Rhoda Grant MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : 16 December 2014
Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests.

While I, too, welcome the bill, I cannot help but wish that we did not need it. It is absolutely wrong that, in a rich society, people are struggling for the very basics they need for survival, to keep a roof over their head and to live independently.

Food banks are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Despite that, last year’s welfare fund was underspent. That is a bit of a disgrace for us all; we need to do something about the situation.

The Scottish Government commissioned a report into the welfare fund’s operation from Heriot-Watt University. The bill—or secondary legislation—needs to deal with the issues raised. It is startling that most applicants only knew of the fund through professionals or by word of mouth. There appears to be little or no local or national advertising. That point was echoed in the committee report. Witnesses acknowledged that work needs to be carried out to raise awareness of the fund and its availability. Witnesses also told the committee that they had been unaware of the fund despite needing to access money in an emergency.

We cannot be sure that everyone who might need to access the fund is in touch with the statutory services and the professionals who know about it. We know anecdotally that many people accessing food banks, for example, are the working poor, who are less likely to be dealing with the statutory services, less likely to be claiming benefits and may not know that crisis loans are available. The committee pointed out that that is also the case for those wishing to access the fund: because they are not in the system, they might be unaware of the fund in the first place. Although there was agreement that more could be done locally to raise awareness, I suggest that we have a national advertising campaign to make sure that everyone is aware that the fund is there.

There are concerns about the amount of discretion that decision makers have with regard to loans. There is evidence that people have been discouraged from even applying, which is unforgivable, especially given that the fund was underspent last year.

I was interested in the committee’s suggestion that the eligibility criteria should be widened to include: disabled people who cannot live independently without a grant; all young people who have been looked after by the state, including people who have experienced kinship care; people who are delivering kinship care to the children of family or friends; and families, many of whom suffer the greatest impact of welfare reform. Surely anyone who is likely to become homeless or unable to live independently needs to be eligible to apply to the fund. It also seems to me that if we are serious about tackling child poverty, families should be eligible.

The committee noted in its report the concerns that were expressed about the use of gatekeepers who put people off applying or turn down applications without giving them adequate consideration. Such cases go unrecorded and there is no right of appeal. It is sad that we presided over an underspent budget last year and that we have no idea who applied and why people were turned down. All applications need to be considered fully. Every applicant who is denied an award should be given the reasons for the decision in writing and should be told of their right to request a review.

Given people’s reluctance to apply for these loans, because of the stigma, applications tend to come only from people who have nowhere else to turn. That should mean that there are more positive outcomes. The results of decisions that have been subject to review tend to bear that out.

The committee looked at how the grant could be paid, for example through the provision of goods, vouchers or cash, all of which seemed to have good and bad points. Like many other members, I think that cash should be the default position. However, it is often the case that people cannot access the best deals when they source goods, especially in rural areas where people might not have access to the internet. In such cases, the provision of goods is a good idea, as long as the recipient is involved in the choice and has a say about the goods and their functions, to ensure that they suit their family circumstances.

I can see that vouchers might be useful for people who are vulnerable as a result of addiction and who might be tempted to use cash for alcohol or drugs, particularly if their circumstances are such that they need to apply to the fund. However the use of vouchers needs to be discussed with the applicant and should happen only in a way that respects their dignity and supports them, while acknowledging the problems that they face. We must help people to succeed and not set them up to fail.

Alex Rowley, Willie Rennie and other members talked about the causes of poverty, and as we consider a bill that will tackle some of the extreme circumstances of poverty, it is important that we consider those causes. We know that every child who grows up in poverty has their life chances damaged, so we must deal with poverty, and there are many things that this Parliament can do to deal with it: we can tackle low wages, unemployment and the lack of affordable childcare. We could take practical steps on such issues now, without waiting for decisions to be taken elsewhere.

I welcome the minister’s change of heart on contracting out. I hope that she listens to members’ concerns and considers amending the bill to take account of them. The bill is welcome, but we need to ensure that it will cover everyone who finds themselves in extreme circumstances and in need of help from the fund.

15:53  

Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

You say that you encourage people to get in touch, but how are you getting that message across?



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

I want to ask about people with chronic conditions. One issue is that people who become unwell then wait and become very unwell in the interim period of four days—indeed, people might have to wait 11 days if they do not get an appointment in the three intervening days between the closures. What steps are being taken to encourage people to contact NHS 24 and to keep emergency appointments available for those three days?



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

What is the percentage increase this year? You said that it was 7 per cent two years ago and then 5 per cent last year.



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

What is different about the holiday that is coming up is that, out of 11 days, GP practices will be open for three days rather than for five or seven, so we are looking at quite a long period with little cover. That obviously affects the number of people going to A and E, which you have tried to deal with. It would be useful to know how many additional beds are put in to deal with pressure on A and E departments.



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

At the moment, we seem only to be considering the very narrow area that deals with the symptoms, but not the causes. What tests are carried out on all Government policy to ensure that the causes, and not just the symptoms, are dealt with?

10:45  

Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

I get the impression that health, social work and education all kind of look at this, but we all know it goes much wider than that.



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

Will that assessment focus on childhood inequalities?



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

Okay, but that is not going on at the moment. I am trying to find out what happens—



Health and Sport Committee 09 December 2014 : 09 December 2014
Rhoda Grant

Does that happen with all policy development?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11901.3 Neil Findlay: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
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YesDefeated

S4M-11901.1 Mary Scanlon: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
>> Show more
NoCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
AbstainDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
>> Show more
NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Rhoda Grant
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11930: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11907: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 16/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11866: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11809: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11797: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11700: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 25/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11515: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11490: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11445: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11444: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Rhoda Grant
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-23657: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23656: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23659: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23660: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23658: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23593: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23592: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23464: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23425: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 25/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23426: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 25/11/2014 Show Full Question >>

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