Siobhan McMahon MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to take part in the debate. I, too, thank the Welfare Reform Committee, not only for publishing the reports and securing a debate on the matter but for its commitment to welfare as an issue for the past two years. The work that the committee has done and the dedication that its members, and its convener, Michael McMahon, have shown to their subject matter is a fantastic example to other committees in the Parliament of what can be achieved.

The report talks about the marked increase in the use of food banks in our country. In order to get a true sense of what we are discussing, I thought it important to look at the history of the establishment of food banks across the world. It was in America in 1967 that John van Hengel, a volunteer with the St Vincent de Paul Society, first established the concept. Mr van Hengel saw a widow and her 10 children looking through rubbish behind grocery stores for food. He helped her to find edible food and asked the store owners to give him the products that they would have thrown out so that he could distribute them to the needy.

In 1984, the first food bank was established in Europe. That was followed by the establishment of the European Federation of Food Banks in 1986. The UK and other wealthy nations did not set up food banks until later. Since 2004, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Serbia have joined the network, followed in 2010 and 2011 by the Netherlands, Switzerland, Estonia and Denmark, and in 2013 by Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The issue is not that food banks exist—as I have demonstrated, they have existed throughout the world for some time—but that there is a growing reliance on them in society. In 2004, the Trussell Trust, a Christian-based charity, had just two food banks; now, it has 423. That shows just how reliant many in society have become on that type of provision. In a few short years, people of my age and younger have not only become aware of food banks but come to see them as an integral part of their communities. That is the most disappointing thing for me.

Pupils from St Andrew’s high school in Coatbridge—in your constituency, Presiding Officer—visited the Parliament today and told me that, only last week, they raised around £1,000 for their local food bank. The young people should be congratulated on raising such a fantastic amount of money. However, the fact that they had to do that so that someone—maybe a classmate—would get a meal this Christmas should not only embarrass those of us in the chamber today but embarrass and shame the coalition Government even more.

The findings of the Welfare Reform Committee make for uncomfortable reading and could not be clearer: the measures that the UK Government introduced are creating reliance on food banks—it is as simple as that. With £14.9 billion-worth of cuts having been made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions since 2010, what other outcome could there be? Not only have people had a cut to their benefit or had their benefit stopped altogether but, on top of that, many have faced intolerable sanctions.

The UK Government may say that sanctions have been designed to promote the correct and proper use of the welfare system and enable effective and efficient use of resources that support people on the path back to work and, ultimately, out of poverty. However, we have found, and the report demonstrates, that sanctions are being used to punish people. Sanctions have left some of those most in need without money for up to three years. That point was made repeatedly in several briefings—in particular, Inclusion Scotland’s briefing—that we received for today’s debate.

From those briefings, we learn that, since October 2013, claimants wishing to challenge a decision by the DWP to refuse an award of benefit or impose a sanction must request a “mandatory reconsideration” before they can appeal to the tribunal. Nearly 25 per cent of JSA sanctions have been subject to mandatory reconsideration, and in more than half those cases, the sanction has been overturned. For ESA claimants, nearly half the decisions to impose a sanction have gone to mandatory reconsideration, with nearly half being successfully overturned.

Although the DWP has still not published any statistics on mandatory reconsideration, which was introduced in October 2013, the measure appears to have caused an almost total collapse in appeals to tribunals. Only 23 JSA or ESA sanctions went to tribunals for an appeal decision between April and June 2014, compared with the usual figure of at least 1,000 per month. Although the UK Government claims that sanctions are a last resort, it is evident that they are being imposed almost as a matter of course, with no opportunity for the claimant to give reasonable cause for the failure that leads to the sanction. That is the impact that the so-called welfare reforms have brought to many people’s doors across Scotland and the UK. It is no wonder that more and more people are finding it harder to feed themselves or their families.

People must be supported by the state in their hour of need. I therefore welcome the Smith commission’s agreement on welfare powers and on giving this Parliament the ability to create new and additional benefits as well as top up existing benefits. I believe that that will give us an opportunity to address some of the many issues that affect our constituents, particularly women. As Engender points out in its briefing for today’s debate:

“The UK’s social security system is a facet of gender inequality as demonstrated by the highly gendered impact of ‘welfare reform’, which is seeing women and their children at increased risk of poverty, abuse, violence and physical and mental health issues.”

The briefing goes on to say:

“The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament must therefore use the opportunity of new powers over social security to ensure that these patterns are redressed where possible.”

I could not agree more, and I hope that the Government will use every power coming its way to help rebuild the people’s trust in the welfare system, because that trust has been lost.

15:46  

Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

The question was about whether the minister supports Shelter, not whether Shelter supports the minister.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

Will the minister take an intervention?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to be able to take part in this afternoon’s debate. I will highlight just one of the housing issues that my constituents face.

I was contacted some months ago by a constituent who works as a porter in the national health service. He was forced to take a private-rented flat after his long-term relationship broke up. As a result, he finds that his NHS wage meets only his rent and household bills. His situation is so bad that he has to go to his parents every night for his evening meal. This man is in his 40s and has worked his entire adult life, and he cannot afford his rent. That is nothing short of scandalous, and it is one of the many reasons why I am supporting Shelter’s make renting right campaign.

I am particularly pleased to support Shelter’s call for more flexibility with regards to the tenancy agreement. Shelter states:

“The private rented sector is changing. Current demand suggests that while some people want the option of a tenancy that lasts for as long as they need it, others want flexibility if they need to move. We want a tenancy regime that can respond to people’s needs and work for both landlords and tenants. For tenants, it is about striking the balance between being able to live as long as they need in a property, with due consideration given to the landlord in terms of adequate notice when they want to leave.”

I believe that that is a practical measure, which will benefit not only tenants but landlords, too. By offering an agreement that benefits both parties, greater trust and commitment will be established, and as a result there will be greater belief in the system—something that is missing from the current tenancy agreement.

We need to take action on the spiralling costs of private rents. It is simply not good enough that hardworking people have no other choice than to get themselves into huge amounts of debt to keep a roof over their heads. Given that 13 per cent of housing stock is in the private rented sector and that one in four private rented households have children, we need to address the massive problem in the sector quickly. It must be a priority for the Government and for this Parliament.

Only a few weeks ago, I asked the minister a very straightforward question in this chamber. I asked her whether she supported Shelter’s campaign. It was a question that needed a simple yes or no answer, but I got neither in return. I hope that she will be definite in her answer today, will once and for all pledge her support for the campaign and will confirm what action she will take given that—in her own words—the Government has known about this problem since 2010.

To hear that the number of people who are living in poverty in the private rented sector has doubled in the past decade should make all politicians extremely uncomfortable. That is why we need action now and that is why I ask the minister to support Shelter Scotland’s campaign and to back Scottish Labour’s proposals to introduce a bill on the private rented sector. We want a bill to provide people with greater security of tenure and we wish to see a cap on rent rises. That would make a huge difference to tenants’ lives, and it could be legislated on quickly. I hope that the minister will back our proposals.

On a separate note, I was delighted that the Smith commission suggested that our Parliament should receive the power to legislate on socioeconomic areas. I hope that that will mean establishing an equality impact assessment. I called for that in my submission to the Smith commission. Such a power would allow the Government to truly assess whether its policies are making the difference it would like to see by reducing poverty in our communities. An equality impact assessment would be particularly useful in assessing how effective the Scottish Government’s policy on housing and housing stock has been in reducing inequality in Scotland.

I hope that the minister is listening to the requests being made of her today and that she can find a way of addressing the concerns of members, charities, campaigners and—most importantly—tenants, who need action now, not more warm words.

15:51  

Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

The minister will be aware of Enable Scotland’s new campaign #bethechange, which is aimed at tackling abusive and offensive language about people who have learning disabilities. By working in collaboration with a number of partners, Enable Scotland has developed a school resource for teachers of secondary 1 and 2 pupils that will raise awareness of learning disability and take an early-intervention approach to promoting positive attitudes to learning disability.

Does the minister support Enable Scotland’s campaign? What action will he take to encourage local authorities to implement in secondary schools the four-week lesson plan, which will focus on educating children about learning disability, from the 2015-16 academic year?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
2. Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to combat bullying in schools. (S4O-03762)



Equal Opportunities Committee 20 November 2014 : Thursday, November 20, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

Will you evaluate the process, given that it should achieve nine national outcomes for the health and social care partnerships?



Equal Opportunities Committee 20 November 2014 : Thursday, November 20, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

I welcome the cabinet secretaries’ answers and I support what you are trying to do. I fully appreciate that, as the cabinet secretary for equalities said, this will not happen overnight. However, will the funding streams continue? They are not identified at present, so will more funding streams come down the line? I understand that we are talking about this particular budget and I am not suggesting that there should be a figure, but do you anticipate that?



Equal Opportunities Committee 20 November 2014 : Thursday, November 20, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

I appreciate that answer and I appreciate that you said in your opening statement that the integration fund is about improving services and outcomes for older people. However, we heard in evidence that although Government policy has focused on the reshaping care initiative and getting people to stay at home longer, only 1 per cent goes into that and the rest still goes to acute services. What specifically in the integration fund will change that? I said to witnesses that we would all like more money but that it is not simply about money; when I asked whether they could shift the balance with the resources that they had been given, their answer was that they could not.



Equal Opportunities Committee 20 November 2014 : Thursday, November 20, 2014
Siobhan McMahon

My first question is about the change fund. We heard evidence that that funding or resourcing has ceased and that funding for the continuation of developed initiatives is now assumed to be included in the baseline funding that is allocated to partnership boards. Why has there been a reduction in the change fund resources? What has been done to sustain improvements in outcomes in the absence of those resources?

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
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NoCarried

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

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
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Not VotedCarried

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 Siobhan McMahon
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11807: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11806: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11805: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11793: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11791: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11790: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11579: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11578: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11413: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11307: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Siobhan McMahon
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-23623: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03762: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23277: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23103: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03724: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03615: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22805: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03592: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22575: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03538: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 15/09/2014 Show Full Question >>

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