BBC News School Report 2014

Anne was delighted to be interviewed by two groups of S2 pupils from Kincorth Academy for their BBC News School reports.

The pupils interviewed Anne on the proposed new school for the south of the city and this year’s referendum on Scotland’s future. They showed real insight and knowledge into both issues which will affect them directly. Anne thoroughly enjoyed meeting the young people and was impressed by their professionalism during the interviews. 

You can read all of the news reports from Kincorth Academy at http://kincorth.aberdeen.sch.uk/bbc-school-report/

Have Your Say on Lottery Funding

The Big Lottery Fund is inviting people in Scotland to add their voice to a UK-wide conversation on key areas of Big Lottery Fund’s work; ‘Your Voice – Our Vision’. 

All views will help them consider their role as a funder and help shape their vision and plans from 2015 to 2021.   

Their mission is to bring real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need. Throughout 2013, groups and organisations in Aberdeen South benefited from funding totalling £602,861. 

To have your say on the key areas of the Big Lottery’s funding, you can visit their dedicated website Your Voice – Our Vision http://yourvoiceourvision.org.uk/.

Aberdeen South MP Blasts Government’s Welfare Reforms

In a day of debates highlighting the effects the Government’s changes to the welfare system are having, Aberdeen South MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg delivered a statement on the Committee’s recently published Fourth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee on support for housing costs, highlighted the need for a second independent review into the use of sanctions by Jobcentre Plus and she spoke about the specialist employment support which is being wrongly targeted at individuals closer to the employment market.

During the statement on the Select Committee’s recent report, Dame Anne called reforms such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the Household Benefit Cap a “blunt instrument”. Dame Anne mentioned that although the reforms were originally intended to make better use of housing stock and reduce welfare expenditure, they are instead causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.

Amongst a number of issues raised by Dame Anne, she called on the Government to exempt disabled people living in adapted homes or who have a legitimate reason for requiring a spare room and to disregard disability benefits when considering eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

Following on from the statement Dame Anne took part in a Backbench Business Committee Debate on the sanctions regime being used by Jobcentre Plus, Dame Anne called on the Government to launch a second independent review on the workings of sanctions to assess whether the increased use of sanctions is leading to more people finding work or whether they are purely punitive.

Dame Anne said

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”

Dame Anne also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Dame Anne highlighted a constituent who hadn’t worked for ten years but was able to find a job with specialised employment support. Dame Anne raised concerns that this is specialised help is lacking in the new areas the Government has introduced and called for a well funded, specialised support system to enable people who have the highest barriers to work to find employment.

After the debates Dame Anne said

“These debates are vital to holding the government to account for their welfare changes. The government has launched wholescale changes to a vast number of benefits in a very short timescale. My recent Select Committee report, approved by Conservative and LibDem members on my committee, attacks the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ as hurting the most vulnerable most. Backbench Government MPs often say ‘Disabled people are exempt’ but it simply isn’t true.”

“There are a lot of myths surrounding the Government’s welfare changes and speaking in these debates is an important way to set the record straight, and raise the many problems which are being caused by the Government’s welfare reforms. I hope the government heeds my calls and helps alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Labour pledges to scrap Bedroom Tax which hits 1,911 in Aberdeen South

On the one year anniversary of the Bedroom Tax, Dame Anne Begg MP pledged a Labour government will scrap the Bedroom Tax which has hit 1,911 people in Aberdeen South.

Since David Cameron’s government introduced the Bedroom Tax low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £720 a year. According to the National Housing Federation two thirds of households hit by the Bedroom Tax cannot find the money to pay their rents and one in seven are at risk of eviction.Image

A recent report into housing costs by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which Dame Anne is Chair, found that the bedroom tax was one of the measures within the government’s welfare reforms that are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.

Dame Anne said,

‘Britain can’t afford another year of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s Bedroom Tax. 1,911 people in Aberdeen South have been hit by this cruel and costly tax on bedrooms. It’s time for the government to ditch the Bedroom Tax. If they don’t, then a Labour government will.”

Rachel Reeves said, “Over the past year half a million people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, forcing thousands into debt and thousands more to rely on food banks. It’s a cruel, unfair and costly tax which targets the vulnerable, with two thirds of those affected disabled. David Cameron promised the Bedroom Tax would save money, but figures in the Budget show the housing benefit bill is rising, not falling, with a huge £1billion increase over the next five years.”

Being Part of the UK Protects the Occupational Pensions of Hard Working Aberdonians

Being part of the UK protects the pensions of hard-working people in Aberdeen, a new European Union report confirmed.

In a devastating blow to the nationalist case for separation, it is now clear that breaking up the UK means the defined benefit pension schemes of people in Aberdeen could close.

European Commission Memo/14/239 confirms that cross-border pension schemes must be fully funded. Today this law does not apply to pension schemes based elsewhere in the UK but operating in Scotland, since we are one state in the EU.

If Scotland leaves the UK we would become foreign countries, meaning pension schemes operating across Scotland and the continuing UK would need to be fully funded. A number of impartial and independent experts have said that separating from the UK could mean pension schemes in Aberdeen would have to close.

Earlier this month senior SNP Ministers claimed that the matter would be resolved and that it would be alright on the night, however the publication of this memo makes clear that leaving the UK would put the pensions of hard working people in Aberdeen at risk.

Aberdeen South MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg said:

“The pensions system in the UK works well through the pooling of resources, where the rewards are shared via sensible and efficient risk sharing. This protects the occupational pensions of people in Aberdeen who have worked all their lives to enjoy retirement.

“The EU has confirmed that Scottish company defined benefit pension schemes must overnight, if we leave the UK, fill a huge funding black hole. The implications for people in Aberdeen who are members of these pension schemes and for the companies themselves are huge.

“It’s now clear beyond doubt that independence puts the pensions of hard working Scots at risk.

“Filling the pensions black hole would come at huge cost to the companies and their employees, or would mean the break-up of these pension schemes. People in Aberdeen have a choice – believe the experts or believe Alex Salmond on pensions.”

Vulnerable people suffering as result of housing welfare reforms

Reforms to the support provided for housing costs – including the Bedroom Tax and the household Benefit Cap – are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response, say the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today.

The Bedroom Tax is having a particular impact on people with disabilities who have adapted homes or need a room to hold medical equipment or to accommodate a carer. The Committee recommends that anybody living in a home that has been significantly adapted for them should be exempt from the Bedroom Tax.  The Report further urges the Government to exempt all households that contain a person in receipt of higher level disability benefits (DLA or PIP) from the Bedroom Tax.

Commenting Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

“The Government has reformed the housing cost support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work.  But vulnerable groups, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result.

“The Government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants. They are temporary, not permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules.

“Using housing stock more efficiently and reducing overcrowding are understandable goals.  But 60-70% of households in England affected by the Bedroom Tax contain somebody with a disability and many of these people will not be able to move home easily due to their disability. So they have to remain in their homes with no option but to have their Housing Benefit reduced.”

The report can be read in full here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/support-for-housing-costs/ 

MP calls for retention of vital fund which benefits the most severely disabled in Aberdeen

Aberdeen South MP, Dame Anne Begg, has called on the Government to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and allow the most disabled people to continue to live independently in their homes. She has also called on the Scottish Government to clarify what they will do to protect the independence of those living with a severe disability in Scotland.

To show her support for the retention of ILF, which is relied upon by over 18,000 severely disabled, Dame Anne is the primary sponsor an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to reverse their decision to close the fund in June 2015. You can view the EDM here: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1234

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) provides discretionary cash payments directly to disabled people so they can purchase care from an agency or pay the wages of a privately employed Personal Assistant (PA). This support enables disabled people to choose to live in their communities rather than in residential care.

The Government has stated that money will be devolved to already cash strapped local authorities in England, which means that it would cease to be ring-fenced and would be subject to normal constraints and cuts within a local authority budget. And the local authorities have already said that they will not be able to offer the current level of financial support provided on ILF, potentially forcing many disabled people to move out of their homes and into residential care homes.

 Further, the Scottish Government has given no indication whether this will also be the case in Scotland and Dame Anne has written to them seeking clarification.

 Dame Anne said:

“I have spoken to a number of constituents and their families who have told me how important ILF is in allowing them to live independent and fulfilling lives in our community and I know that losing this support will have a devastating impact on them.

 

“Not only are my constituents concerned about losing the fund, but they are also living with the uncertainty with regards to what support will be provided after the ILF closes.”

The Government initially decided to close the fund by March 2015 but this was delayed until June 2015 after five disabled people challenged the Government’s decision in the High Court.

The Court of Appeal unanimously quashed the decision to close the fund and devolve the money, on the basis that the minister had not specifically considered duties under the Equality Act, such as the need to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people and, in particular, the need to encourage their participation in public life. The court emphasised that these considerations were not optional in times of austerity.

In March 2014, the Government announced that it would go ahead with the closure of the fund on 30th June 2015 saying that a new equalities analysis had been carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions.

MP Questions Government on Pension Changes

During yesterday’s Budget Debate in the Commons, Dame Anne raised questions over the Government’s pension changes and called for a rebrand of annuities.

Dame Anne said:

“Annuities need reform, I’ve called for annuity reform, my Select Committee has called for annuity reform and the Shadow Front bench has. Indeed the Government and the Pensions Industry has called for reform.

“As Government Members have emphasised again and again today, we need consumer choice so that people can make the right decision about how they will spend their own money. For some people paying off another debt might be the most sensible thing to do. However, the best thing for many people to do is to buy an annuity.

“Annuities are an excellent principle — someone saves into a pot and then buys something that lasts them to the end of their life. We do not know how long we will live after reaching pension age, so an annuity provides insurance: we know it will not run out before we reach the end of our life. It insures against old age.

“All of that is right. However — this is the big but — what if there is no annuity market? What will the many people for whom an annuity is the right choice do then? That is the question that I have for the Government. Did they intend to undermine and destroy the annuity market, or did they hope that a new form of annuity would rise phoenix-like out of the flames of their announcements last week? If the annuity market were to collapse, the choice that they say they want to give consumers will not be there for those for whom an annuity is absolutely the right choice.

“Do the Government anticipate that the annuity market will be undermined or strengthened?”

Dame Anne went on to call for an Annuity rebrand:

“Annuities have got a bad name because there have been low interest rates and low returns, but other products have the same problem. Some of them might actually give a worse return than annuities. What guarantee can the Government give that people who buy another product will not get a worse return than if they had chosen an annuity? We know that high charges and costs need to be dealt with.

“I wonder whether the Government thought about just rebranding annuities because they have such a bad name. Perhaps they could have called an annuity a pension for life, which might have changed people’s attitude. I wonder whether the Government intend to turn the UK private pension system into a saving system, and if they do, will tax reliefs remain?

Was that the Government’s intention, or is it an accidental consequence of last week’s proposals?”

You can read the full Budget debate, including Anne’s contribution here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140325/debtext/140325-0003.htm#14032588003560

Dame Anne Begg MP signs for Men United…

Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, has become the latest big name signing for Men United.

Dame Anne was delighted to give her backing to Prostate Cancer UK’s ‘Men United v Prostate Cancer’ campaign, which uses the language of sport to engage men in the battle against the disease. Dame Anne signed up after meeting with Prostate Cancer UK staff at the Scottish Labour Party’s spring conference in Perth.

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Dame Anne said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is predicted to be the most common cancer overall by 2030. Despite this we know that the quality of care and support men with the condition receive varies throughout Scotland. To address this I have previously called on NHS Boards to implement Prostate Cancer UK’s award winning Quality Checklist, and reiterate that call today. Further, I am delighted to sign for Men United v Prostate Cancer. It’s a big ask but, working together, I know we can win this.”

Joining Dame Anne in backing Men United v Prostate Cancer is Scottish football legend Denis Law, chat-show king Sir Michael Parkinson and comic icon Bill Bailey. Prostate Cancer UK charity partner Scotmid Co-operative, which recently smashed its £150,000 annual fundraising target for the charity within just 6 months, is also backing the campaign via a series of events at its stores throughout Scotland.

Drew Lindon, Head of Policy & Campaigns at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Prostate cancer survival rates are below the European average, research into the disease lags a decade behind that of other cancers, and quality of care and support varies depending on where you live. Men United is a powerful way for men, and the women in their lives, to mobilise against the common enemy of prostate cancer. By signing up, Dame Anne has a place and a voice in a growing movement that’s taking action for men’s health.  We are extremely grateful for her ongoing support, and would encourage people throughout Scotland to join Men United to help boot prostate cancer into row Z.”

Men United v Prostate Cancer is an integrated television, print and digital campaign which runs until the end of March 2014. Men – and women – are encouraged to go online to search ‘Men United’ to get involved by testing their knowledge of the disease with a simple quiz, and signing for the team. They can also pledge their allegiance by proudly wearing the charity’s ‘Man of Men’ pin badge. To sign for Men United visit: www.prostatecanceruk.org/menunited

Disability benefit delays unacceptable

A report published today by the Work and Pensions Select Committee says that the length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is unacceptable.

The report highlighted that some claims are taking six months or more to process and calls for urgent action to improve the current unacceptable service provided to PIP claimants.

Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP said:

“Many disabled or sick people face waits of 6 months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty.  It is completely unacceptable.

“It is vital that all disabled people, but especially the terminally ill, experience as little delay and stress as possible in making a claim. Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often. Claimants, and their MPs, have often been unable to get any information about when a decision will finally be made.

“The Minister acknowledged that the service claimants were receiving from Atos and Capita – and in some cases from DWP itself – was not acceptable.  Whilst this recognition is welcome, urgent action is also required.  DWP should not only consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts, but must look at its own systems to ensure that the current dire situation is resolved.

“By the end of last year decisions had been made in fewer than 20% of new claims submitted since April 2013. It is essential that the backlog is cleared before the limited natural reassessment of existing DLA claims is extended any further.”

The Report also assesses DWP performance in a number of other policy areas.  It found that the DWP needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media, to ensure it avoids the risk of feeding into negative public views about benefit recipients.

Dame Anne commented:

 ”Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.

“The UK Statistics Authority reprimanded DWP a number of times in 2013 for the way it was handling benefit statistics.

“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”

The report can be read in full on the Committee’s page at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/dwp-monitoring-report/

 Further media coverage on the report can be read at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26615853

 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/18/mps-criticise-dwp-spin-statistics-benefit-claimants