27 August 2019

Tory Plan for you to Work 'til you Drop

I have been one of the lucky ones. I reached 65 before the Tories started on their program of taking money away from the next generation of our citizens who approach what they thought would be retirement.

And it's not just been pensioners who are suffering under Tory austerity. Taking from the poorer in our society to protect the living standards of the rich. Tory Universal Credit is hurting too many of our fellow citizens. The Centre for Social Justice, an ironic name if ever I heard one when you consider that this Tory think tank were responsible for Universal Credit, are at it again. They now propose denying anyone under 75 their state pension from 2035.

A new study shows that the proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, the largest increase among western European countries. I’m deeply concerned that any further increases in the state pension age could have a hugely disproportionate impact on Scotland and particularly the North East due to its unique demographic needs. The rise, from 0.9% of the elderly population living in severe poverty to around 5%, is attributable to Britain’s state pension system and its “low basic payments and means-tested supplements”, says the report author, Pension Reforms and Old Age Inequalities in Europe.

From the stripping away of free TV licences for the over 75s, to the burning injustices facing the WASPI women who have been denied the right to their state pension, the UK government’s attitude towards the elderly in society is shameful. The new Prime Minister must take action to address the dire levels of pensioner poverty in the UK.

The Scottish Government is working to support the elderly across Scotland and has introduced free bus passes for those over 60 years old, helping around 1.13 million people, along with a new fuel poverty bill focusing on addressing the poverty caused by the cost of heating homes during the cold weather. Additionally, the Scottish Government is working to protect the NHS and has ensured prescriptions remain free. Providing security and dignity for older people is central to our social justice agenda.

However, despite the best efforts of the SNP Government these new proposals could see Scots literally working to the death. The Aberdeenshire average life expectancy is 79.1 years for males- meaning men on average will have just four years to enjoy their long worked for retirement, many will never even make it to retirement!

I find it particularly concerning the lack of thought given to those in manual labour trades. Many of my constituents are working on farms, fisheries and in our national services where the physical demand on bodies is immense and there are distinct challenges working outside and in active jobs. Following changes at the top of government in Westminster it is more important than ever to ensure the interests of the North-East are accounted for- the Conservative Government must stop this callous threat to people’s pensions.

20 August 2019

New UK Government Leadership Needs to Support Scottish Farmers

Following changes at the top of government in Westminster it is more important than ever to ensure the interests of the north-east are accounted for.

Earlier this month, I wrote to Theresa Villiers, the new secretary for the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, asking for a timetable for the repayment of the £160 million which has been taken from Scotland's farmers by the UK Tory government.

The £160 million of convergence funding was allocated by the EU to Scotland but was retained by the Conservative government and used across the UK instead.

However, new Prime Minister Johnson appeared to give a commitment to "make sure Scotland's farmers get the support they are owed" at a Conservative leadership hustings event during his bid for leadership.

Scottish farmers have not forgotten that the UK Tory government has withheld £160 million in funding rightfully due to them.

It is solely because of Scotland that the UK, as the member state, qualified for this funding.

The new secretary of state has an opportunity early in her tenure to set right this historic wrong.

PM Johnson has given a commitment, which has been welcomed by the NFUS president, so it should be a simple matter of carrying out the will of the PM and paying the money.

Scottish farmers will be expecting more than warm words from the new secretary of state.

She needs to send a clear signal to Scottish farmers that she understands their distinct challenges and is prepared to pay them what is rightfully theirs.

In other words, she needs to decide whether she will back Scotland's farmers, or betray them like her predecessor.

The road to October 31 is nearing ever closer and we must ensure that the promises the new Prime Minister is making are kept and that he and his government are held to account.

The Climate Emergency

I was pleased to see the Scottish Government has extended its commitment to addressing the climate emergency we face with further announcements including the opening of a new £6 million project which will use cutting-edge renewable technology to harness energy from water.

As well as this, the Scottish Government is investing £300,000 to expand the Climate Ready Classrooms initiative to help young people aged 14-17 to develop their understanding of climate change, its causes and potential impacts.

The programme aims to engage with at least 50 per cent of Scotland's secondary schools in the next two years and accredit almost 5000 young people as carbon literate.

There was also additional support announced for communities across Scotland to undertake their own Big Climate Conversations, which will feed-in to the Scottish Government public engagement strategy on climate change.

These are all important changes which will help to transform the way we deal with the impact of climate change but also our approach to the challenges we face around it.

It is particularly important that the younger generation learn how to be carbon literate and how we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

Stewart Stevenson
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