some common sense at HRMC is all that’s needed to get more of our distilleries helping towards the effort to tackle coronavirus.”
 
A plea to Boots
I have written to the Managing Director of Boots calling on the company to scrap their delivery charges to ease the pressure on many vulnerable households during the COVID-19 outbreak.
 


Boots faced a public backlash after first introducing the charges back in September 2019. It can cost customers £5 for delivery of prescriptions with an annual subscription for the year costing an eyewatering £55. Boots offers free delivery for prescriptions ordered online but this does not help many older scots who may not have access to the internet.
 
I am particularly concerned that older people and those on lower incomes may face having to choose between risking infection and paying up to £5 for medications to be delivered. 
 
At a time when Government is strongly advising older people to limit social contact, it is entirely wrong that they may be forced to choose between exposing themselves to risk of infection or cutting back on essentials. 

More than 500,000 over 60s in Scotland do not use the internet and more than 150,000 older Scottish people live in poverty. This group of people is particularly vulnerable to the dangers posed by the Covid-19 we should all be working together to ensure they are as protected as possible.
 
While it has been heart-warming to see the community coming together to provide support for so many different groups who are at risk we want to ensure that the burden placed on volunteers is as light as possible.
 
That is why Boots have an opportunity to take real leadership here. By scrapping these charges during this crisis, they can help to ensure that members of Scotland’s older community are not forced to take unnecessary risks and give volunteers the time to focus on other vital tasks.
 
 
The outlook
Sadly, Covid-19 is going to infect more people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse than it has already.

The First Minister announced on Friday, quickly followed by Boris Johnson, that no pubs, clubs, restaurants, leisure centre will be allowed open as attempts to stop the spread of the virus continue.

All SQA examinations have been cancelled, the first time since 1888 this move has ever been made. It came after schools were closed until summer on Friday.

The First Minister announced the action in Scotland to protect the resilience of the emergency services until the impact of the virus has lessened substantially.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "We expect the number of cases to rise and Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus. There is currently no treatment or vaccine so early detection measures will continue to be vital in helping to prevent the spread of the virus."

The Scottish Government has warned up to 80% of the population could become infected, with potentially 4% of this group requiring hospital treatment.

As I write, there are 499 positive tests in Scotland, and there have been 14 deaths.

Figures can be misleading. Most people are following the UK advice to stay at home and have no contact with anyone for up to 14 days.

I am sorry that this Newsletter is so sad. I really do appreciate how difficult it is for those who are essentially confined to home for the next three months. I encourage everyone who can help in any safe way to do what they can, especially for the older and more vulnerable people in your community.
 
Use the phone, use messaging, use Facetime and Skype where you can. Some people who don’t have access to this technology will be feeling even more isolated, so if you’re able, call at the door from a distance and see if you can help somehow.
 
Meantime, stick to the social distancing advice plus the hand-washing, sneezing or coughing symptoms.
 
If you are in the slightest doubt, then self-isolate.
 
Please find below a link to all up to date information on the current crisis.
https://spice-spotlight.scot/…/coronavirus-covid-19-consti…/
Also please follow my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ChristinaSNP/
And my Twitter @christinasnp for regular updates.
 
I know this is a difficult time for everyone but the amount of local activism to support people is amazing if you know of any group/individual/business stepping up please let me know. There is funding from ScotGov for some of this life saving activity.

Take care of each other and be careful of fake news.

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Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

Scottish Budget Passed in Parliament

In spite of the heightened uncertainty and risk created by the UK government’s decision to delay its own budget, the SNP has been getting on with the job of delivering certainty and stability for our economy, industry and business.

The Scottish Parliament has agreed the budget which will also deliver certainty for our vital public services and local government.

Our new Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes MSP, Skye, Badenoch and Lochaber, delivered the Budget speech.

It supports the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to accelerate Scotland’s transition to a net-zero carbon economy and provides a record £15 billion investment for health and social care.

The budget will also help us tackle inequalities, deliver first class public services and ensure no taxpayer in Scotland will pay more income tax on their current income.

Let’s see if the UK Government will deliver on its promises in their overdue budget next week.

 

Free bus travel for under 18s

Included in the budget is the excellent news for young people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse – and for all of Scotland’s under 18s – they will no longer have to pay bus fares.

The deal with the Scottish Greens is not only good news for the young people themselves, but also for families who will have one less expense to worry about at a time when incomes are stretched for virtually all of us.

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Free bus travel for young people is a transformational step towards tackling the climate emergency. This scheme will benefit young people starting college and families, some of whom stand to save thousands of pounds a year, and encourage whole generations of public transport users.

“Buses are the backbone of local public transport and the key to employment and training opportunities for so many of those starting out in life.”

The Scottish Greens agreed to back Scottish Government spending plans on the condition ministers provide up to £80m a year for young people across Scotland to get free bus travel from 2021.
 
16 year olds will no longer need to apply for PIP in Scotland

The Scottish Government is using its new benefits powers to remove the need for children to take part in Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments.

Under current DWP rules, children getting Disability Living Allowance for Children are asked to apply for PIP six months out from their 16 birthday.

But under the Scottish Government changes, young people will continue to get DLA Child, as long as they remain eligible, up to the age of 18.

This means that they will not need to do a DWP PIP application or assessment – which many people say are stressful.

This change comes as the Scottish Government takes full responsibility for disability benefits from April this year.

Social Security Secretary Shirley Anne Somerville said: “We know from people like June Jamieson, a parent who has had direct experience of the current system, that making the transition from child to adult services can be a challenging time for their child and family.

“Adding to this, young people may be going through changes in a number of other areas of their life at the same time. We’ve also been told that the fact that this transition is to PIP, creates even more stress and anxiety.

“This is why we are using our new social security powers to extend the eligibility,  ease the pressure on families and make sure young people in Scotland have adequate time to move from children to adult social security support.

“Our priority for people already getting this support from the DWP is to move them over in a safe and secure way and make sure that people get the financial support they expect, when and where they expect it.”

Ms Jamieson, from Edinburgh, has recently applied for PIP for her son Alex, who turned 16 in January. She said: “So many things are happening in a child with additional needs life when they turn 16,  for example they need to think if they are staying on at school, and parents may need to apply for guardianship.

"It will really take the pressure off lots of other families not to have to worry about this. Although Alex won’t benefit from the changes I am really pleased that other people will. I have the fear of the unknown waiting to hear the outcome of his PIP application.”

 

DWP set to face legal action

Errol Graham in a picture from the 1980s

Errol Graham (57), from Nottingham,  was found dead eight months after his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had been stopped and he failed to attend a fit-for-work test.
 
He died of starvation.

Errol weighed just 30k when his body was found by bailiffs who broke into his council flat to evict him in June 2018.
 
His Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit had been stopped in October 2017 because he had not attended  a Work Capability Assessment on 31 August 2017.

Errol’s daughter in law, Alison Turner, has written to the DWP arguing that their systems and procedures around cancelling his benefits were unlawful.
 
Bizarrely, the DWP say their safeguarding policies were followed to the letter and that they knew Mr Graham was flagged as highly vulnerable.

 
Meanwhile….
There has been an outcry over a £1 million bonus for DWP senior officials. The civil servants have been rewarded for their performance.
 
Shona Robison, SNP MSP, said: This is a really bad look and the UK government should look twice at a system that rewards senior officials while punishing those dependent on their service.

“After a decade of Tory austerity, families in Scotland deserve better.”

The DWP has been at the forefront of the Cameron, May and Johnson Governments’ drive to cut the cost of social security.

Universal Credit promised to streamline the benefits system, but it has run into a host of well documented problems, often leaving people with serious debt problems. 

However, top DWP civil servants have been receiving bonuses.

In 2017/18, senior officials were awarded £595,392 in “end of year” top-ups and another £544,745 in the following year.

Robison added: “It beggars belief that DWP chiefs are taking big handouts while families across the country are struggling due to sanctions and the rollout of Universal Credit.”

The SNP Government has acted effectively within its devolved powers to mitigate the impact of benefit changes and severe cuts in social services that have cost lives.

The Scottish Parliament has no authority at all over civil service salaries and bonuses.

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 
X1 Bus is back on track



I am absolutely delighted that the future of the X1 service has been secured thanks in huge part to the huge groundswell of support from local communities across Hamilton and the surrounding towns. This is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when we work together.

Throughout this period, I have had so many messages from those who use the service for so many different things. Whether that is getting to university, to work in Glasgow or simply for a trip in to Hamilton town centre. I have no doubt they will be delighted to hear the news.



And if you have never travelled by bus before and are tired of trying to find a parking space in Glasgow then why not give the X1 a try yourself?

Last year a decision to scrap the service outright was reversed after near unanimous public outcry from local communities and elected members. A public petition by Rebecca Creechan reached over 4,600 signatures.

Following this decision, the service was put under review until the end of February. During this period First Bus conducted a public awareness campaign to draw attention to the benefits of travelling on the X1 and highlighting the inclusion of their new £3.50 discounted off-peak FirstDay tickets, which also covers travel for two children on Saturdays. These initiatives have brought the route back in to a stable financial position, meaning the X1 is here to stay.

Local elected members stressed the crucial link that the X1 provides to so many communities and groups of people across Hamilton and in January they urged the public to use the X1 to help secure its future.

First Bus came to the decision to spare the service the axe following a meeting with local politicians on 11th February at their Caledonia Depot in Glasgow.
 
Carers Allowance Supplement

Thousands of carers in the South Lanarkshire Council area have benefitted from Carer’s Allowance Supplement (CAS) payments of up to £452 a year, introduced by the Scottish Government.

New figures show that 7,000 carers in the South Lanarkshire Council area have received CAS payments since September 2018, when the payment was introduced.

The Carers Allowance Supplement is an extra payment made to carers in Scotland twice a year, in recognition of the important contribution they make to our society.

Carers now receive two supplementary payments totalling £452 per year, equivalent to an extra £8.50 per week, which is a 13% increase on the Carer’s Allowance from the UK government.

Since its introduction, the Carers Allowance Supplement has supported almost 100,000 carers across Scotland, including 7000 in South Lanarkshire, including Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

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Carers in our area make an absolutely vital contribution to our society, and it’s only appropriate that their hard work is valued and they are properly supported.

The SNP is determined to use the powers available to the Scottish Government to improve the lives of people across Scotland.

This supplementary payment allows the Scottish Government to get more money into the pockets of carers as quickly as possible.

I am delighted that carers in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are being recognised for the important contribution carers make to our communities - in what can often be difficult circumstances.
 
 
Fuel Poverty Scheme
Many of you will already be aware of my ongoing campaign to end fuel poverty in Scotland.. The quick credit voucher piloted in Hamilton has literally kept the light on in many homes.

Now I want the energy watchdog, Ofgem, to consider using fines levied on the energy giants should be used to help vulnerable families with their bills.
 
The Quick Credit Voucher scheme, piloted by Scottish Power in 2018, gives vulnerable people access to non-repayable vouchers worth nearly £50 up to twice a year.

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The trial was rolled out nationally by the same firm and 1400 applications were lodged in 2019 for more than £60,000 of funding. Npower launched a similar scheme.

Energy firms were liable for fines and “redress” payments of over £50m in 2019. The sum for the last five years was over £200m.

I believe that around £3m a year could be given to Scotland from the Ofgem fines, helping 60,000 people a year.
 
Tory migration plans fail Scotland

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The SNP government set out detailed and realistic proposals on immigration to Westminster - As soon as you see that, you can guess what follows – Boris Johnson laughed, allegedly muttered something about the idea being absurd (I don’t have evidence for these comments, or merely the evidence of someone who said they heard them). He then threw the proposals to one side without actually reading them.
 
Scotland’s needs are different from the rest of the UK in this context as in so many others. We will give a real Scots welcome to people from other countries who would like to live and work here. Their contribution is already huge and we know that we need their skills across many sectors.
 
Devolved powers do not give the Scottish Government any role in immigration law. Without independence, we are unable to act in Scotland’s best interests. In an environment that seems to want to reduce our powers rather than enhance them, we feel increasingly frustrated by being ignored. It doesn’t matter one jot to senior figures in the UK government what the Scottish Parliament has decided.
 
Already, it is clear that the proposed Australian-style points system contains too many conflicts and contradictions within its ideas to be workable.
 
As SNP Shadow Immigration Minister, Stuart McDonald MP said: “Boris Johnson’s crack down on so-called low skilled migration will devastate sectors such as hospitality, social care, agriculture and scientific research - many key industries across Scotland will no longer have access to vital workers we desperately need. 
 
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“The total absence of any reference to Scotland, to remote areas, or the self-employed is extraordinary. And while the paper is almost silent on families, we know that many thousands more couples will be split apart and parents separated from their kids, by extending the scope of the harsh family visa rules.
 
“The climb down on the salary threshold is nothing more than a predictable gimmick and goes nowhere near far enough to address Scotland’s needs - it should be scrapped altogether.
 
“The UK government’s isolationist immigration system fails to address Scotland’s economic, demographic and social needs. Coupled with the immigration minister’s appallingly dismissive attitude to the introduction of additional visa options for Scotland, this is further evidence that this so-called union of equals is not working for Scotland."
 
Inclusiveness in Scotland
The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill casts a much more positive mood and shows, once again, that this Scottish Government puts its priorities into practice.


 
We have always said that inclusivity is vital to a healthy, happy and prosperous society. We continue to work towards freedom and equality for all.
 
The Bill has now been passed with a huge majority and extends the right to vote in devolved elections (we don’t have the power to change anything at Westminster) to all foreign nationals who are resident in Scotland and have leave to remain.
 
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Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, when opening the Stage Three debate, said: “...our proposals on foreign nationals are driven by the reality and, I believe, the aspiration of modern Scottish society. European Union and Commonwealth citizens already have the franchise, but we must also recognise the enormous contribution that is made to our country by people from all over the world.”
 
The news has been warmly welcomed by dozens of organisations, such as the Scottish Refugee Council and of course a huge majority of MSPs and other individuals who support the right to fair representation.
 
The EU Withdrawal Agreement
The Withdrawal Bill has received Royal Assent and is now law. The fact that three out of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom voted against it is of no significance for the UK government.
 
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While the Tories cheered, our SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP, registered his anger at the “constitutional crisis” that passing a Brexit bill against the wishes of Scotland and other devolved nations had caused.

https://mailchi.mp/11c7ffee8b33/latest-news-from-christina-mckelvie-msp#hc_extension_highcontrast_back"); color: rgb(117, 117, 117); font-family: Helvetica; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: 400; letter-spacing: normal; orphans: 2; text-align: left; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: 2; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); width: 420px; margin: 0px;">

“We are faced with a situation which is completely unprecedented when the government in Edinburgh, Belfast and in Cardiff has not given consent to this act of parliament. That completely contravenes the devolution settlement that made it clear that the consent of the devolved administrations had to be given in bills of parliament that become acts of parliament that involve the devolved administrations,” he told MPs.

“We find ourselves here today, that our Parliament has been ignored, our government has been ignored and, against the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland that voted in the referendum and reaffirmed the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own destiny, that that has been ignored.”

Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day
The charity, Women for Women International, has been setting out its view of what this year may bring in the struggle for gender equality.
 
“This year is expected to be a ‘tipping point’ for gender equality, with the global resurgence of the women’s rights movement (think #MeToo, #TimesUp etc). There will be a series of major milestones, high-level UN meetings, and international gatherings about gender equality. 
 
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“More countries are involved in conflict than at any time in the last 25 years, with roughly one-fifth of the global population affected by some form of violence or insecurity, and a record-breaking 70.8 million people displaced from their homes.
 
“This peak in global violence poses a grave threat to progress on women’s rights. For the estimated 264 million women currently living in fragile and conflict-affected countries, gender equality is slipping further out of reach.
 
“It is no coincidence that the lowest-scoring 10 countries in terms of gender equality, according to the 2019 SDG Gender Index, are all classed as fragile states. They include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all of which are in the grip of protracted civil conflicts. Women for Women International, the charity supporting women survivors of war to rebuild their lives, supports women affected by all these conflicts.  
 
“When there is an outbreak of war or violence, women suffer most – they experience trauma, sexual violence and the death of loved ones. After the conflict is over, the world’s attention moves on, but women are left to rebuild their families and communities. 
 
“With over fifty brutal armed conflicts across the globe, there’s never been a greater need to support women survivors of war. With your help, women can graduate from the Women for Women International programme with the skills, knowledge and resources to become successful entrepreneurs. They will pass on their knowledge to their neighbours and children, creating a ripple effect.” 
See: http://womenforwomen.org.uk/

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 
X1 Bus is back on track

https://mailchi.mp/11c7ffee8b33/latest-news-from-christina-mckelvie-msp#hc_extension_highcontrast_back"); color: rgb(117, 117, 117); font-family: Helvetica; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: 400; letter-spacing: normal; orphans: 2; text-align: left; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: 2; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); width: 450px; margin: 0px;">

I am absolutely delighted that the future of the X1 service has been secured thanks in huge part to the huge groundswell of support from local communities across Hamilton and the surrounding towns. This is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when we work together.

Throughout this period, I have had so many messages from those who use the service for so many different things. Whether that is getting to university, to work in Glasgow or simply for a trip in to Hamilton town centre. I have no doubt they will be delighted to hear the news.

https://mailchi.mp/11c7ffee8b33/latest-news-from-christina-mckelvie-msp#hc_extension_highcontrast_back"); color: rgb(117, 117, 117); font-family: Helvetica; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: 400; letter-spacing: normal; orphans: 2; text-align: left; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: 2; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); width: 450px; margin: 0px;">

And if you have never travelled by bus before and are tired of trying to find a parking space in Glasgow then why not give the X1 a try yourself?

Last year a decision to scrap the service outright was reversed after near unanimous public outcry from local communities and elected members. A public petition by Rebecca Creechan reached over 4,600 signatures.

Following this decision, the service was put under review until the end of February. During this period First Bus conducted a public awareness campaign to draw attention to the benefits of travelling on the X1 and highlighting the inclusion of their new £3.50 discounted off-peak FirstDay tickets, which also covers travel for two children on Saturdays. These initiatives have brought the route back in to a stable financial position, meaning the X1 is here to stay.

Local elected members stressed the crucial link that the X1 provides to so many communities and groups of people across Hamilton and in January they urged the public to use the X1 to help secure its future.

First Bus came to the decision to spare the service the axe following a meeting with local politicians on 11th February at their Caledonia Depot in Glasgow.
 
Carers Allowance Supplement

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Thousands of carers in the South Lanarkshire Council area have benefitted from Carer’s Allowance Supplement (CAS) payments of up to £452 a year, introduced by the Scottish Government.

New figures show that 7,000 carers in the South Lanarkshire Council area have received CAS payments since September 2018, when the payment was introduced.

The Carers Allowance Supplement is an extra payment made to carers in Scotland twice a year, in recognition of the important contribution they make to our society.

Carers now receive two supplementary payments totalling £452 per year, equivalent to an extra £8.50 per week, which is a 13% increase on the Carer’s Allowance from the UK government.

Since its introduction, the Carers Allowance Supplement has supported almost 100,000 carers across Scotland, including 7000 in South Lanarkshire, including Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

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Carers in our area make an absolutely vital contribution to our society, and it’s only appropriate that their hard work is valued and they are properly supported.

The SNP is determined to use the powers available to the Scottish Government to improve the lives of people across Scotland.

This supplementary payment allows the Scottish Government to get more money into the pockets of carers as quickly as possible.

I am delighted that carers in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are being recognised for the important contribution carers make to our communities - in what can often be difficult circumstances.
 
 
Fuel Poverty Scheme
Many of you will already be aware of my ongoing campaign to end fuel poverty in Scotland.. The quick credit voucher piloted in Hamilton has literally kept the light on in many homes.

Now I want the energy watchdog, Ofgem, to consider using fines levied on the energy giants should be used to help vulnerable families with their bills.
 
The Quick Credit Voucher scheme, piloted by Scottish Power in 2018, gives vulnerable people access to non-repayable vouchers worth nearly £50 up to twice a year.

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The trial was rolled out nationally by the same firm and 1400 applications were lodged in 2019 for more than £60,000 of funding. Npower launched a similar scheme.

Energy firms were liable for fines and “redress” payments of over £50m in 2019. The sum for the last five years was over £200m.

I believe that around £3m a year could be given to Scotland from the Ofgem fines, helping 60,000 people a year.
 
Tory migration plans fail Scotland

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The SNP government set out detailed and realistic proposals on immigration to Westminster - As soon as you see that, you can guess what follows – Boris Johnson laughed, allegedly muttered something about the idea being absurd (I don’t have evidence for these comments, or merely the evidence of someone who said they heard them). He then threw the proposals to one side without actually reading them.
 
Scotland’s needs are different from the rest of the UK in this context as in so many others. We will give a real Scots welcome to people from other countries who would like to live and work here. Their contribution is already huge and we know that we need their skills across many sectors.
 
Devolved powers do not give the Scottish Government any role in immigration law. Without independence, we are unable to act in Scotland’s best interests. In an environment that seems to want to reduce our powers rather than enhance them, we feel increasingly frustrated by being ignored. It doesn’t matter one jot to senior figures in the UK government what the Scottish Parliament has decided.
 
Already, it is clear that the proposed Australian-style points system contains too many conflicts and contradictions within its ideas to be workable.
 
As SNP Shadow Immigration Minister, Stuart McDonald MP said: “Boris Johnson’s crack down on so-called low skilled migration will devastate sectors such as hospitality, social care, agriculture and scientific research - many key industries across Scotland will no longer have access to vital workers we desperately need. 
 
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“The total absence of any reference to Scotland, to remote areas, or the self-employed is extraordinary. And while the paper is almost silent on families, we know that many thousands more couples will be split apart and parents separated from their kids, by extending the scope of the harsh family visa rules.
 
“The climb down on the salary threshold is nothing more than a predictable gimmick and goes nowhere near far enough to address Scotland’s needs - it should be scrapped altogether.
 
“The UK government’s isolationist immigration system fails to address Scotland’s economic, demographic and social needs. Coupled with the immigration minister’s appallingly dismissive attitude to the introduction of additional visa options for Scotland, this is further evidence that this so-called union of equals is not working for Scotland."
 
Inclusiveness in Scotland
The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill casts a much more positive mood and shows, once again, that this Scottish Government puts its priorities into practice.


 
We have always said that inclusivity is vital to a healthy, happy and prosperous society. We continue to work towards freedom and equality for all.
 
The Bill has now been passed with a huge majority and extends the right to vote in devolved elections (we don’t have the power to change anything at Westminster) to all foreign nationals who are resident in Scotland and have leave to remain.
 
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Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, when opening the Stage Three debate, said: “...our proposals on foreign nationals are driven by the reality and, I believe, the aspiration of modern Scottish society. European Union and Commonwealth citizens already have the franchise, but we must also recognise the enormous contribution that is made to our country by people from all over the world.”
 
The news has been warmly welcomed by dozens of organisations, such as the Scottish Refugee Council and of course a huge majority of MSPs and other individuals who support the right to fair representation.
 
The EU Withdrawal Agreement
The Withdrawal Bill has received Royal Assent and is now law. The fact that three out of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom voted against it is of no significance for the UK government.
 
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While the Tories cheered, our SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP, registered his anger at the “constitutional crisis” that passing a Brexit bill against the wishes of Scotland and other devolved nations had caused.

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“We are faced with a situation which is completely unprecedented when the government in Edinburgh, Belfast and in Cardiff has not given consent to this act of parliament. That completely contravenes the devolution settlement that made it clear that the consent of the devolved administrations had to be given in bills of parliament that become acts of parliament that involve the devolved administrations,” he told MPs.

“We find ourselves here today, that our Parliament has been ignored, our government has been ignored and, against the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland that voted in the referendum and reaffirmed the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own destiny, that that has been ignored.”

Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day
The charity, Women for Women International, has been setting out its view of what this year may bring in the struggle for gender equality.
 
“This year is expected to be a ‘tipping point’ for gender equality, with the global resurgence of the women’s rights movement (think #MeToo, #TimesUp etc). There will be a series of major milestones, high-level UN meetings, and international gatherings about gender equality. 
 
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“More countries are involved in conflict than at any time in the last 25 years, with roughly one-fifth of the global population affected by some form of violence or insecurity, and a record-breaking 70.8 million people displaced from their homes.
 
“This peak in global violence poses a grave threat to progress on women’s rights. For the estimated 264 million women currently living in fragile and conflict-affected countries, gender equality is slipping further out of reach.
 
“It is no coincidence that the lowest-scoring 10 countries in terms of gender equality, according to the 2019 SDG Gender Index, are all classed as fragile states. They include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all of which are in the grip of protracted civil conflicts. Women for Women International, the charity supporting women survivors of war to rebuild their lives, supports women affected by all these conflicts.  
 
“When there is an outbreak of war or violence, women suffer most – they experience trauma, sexual violence and the death of loved ones. After the conflict is over, the world’s attention moves on, but women are left to rebuild their families and communities. 
 
“With over fifty brutal armed conflicts across the globe, there’s never been a greater need to support women survivors of war. With your help, women can graduate from the Women for Women International programme with the skills, knowledge and resources to become successful entrepreneurs. They will pass on their knowledge to their neighbours and children, creating a ripple effect.” 
See: http://womenforwomen.org.uk/