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Prize Giving Ceremony

On Friday 14th December Dame Anne presided over a prize giving ceremony for the winner and runners-up of her 2012 Christmas Card Competition at the ASDA, Bridge of Dee.

Christmas Card Competition
Christmas Card Competition

Primary 1 pupil, Lucas Norwood from Hamilton School was selected as the winner by judge Shelagh Swanson, Owner and Resident Artist at Oil & Glass in Torry.

Six runners up were also chosen and they were: Catherine Bell, P1, Albyn School; Bethany South, P2, Kirkhill Primary School; Ceili Reilly, Class 5, The International School of Aberdeen; Kelci-Jade Beedie, P5, Kirkhill Primary School; Fraser Joss, P6/7, Culter Primary School; and En-Li Soh, L6B, Albyn School.

And Dame Anne was joined by a special guest to help hand out the prizes.

Santa joined Anne to help hand over the prizes
Santa joined Dame Anne to help hand over the prizes

Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, the winner and runners up were awarded some fantastic prizes, with the winner receiving a Nintendo 3DS. Thanks also go to Asda for hosting the prize giving in their cafe.

Winner Lucas accepts his prize
Winner Lucas accepts his prize

Dame Anne said: “Over the years that I have run my Christmas Card competition, it has really grown and I am always amazed at the quality and creativity of the entries I receive every year.

“We received almost 1,000 submissions this year and it is clear that the pupils put a lot of time and effort into their designs. I would, therefore, like to thank all those who took the time to submit an entry this year and I enjoyed meeting the winner and runners-up in person to hand over their prizes.”

Royal Kathina Ceremony

Dame Anne today attended the local Thai community’s Royal Kathina Ceremony at Culter Hall which was host to Buddhist monks.

She said: “Today was great fun: noisy, colourful and joyous. I was delighted to be able to hand over a cheque on behalf of the Deeside community which will go towards their project aiming to secure a new cultural community centre.”

Royal Kathina
Royal Kathina


Royal Kathina 2
Royal Kathina 2

Dame Anne backs fight against Breast Cancer and wants constituents to join her

Dame Anne is backing the fight against breast cancer by taking part in Breast Cancer Campaign’s award winning fundraiser, wear it pink day – and she wants constituents to join her.

Dame Anne Begg MP - Wear it Pink Breast Cancer
Dame Anne Begg MP – Wear it Pink Breast Cancer

Now in its 10th year, wear it pink, on Friday 26th October 2012 will see supporters from all over the country in schools, colleges and businesses embracing the event’s new theme, superheroes. The theme stems from the charity’s belief that everybody who joins the fight – from people affected by breast cancer, to Breast Cancer Campaign scientists and all wear it pink participants – is a superhero.

Breast Cancer Campaign is asking everyone to pull on something pink and donate £2.00, whether it’s a superhero cape, pink socks or pink pants you wear over your tights, you can help the charity achieve its target of raising £2 million, so they can continue to fund ground-breaking research.

Join the hundreds of thousands of people who take part in wear it pink every year. With your help Breast Cancer Campaign can improve survival rates for the one in eight women who experience breast cancer during their lifetime.

Dame Anne Begg MP says “Every year in the UK, around 48,000 women and 340 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. This is why we all need to support wear it pink day on 26th October, so that Breast Cancer Campaign can continue to fund research which will one day lead to a cure.”

To take part in the UK’s original and best pink day visit wearitpink.co.uk and register to receive your free fundraising pack now. Vanish is backing the fight against breast cancer for the third year running by raising an incredible £250,000 for wear it pink.

Universal Credit and Welfare Reform debate (Opposition Day motion)

Dame Anne spoke in Tuesday’s debate on Universal Credit and Welfare Reform moved by Liam Bryne MP.

Her speech is available here or on the They Work For You website:

This is a timely debate. I would say that, wouldn’t I, as I chair the Select Committee that happens to be undertaking an inquiry into the implementation of universal credit. I hope that today’s debate and the findings that my Committee will eventually publish—I cannot say exactly what they will be in advance—will help to highlight important issues to the Secretary of State and his Ministers, such as the questions that still need answers, the decisions that still have to be taken and the unintended consequences. I know that witnesses have already presented us with a number of such consequences in the evidence we have taken. Some groups will be worse off under universal credit and some will lose out. [Interruption.] I hope that the Secretary of State is listening, as he is due to appear before the Select Committee on Monday; he has until then to find out all the answers.

We know that major change costs money, not just in administration and set-up costs: the Government have said that there will be cash protection so that there will be no cash losers at the point of transition from existing benefits into universal credit. Those transitional

arrangements will then be frozen until the universal credit level is reached or the cash protection will be lost when there is a change of circumstances.

The Government are already cutting large areas of support that people receive—in-work credits next year, for example, while housing benefit is already being reformed—and there are more changes to come. Child care tax credit is being reduced, while the rules for working tax credit for couples have changed so that people have to be in work for more than 25 hours in order to qualify. Under the new universal credit, certain things will not exist, particularly various premiums received by many disabled people and their carers. There probably will be fewer cash losers than originally anticipated as people move on to universal credit because quite a number of people will already have lost their benefits or have seen a reduction in their income. That is probably good for the Government in respect of transitional protection because it will cost them less, but it is potentially bad for the claimant who is going to have to live on less money.

This is a huge subject, so let me concentrate my remarks on the most vulnerable. Even by the Government’s own analysis, some people will not be able to manage the online claims system or, indeed, the monthly payments. The Government use the term “digital by default”, but it will be impossible for many people, perhaps because of their IT skills or indeed as a result of the cost of accessing the equipment. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that there would be terminals in Jobcentre Plus centres, as that has not come out to date in the evidence we have taken; let us hear the announcement on Monday.

The Government say that most people will manage the process or will soon adapt to it. It is great if they do, because if the majority are not able to manage the system as it has been designed, it would be a catastrophe. It would also be a catastrophe if the IT did not work. In that case, everyone claiming universal credit, including those who are computer literate and can manage the system, will be in deep trouble. This is not a single benefit such as tax credits. Then, when the IT went wrong or did not work properly in the first place, it meant only a part of the family’s income not being paid. Families were not left destitute, as they had other income to fall back on until the problem was sorted out or until interim payments were put in place. That cost an absolute fortune at the time. If the IT does not work for universal credit, families will receive no money. They will not be able to pay their rent, pay any bills or buy food. As is inevitable in such circumstances, it will take time for the arrangements to be put in place, and they may become destitute before that happens.

ATOS debate speech (transcript)

Below is the transcript of Dame Anne’s contribution to the debate on ATOS and it’s role in carrying out Work Capability assessments for those applying for Employment Support Allowance held in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 4th September 2012:

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) on securing this important debate. This is my first time speaking after my extended absence and therefore a good subject.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): On behalf of everybody in the room and in the House, I welcome the hon. Lady back to the House. We are delighted to see her in such good shape. We were sad to hear of the difficulties in the long period of recovery she has had to go through. She is very welcome back.

Dame Anne Begg: I thank the Minister for being gracious. He may not be quite so gracious by the time he has heard what I have to say. I do not think that the Government have grasped how disastrous the ESA assessment system is. It is not something that can be fixed by a few tweaks here and there; we tried that with the Harrington review. What we have heard today in the Chamber—and in the “Dispatches” and “Panorama” programmes filmed in June this year—suggests that not much has changed. The people complaining are not just the usual suspects, not just the radical crips, the workshy or those who want money without being assessed. They are ordinary people, most of whom worked hard all their lives until the sky fell in and they lost their job because of an illness or an acquired disability

It is not enough for Government to say that the genuine claimant has nothing to fear. In too many cases, genuine claimants are not scoring any points in their initial assessment. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system and the contract that Atos is delivering. When the British Medical Association votes at its conference to say that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose there is something wrong with the system. When GPs are reporting an increased workload, not just as a result of providing reports but as a result of treating patients whose condition has worsened as a result of their WCA experience, there is something wrong with the system.

When my constituent, who has lost his job because he has motor neurone disease, scores zero on his WCA and is found fully fit for work, there is something wrong with the system. When that same constituent appears in front of a tribunal and in less than five minutes is awarded 15 points, there is something wrong with the system. When people with rapidly progressive illnesses are not automatically put in the support group, there is something wrong with the system. When some people would rather do without the money to which they are absolutely entitled rather than submit to the stress of a WCA, there is something wrong with the system. When someone with a severe illness has to fight for a year through an appeal to get the correct benefit, only to be called in almost immediately for another assessment, there is something wrong with the system. When the recall and assessment happen the following year, and the following year, there is something wrong with the system. When people feel so persecuted, there is something wrong with the system. To top it all, they lose their contributory ESA after only a year if they are in the WRAG group.

When up to 40% of appeals are successful and there is no penalty for the company carrying out the assessments, there is something wrong with the contract. When so many appeals result in an award of ESA support group status when the original assessment was no points, there is something wrong with the contract. When there is no penalty for a high percentage of wrong decisions, there is something wrong with the contract. When there is no incentive for assessors to get the assessment correct first time, there is something wrong with the contract. It is time for the Government to act, because there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole system.

Text of full debate available from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk

Video of full debate available from: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11307&st=10:58:30

Dame Anne speaks at 2h 7mins.

You can also watch a clip from the debate here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeatCaWVGEQ

Dame Anne speaks in ATOS debate in Parliament

Dame Anne spoke for the first time since summer recess in Tuesday’s debate on ATOS’s contract to carry out Work Capability Assessments for sickness benefits.

You can watch her 2hours 7minutes in on the Parliament TV video.

Dame Anne Praises North East Gold Medallist Paralympian Neil Fachie

Today Dame Anne  praised Paralympics athlete Neil Fachie for winning Team GB’s third gold medal in the 2012 Paralympics track cycling. Fachie, who is from Aberdeen, secured the win in the one kilometre time-trial on Saturday.

Dame Anne said: “I am delighted for Neil who has once again broken a world record. His success highlights the sporting talent we have here in Aberdeen, following on from our Olympic medallists last month.”

Aberdeen South MP supports charity’s call to protect guide dogs from attack

Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, has pledged her support to Guide Dogs’ campaign to highlight the issue of guide dogs being attacked by other dogs. Today she met with guide dog owners, and their assistance dogs, to listen to their own experiences.

Group picture
Group picture

Research by the charity has revealed that more than eight guide dogs are attacked every month. The attacks can result in the guide dogs being unable to work and in some cases, can never work again. This can have a devastating impact on the owner, as they are then unable to go out independently whilst they wait for a new guide dog. This also has financial implications for the charity, which pays the full costs of a guide dog – approximately £50,000 throughout its lifetime.

Guide dog owner, William Sharkey, told Dame Anne about an incident involving his assistance dog, Lily: “As a newly qualified guide dog owner, I was very angry when Lily was attacked by two dogs in Aberdeen city centre. I was particularly horrified that the owner took no action to restrain their dogs and afterwards I didn’t think it was worth reporting to the police as I was unable to identify the owner. The incident really knocked Lily’s confidence and it took some time for her to return to her normal self.”

Although the recent announcement by the Westminster government to introduce compulsory microchipping in England is a welcome step forward, there is still more work needed to protect guide dogs and their owners from these vicious attacks. With concern increasing about the number of attacks by other dogs on guide dogs, the charity is also calling on the Government to give police the power to treat an attack on an assistance dog as seriously as an attack on a person.

Puppy trainer Doris Campbell with guide dog in training Lexie who is 13 weeks old speaking to Dame Anne Begg.
Puppy walker Doris Campbell with guide dog in training Lexie who is 15 weeks old speaking to Dame Anne Begg.

David Cowdrey, Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs said: “There were 147 attacks on guide dogs between June 2010 and December 2011. We believe that an attack on an assistance dog should be considered as an attack on the person, to reflect the fact that a guide dog is a vital mobility aid and that such attacks are very distressing for people who are already vulnerable.”

Dame Anne said: “I was shocked to hear of the high number of attacks on guide dogs, as are those constituents who have contacted me about this issue, and I will be lobbying the government to ensure meaningful measures are introduced to protect guide dogs and their owners. Although the Scottish Government has already rejected compulsory microchipping, I hope that they will follow suit to ensure that guide dogs in Scotland are protected. I would also call on anyone who witnesses an attack on a guide dog to help the police in identifying the offending owner.”