Anne was recently interviewed by RT about the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recent inquiry into Jobcentre Plus and she highlighted that the Government are not doing enough to get people back in to work.
You can watch the full interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD7k9vjNdVM&feature=c4-overview&list=UU1nrVLHNfnsxpJthrAP8wNw
On Rare Disease Day, Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, welcomed NHS Grampian’s campaign to raise awareness amongst health professionals and the public of the impact a rare or orphan disease can have on an individual and their families.
Dame Anne said:
“As someone with a rare genetic condition I know how difficult it can be to get a proper diagnosis and medical treatment. It can also be hard for patients to get information about their disease or to meet others who have it.
“I, therefore, welcome NHS Grampian’s campaign to mark this important day and raise awareness.”
Friday 28th February is the seventh international Rare Disease Day and this week Dame Anne also attended an event organised by Rare Disease UK in Parliament. The theme for Rare Disease Day 2014 is ‘joining together for better care’ as experience shows that bringing together scattered knowledge and resources for people living with rare diseases is the most efficient and effective way to mobilise the care patients and families need and deserve.
During a Backbench debate on Welfare Reform, Dame Anne Begg MP called on the government to launch a cumulative impact assessment on their reforms to the welfare system which are unfairly targeting people with disabilities. The Back Bench Committee allocated time for this debate after a WOW petition was signed by over 100,000 people.
As Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne has continually called for the government to carry out a full impact assessment of welfare reform to show the effect they are having on people with disabilities.
Dame Anne said
“Although the Government states it isn’t picking on disabled people or people with health problems, their policies are impacting that group the hardest
“When you look at the changes they’ve made to the welfare system – Work Capability Assessments, Employment Support Allowance and the new Personal Independence Payments, you can see who they are aimed at.
“The government has reformed almost every benefit in the welfare system. The migration of disabled people to Employment Support Allowance from Incapacity benefit[...] the ATOS Work Capability Assessment[...] the introduction of new Personal Independence Payments[...] reforms to Housing Benefit and Housing Allowance[...] are hitting the disabled and those with health problems the hardest.”
After the debate Dame Anne said
“I have been calling for years for a full impact assessment of welfare reform. The government has continuously refused. Either the government don’t want to know what the impact of welfare reforms have been or they don’t want us to know. Surely good policy making involves reviewing the effectiveness and impact of decisions you have made?”
During Dame Anne’s recent Parliamentary debate on representation in Parliament she called for the Scottish Government to follow Westminster’s example and establish their own ‘Access to Elected Office Fund for Disabled People’ to ensure standing for election to Holyrood and Scottish Councils are more accessible for people with disabilities.
Dame Anne said:
“It is important that more disabled people are elected to public office, be that Councillor, MP or MSP. But major barriers still exist in making this an easy process, not least the extra costs involved. That’s why the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund is so important as it helps towards levelling the playing field for disabled people.
“It is also important that political parties play their part in encouraging disabled people to become active in their party and then to put themselves forward for candidate selection. We know the electorate are happy to vote for candidates with a disability but obviously can’t do this if disabled people haven’t been selected.”
Following on from the debate, Scottish Labour’s Equalities spokesperson Jackie Baillie MSP lodged the following motion in Holyrood:
Access to Office for Disabled People
That the Parliament notes a recent debate in the House of Commons, led by Dame Anne Begg MP, which called on both the UK Government and the Scottish Government to increase support for disabled people to access elected office; understands that The Independent Living In Scotland Report,Politically (in)correct– representation of disabled people in Politics, called on the Scottish Government to establish an “Access to Office for Disabled People Fund”; notes with regret, however, that such a fund has so far not been established; understands that one in five people in Scotland are disabled; believes that the Scottish Government needs to be more proactive in giving disabled people a voice and ensuring that financial support is in place to assist disabled people in becoming members of representative bodies, and hopes for rapid progress to be made on what it considers this very important issue.
You can also see the motion here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Simple&DateChoice=0&MSPId=1783&SortBy=DateSubmitted&ResultsPerPage=10
Aberdeen South MP, Dame Anne Begg, secured a Back Bench Business Committee Debate to highlight the lack of diversity in Parliament and call for more positive action to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in Parliament.
Introducing the debate, Dame Anne said:
“It is interesting to note just how topical this debate is. A few weeks ago, almost every newspaper in the land carried the picture of the all-male Government Front Bench. I wonder whether it will go down in history, and be as iconic as the Blair’s babe’s photo, which I was proud to be in. I am not sure whether those on the Government Front Bench were quite so proud to be in their photo.”
Dame Anne, who was Vice Chair of the 2010 Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation which made a commitment to discuss representation in Parliament every two years, went on to say that that:
“There is no silver bullet or magic wand to wave which will change the makeup of the Commons. It would be an enormous missed opportunity if the Parliament elected in 2015 is less diverse than this one.
“It will require all political parties to accept they have a role to play in fostering talent and in candidate selection. The government can play a role too, in providing leadership and encouraging a cross party approach as we have seen with the Access to Elected Office fund. But Parliament has to be more welcoming too.
“Our democracy is precious, too precious to be wholly in the hands of a narrow elite. We can make this a Parliament for the 21st century but we can only do it together.”
You can read the full debate on Hansard here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140227/debtext/140227-0003.htm#140227-0003.htm_spnew24
For more information about the debate, you can also read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-commons-26367343
Dame Anne Begg MP joined local Guide Dog users and activists Mary Rasmussen and Linda Slessor as well as Guide Dogs Community Engagement Officer Pamela Munro to take part in a blindfolded bus journey.
Dame Anne joined them on a bus journey in order to understand some of the issues people with sight loss face when travelling on buses. Recent Guide Dog’s survey, Road to Nowhere, revealed that 81% of people with visual impairment in the UK say they are unable to enjoy the freedom that others take for granted because they find travelling by bus so difficult. Examples of comments which were submitted by visually impaired people in Aberdeen are:
“I was left in the bus station in Aberdeen for almost 2 hours because no one would tell me when my bus was there, it took a member of the public to stay with me and took me to my bus when it came in.”
“I have many tales to tell including one of blatant discrimination on what was then the 307 operated by Stagecoach Bluebird in Aberdeen.”
Volunteer John Johnston and Evening Express journalist Adele Merson were blindfolded on the bus journey to experience the disorientation that people with visual impairment can feel when travelling by bus.
Dame Anne has been supportive of Guide Dog’s campaign for Audio Visual Announcements in the chamber of the House of Commons and she will continue to press the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood to encourage bus companies to introduce this technology.
Dame Anne was delighted to meet with Ellie Simmonds as part of Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Inclusive PE Training programme, an initiative designed to improve the quality of PE provision for young disabled people in mainstream schools in the UK.
As part of their 2012 Paralympic Games legacy, Sainsbury’s developed Active Kids for All Inclusive PE training to give teachers the confidence and skills to provide high quality PE for all young people. Sainsbury’s will be investing £1 million over four years in Active Kids For All training courses that will ensure over 500,000 young disabled children will lead healthier and more active lifestyles.
Dame Anne said “I know what an important part many of my constituents have played in collecting Active Kids vouchers, which is helping young children understand cooking and healthy eating from a young age. With the ‘Active Kids for All’ teaching programme it’s great to see how well the scheme is developing and the important part it plays in today’s educational society. I hope schools, groups and clubs across Aberdeen have fun collecting over the next few months and I hope even more will join this great scheme”
After many efforts by me and my colleagues to lobby against cuts to public services in the North East, I was disappointed to hear of the plans to close both the police and fire control rooms in Aberdeen.
This is a devastating blow to frontline services in the North East of Scotland. These closures will clearly have implications for hundreds of people whose job security will be diminished. It will also mean that we will no longer have valuable local knowledge at the end of the phone when calling either service in an emergency.
This is a clear example of the current SNP Governments centralisation policy. The SNP continue to strip the North East of valuable public services and move them towards the central belt.
I am also disappointed by the decision to exclude the public from having their say in a public consultation.
Dame Anne recently met with the Feed4for5 team, a group of students from Aberdeen College taking part in the Money For Life challenge which aims to improve money management throughout the UK.
After conducting some research, the team found that the average person spends £1320 on fast food each year. In order to tackle this problem they want to offer cheaper, healthier alternatives which can feed four people for £5. They have built a competition around their project, which invites people to submit their own Feed4for5 recipes to the group’s facebook page, with the most liked recipe receiving a special prize.
Member of the group, Jessica Cook stated: “We chose this particular issue to work with because these are problems that we are growing up with and we want to highlight the issues of saving the environment, putting our money to good use and lowering obesity levels. We want to highlight these to raise awareness essentially and to teach people ways that they can help stop these issues from getting worse. Our main goal is to show people that there are many ways to save money when it comes to food.”
Dame Anne said, ‘I was delighted to meet the Feed4for5 team who are working hard to reduce the amount of fast food which we consume. We all lead hectic lives and I know how easy it can be to be tempted to order a takeaway after a busy day. However, taking part in the Feed4for5 challenge will hopefully show people how cooking from scratch can be cheaper and healthier!”
For recipes, hints, tips and tricks for cheaper, healthier eating, visit their Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FEED4for5?ref=stream&hc_location=timeline or follow them on Twitter https://twitter.com/4_for_5.
Aberdeen South MP, Dame Anne Begg, welcomed the decision by premium rate number watchdog PhonepayPlus that BT should refund thousands of customers who were unfairly charged exorbitant rates for calls to directory enquiry service 118 500. BT has also been fined £225,000 due to the lack of transparency with regards to the charges attached to the service.
Dame Anne had previously pressured the Government to address the cost of calls to the service when she heard of one individual who had been charged £16.55 for a call lasting 7.11 minutes. In total, the individual had been charged £44.94 for five phone calls to the premium rate service.
The watchdog found that BT had been charging customers 59 pence to connect the call and £2.39 a minute for the duration of the call. The maximum cost incurred by one individual was reported to be £81.
Dame Anne said: “BT has been found guilty of ripping off customers who used their telephone look up service.
“Many of the people affected by the overcharging will not necessarily realise why their bills were so high. It is likely to be the elderly who have no access to the internet who have been hit hardest by this deceit.
“BT should be doing more to let their customers know they have been overcharged and how to make a claim.”
Dame Anne went on to encourage any customers who have been overcharged for using the 118 500 service to contact BT as soon as possible to lodge a claim for their refund.