17 March 2020

The Mystery of the Tory / Lib Dem budget in Aberdeenshire

This week brought the Aberdeenshire budget for 2020/21 announcing their spending plans for the next financial year.

To say it was a concerning read is an understatement.

With cuts to children’s community education and the end of free parking in Banff, the proposals are sure to have a real impact on towns across my constituency.

In light of recent serious weather events, it was particularly disappointing to read that the Tories and Lib Dems are looking to cut £50,000 from our flooding budgets.

The importance of having good flood management measures in place locally should not be understated having watched entire communities being decimated by floods in the UK just last month.

I know the people of Kind Edward are still responding to the damage caused to bridges.

My concern is that these cuts will only serve to put our towns even more at risk and those constituents of mine who suffered greatly during Storm Frank in 2016 will be rightly angry at this cut.

Once again the Tories and Lib Dems are making decisions without fully thinking through the consequences of making such reckless cuts.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in Westminster are also being similarly frivolous with their spending plans.

While I’m pleased to see the UK Government’s economic response to coronavirus, we need confirmation on what this will mean for Scotland.

We require urgent clarification on what funding Scotland will receive from the announcements made by the UK Government, at a time when the prospects for the economy and public finances remain very uncertain as the short term impacts of COVID-19 unfold.

It is vital that our businesses, employees, health service and the most economically vulnerable in our society are all protected through this time, and this additional funding will help us in our response.

The Scottish Government are working to ensure that businesses in Scotland are supported and are working with the business community to identify the most effective measures available to us when we have more clarity on the funding available.

We expect full consequentials from this additional funding and need urgent clarification to provide clarity for Scottish businesses and NHS Scotland to ensure we can respond effectively.

The Barnett consequentials announced last week are in line with the assumptions that underpinned the Scottish Budget and Budget Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament this month.

While this funding is welcome, our resource budget is still lower in real terms than it was in 2010/11.

By every measure, this was a Budget riddled with honeyed words and new slogans, but hollow on substance when it comes to working for hardworking families and individuals across the UK.

The Tories’ highest ambition is of securing a basic trade deal which, compared to EU membership, and could remove £9bn from the Scottish economy.

And threats to walk away from the table with a No-Deal could hit the Scottish economy to the tune of £12.7 billion, equivalent to £2,300 per person.

All the signs from this Tory government are that instead of co-operation and close relationships, they are heading for deep divergence and de-regulation.

3 March 2020

Time for Fairness for MS Sufferers

This week I met with campaigners from the Multiple Sclerosis Society for Scotland to discuss the problems they currently face when applying for disability benefits.

The Tory Government introduced Personal Independence Plan (PIP) in 2013, which has resulted in tens of thousands of disabled people lost their benefits. Undoubtedly this shook Scotland to its core as 167,000 new claims made by Scottish applicants have been rejected since the introduction of PIP.

To make matters worse, 39,000 people who were originally entitled to disability benefits were reassessed for PIP in Scotland and completely lost their benefits. Clearly, the UK Government’s version of welfare reform has been disastrous as the introduction of PIP has led 30,000 people to appeal the process and challenge their decisions which have not only led to financial insecurity but also adds stress and anxiety.

I am particularly concerned by some of the abhorrent restrictions placed on individuals applying for PIP- especially through the “20-metre rule” that prevents those who can walk 20 metres from receiving the higher rate of mobility assistance. This directly discriminates against those with conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) where their symptoms fluctuate. It shows once again how disconnected the Tory Government are from the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Meanwhile, the SNP are offering an alternative to those with disabilities by championing a society which promotes dignity and respect at its very core. This comes as social security is devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government will recognise the challenges faced by people with disabilities and prioritise providing equal access to workplaces, ensuring the best support is on offer.

The recent Scottish Government budget only but confirms this. The budget is a landmark in the creation of Scotland’s new social security system. We are committing £3.4 billion in 2020/21 to go directly to the people of Scotland who need it the most.

The new system will be built completely from scratch - the most significant new public service to be created in Scotland since devolution. However, it means that by the end of this parliamentary term we will have introduced eleven benefits that will help over 800,000 people in the next year.

And by 2024 we will deliver 16 benefits and reach 1.8 million children and adults and pay out an estimated £4 billion. This is part of our commitment to ensure that our services are designed with the help of those that use it, to meet the needs of the people of Scotland now and in future.

We will also continue fighting to break down barriers that inhibit those with disabilities, through the Promoting Equality and Cohesion Fund which provides funding to equality organisations. Additionally, the SNP has accredited the charity Motability Scheme, to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles at affordable rates.

These services will all be implemented through Scotland’s new social security system- which will prioritise respect- something that the Tory Government have failed to do.

Stewart Stevenson
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