Category Archives: Parliament

National Voter Registration Day

On the 5th of February 1832, the Great Reform Act introduced voter registration for the very first time. Then, the number of eligible voters in a borough varied from six to 12,000, with the selection of some Members of Parliament controlled by one person. We have come a long way since then, but there is still much more we can do.

In 2010, only 44% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, while 76% of those aged 65 and over cast their vote. At the moment, only half of all young people are registered to vote. Certain groups are disproportionately under-represented. Only 56% of people living in private rented homes are registered. Nearly half of those not registered to vote mistakenly believe that they are.

We must try and do better. The electoral register performs a hugely important civic function. You can only vote, and choose the politicians who represent you, if you are on the register.  It also ensures citizens are properly counted for the drawing of political boundaries – by ward and constituency – meaning the voice of Aberdeen South is heard. For our criminal justice system, the register enables selection for jury service.

Remember, on Thursday 18th September 2014, a referendum will take place to decide the future of Scotland. The voting age for the referendum will be 16 years old and over, but anyone wishing to vote in the referendum must be registered.

Further, from next year, each individual will have to register, rather than the traditional method of a household survey. To register and to ensure you have a voice, simply visit AboutmyVote.co.uk, or contact Grampian Electoral Registration Office on 01224 664848.

Housing Costs in a Reformed Welfare System

The below article written by Dame Anne Begg MP appeared in this month’s edition of  24 Housing.

Because housing costs form a large part of any household’s budget they also figure large in the benefits system.  It is not surprising, therefore, that a government who wishes to make huge cuts to the cost of welfare has turned its attention to Housing Benefit to realise some of these savings.  Over the past 4 years there have been many changes to the amount paid to tenants to help with their housing costs, in both the social and private rented sectors.  Which is also why the current inquiry of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee entitled “Housing Costs in a Reformed Welfare System” is important.

The UK social security system is often criticised for being overly complex and contains various disincentives to work.  That is why both the last government and this have attempted reforms of the system aiming to “always make work pay”. The last Labour government’s solution was the introduction of Tax Credits while the Coalition government is staking its reputation on a wholesale reform of working age benefits by consolidating most of them into the Universal Credit.

However, once you factor in housing costs the tapers which are meant to smooth the transition from benefit to work don’t always work effectively, especially in areas with high housing costs.  That’s because in this country we calculate the level of housing benefit based on the actual cost of housing in different parts of the country, not a flat rate depending on the size of your household.

What identical families living in different parts of the UK can receive towards their Housing costs can vary by as much as £1000 per month depending on whether they are in a private rent, receiving Local Housing Allowance in Central London or rent a Council house in deprived area in the north of England. Therefore the work incentives, or lack of them, can vary hugely.

The government’s reforms have been a rather blunt instrument and are only beginning to make themselves felt.  The changes to LHA introduced in 2011 only applied to new private sector tenants  or once existing tenants tenancy agreement came up for review, so the impact wasn’t immediate.  As more tenants face a shortfall between what they receive in benefit and their rent, the larger their arrears grow.  This means fewer private landlords are willing to take tenants who are benefit claimants which, in turn puts pressure on the social rented sector where there is already a shortage of properties.

The shortfall between HB received and level of rent is being replicated in the social sector with the introduction of what has become known as the “bedroom tax”.  If the policy had worked perfectly, the government’s own impact assessment shows that there would have been no savings.  Those in homes deemed too large would simply move to smaller properties freeing up the larger houses for those overcrowded, who would then qualify for more HB.  But we don’t live in a perfect world.  Councils and Housing Associations have not been building 1 bed properties for years so the smaller houses don’t exist in sufficient numbers. At the moment few are moving house, preferring to subsidise their housing from their other benefits.  However, the crunch can’t be far off as this is not sustainable for most households in the long term.

There has been an enormous outcry against the “bedroom tax”, even amongst those who believe that the government is right to be cutting the benefit bill.  I think this is because it is seen as being unfair.  It is not floor size, or bed spaces which are the determining factors, but bedrooms regardless of how small they might be.  Many of the government’s own backbenchers believe that disabled people living in houses specifically adapted for them are exempt.  They aren’t. They have to apply for the temporary Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to make up the shortfall. A married couple who can’t share a room because one or both of them has a disability are not exempt either.  Nor are households where it is a family member who is the full time carer.

For these households, moving is not an option, nor is increasing their income by working. So the government will have to keep paying out DHP so it makes sense that such households should be exempt.

There are a number of cases where it might even be costing the government more.  Apart from in London, many of the people who have been caught by the Benefits Cap are in temporary accommodation, which by its very nature is more expensive.  Of course some of them are in temporary accommodation because they have been evicted from their cheaper accommodation because of rent arrears caused by the government’s reforms!  A one bed private rent is likely to cost more than a 2 bed Council house but a tenant will qualify for full benefit for the more expensive tenancy, but not for the cheaper one.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned how things might change with the introduction of Universal Credit.  Lots, then, for my committee to get their teeth into.

Dame Anne Begg MP

Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee

16th January 2014

Dame Anne Questions Iain Duncan Smith

As Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne led the questioning Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith yesterday on the problems facing Universal Credit and the delay in vital information being passed to the Committee.

With the Department’s controversial welfare reforms, of which Universal Credit is the flagship, being implemented and rolled out, the role of the Select Committee is to scrutinise the Department and offer recommendations as to how proposals can be improved or amended.

During the heated questioning session, Mr Duncan Smith was accused of not being open with a Commons Select Committee and of treating it with arrogance and disrespect.

Dame Anne also raised her concerns over failings in the policies and the negative implications of botched welfare reform.

Coverage of the evidence session can be found on the following sites;

Read the full transcript on the Parliament UK website- http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/5774
Watch on Parliament TV- http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14819
Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/03/iain-duncan-smith-universal-credit
BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26020025
Telegraph – http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100257938/whitehall-is-shuddering-over-universal-credit-problems/

Local MP ‘takes a step’ against prejudice by signing Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day this week, MP for Aberdeen South Dame Anne Begg signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, honouring those who died during the Holocaust as well as honouring the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people about what they endured.

Dame Anne Begg MPMonday 27th January will mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

Dame Anne said: “Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join others in Aberdeen South in the fight against prejudice and intolerance.”

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “We are proud that Dame Anne is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day.  It is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry.” 

Calls for greater transparency to make charge cap viable

Anne delivered the key note address at a recent Westminster Employment Forum event where she called on the Government to force insurers to disclose all charges to make a cap work.

You can read more about her speech here: http://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/news-and-analysis/politics/anne-begg-calls-for-greater-transparency-to-make-charge-cap-viable/2002595.article

Let’s Tackle Low Pay and Deal with the Cost of Living Crisis

Hard-working families in Aberdeen South are struggling as they face the greatest cost of living crisis in a generation.

Wages have gone up slower than prices for 39 out of 40 of the months David Cameron has been Prime Minister and many hard-working families struggle to make ends meet. Average wages are over £1,500 lower than they were when the Tories came into power in 2010 and year after year people are working harder, for longer, for less.

Thousands of hard-working people in Aberdeen South get up early to go to work, do the right thing and yet struggle to pay their bills. It can’t be right that we’ve now reached the point where more of the people bringing up families in poverty are in work than out of work.

We need to make sure work always pays which is why Ed Miliband has this week announced plans to introduce Make Work Pay contracts that will help businesses raise wages for millions of low-paid workers, and help the next Labour government cut social security bills for the taxpayer.

Firms that sign up to paying their employees the living wage, currently £8.80 in London and £7.65 elsewhere, in the first year of the next Parliament will be offered a 12 month tax rebate of up to £1,000 for each individual worker that receives a pay rise.

The money would be fully funded from increased income tax and National Insurance revenues. Additional savings in lower tax credits and benefit payments, as well as increased tax revenues in future years, will cut social security bills and help pay down the deficit.

Make Work Pay contracts will benefit employees, businesses and the British taxpayer. Low-paid workers will be paid more, firms will receive a tax rebate and will benefit from higher staff morale, increased productivity and lower turnover of staff, and the taxpayer will see a reduced social security bill from lower spending on tax credits and benefits for people in low paid work.

Thousands of families in Aberdeen South are struggling to deal with the rising cost of living and encouraging more firms to pay their employees the living wage is a positive way of really helping people deal with the cost of living crisis.

Anti-Slavery Day – 18th October

On Anti-Slavery Day, Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, urged individuals and organisations to respond to a consultation on the proposed Human Trafficking (Scotland) Bill which would introduce the most comprehensive legislation in the world to combat modern day slavery.

In March, Dame Anne jointly hosted an event raising awareness among professionals and individuals in the North East of the signs of human trafficking. Following on from this, she added her support to the proposals which have been put forward in the Scottish Parliament by Jenny Marra MSP.

The Bill would introduce wide ranging changes to the current response to human trafficking in Scotland by introducing a proper definition into Scots law, making it illegal to criminalise victims of trafficking in our courts, and creating a dedicated survivors’ service for victims.

Dame Anne said: “Men, women and children of all nationalities are victims of modern day slavery and it is happening right now in Aberdeen.  

“Victims are often terrified of the authorities, fear deportation, face language barriers, and are very much hidden in our society. That’s why it is vital that everyone is alert to the signals of trafficking and campaigns such as Anti-Slavery Day help to achieve this.

“The Bill being proposed by Jenny Marra would not only protect these victims but would make it clear that Scotland is a no-go area for traffickers and I would encourage everyone to submit responses to the consultation to ensure that this Bill has the opportunity to progress through Holyrood.”

The consultation is open until 6th December and the document can be downloaded at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/67134.aspx. Responses can be based on questions within the document, although additional comments are welcome, and should be sent direct to Jenny Marra MSP at Room MG.14, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP.

We need real action to end exploitive zero-hours contracts and rising insecurity in the workplace

Families in Aberdeen South and across the country are facing the greatest cost of living crisis in a generation. Prices are increasing, wages are falling and for many hard-working people there is rising insecurity in the workplace.

One of the worst examples of this is the exploitive use of zero-hours contracts. I know that many people in Aberdeen South are employed on zero-hours contracts and they and their families face a real struggle on a daily basis.

According to recent estimates there could be as many as 1 million workers employed on zero-hours contracts – with a big increase since the Tory-led government took office –  and they are now used in one in five workplaces.

The Tory-led government has failed to act on zero-hours contracts. It emerged that a ‘review’ of the issue initiated by Business Secretary Vince Cable earlier this year consisted of three officials spending part of their time “speaking informally” with stakeholders.

Zero-hours contracts mean insecurity and stress for too many families in Aberdeen South. We can’t let this continue, which is why I voted on Wednesday for an end to their exploitive use and for action to stop rising insecurity at work.

The Tory-led government has failed to act. According to recent estimates there could be as many as 1 million workers employed on zero-hours contracts – with a spike since the Tory-led government took office –  and they are now used in one in five workplaces.

A Labour Government would ban employers from insisting zero-hours workers be available even when there is no guarantee of any work, stop zero-hours contracts that require workers to work exclusively for one business and end the misuse of zero-hours contracts where employees are in practice working regular hours over a sustained period.

Both employers and employees need flexibility but this shouldn’t mean people in Aberdeen South lacking job security and having to be flexible about whether or not they can afford the weekly shop. We’ve got to put a stop to it and that is what Labour is determined to do.

Hard-working people should feel confident and secure at work; ending the exploitive use of zero-hours contracts is an integral part of achieving this.

The Work Programme is not working for those most in need

Following the Select Committee’s recent inquiry into the Work Programme, Dame Anne led a debate in Westminster Hall highlighting that, while the programme might be delivering sustained job outcomes for some people, it was not effective in helping those who have major barriers to work, in particular, those who have a disability or health problem.

In fact, where previous specialist welfare-to-work programmes for people with disabilities achieved job outcomes between 10% and 30%, recent statistics show that the Work Programme has achieved a success rating of only 5.8%.

Dame Anne said: “The Work Programme is failing those furthest from the labour market.

“Major changes to the way in which the contracts are delivered, and to how the differential pricing structure works, need to be made if the Work Programme is to begin properly delivering job outcomes for those with the highest barriers to work.”

The new Minister for Employment, Esther McVey MP admitted that the Work Programme was “not perfect”.

A full transcript of the debate can be read here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131010/halltext/131010h0001.htm#131010h0001.htm_spnew22

Disabled Kids’ Achievements Celebrated at Star-studded Ceremony

Dame Anne Begg joined the disabled children’s charity Whizz-Kidz at a star-studded awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements of young disabled people from across the UK.

The Kidz Unlimited Awards, held in the House of Commons, and hosted by Channel 4’s Rick Edwards, showcased the talent and achievements of Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors from across the UK.Image

The Aberdeen South MP met with young Ambassadors from the charity to congratulate them on their achievements and talk about their aspirations.

Dame Anne said: “It was fantastic to meet the Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors at the Kidz Unlimited Awards – they really are an inspirational group of young people.

“Whizz-Kidz do great work locally providing disabled children and young people with wheelchairs and with life skills through their work placements programme and wheelchair skills training

“I’m very proud to be one of the charity’s Parliamentary Champions and to support their work in Aberdeen and across the UK.”

For more information about Whizz-Kidz’s work providing disabled children and young people a chance of a childhood and the skills for a bright future, visit www.whizz-kidz.org.uk.