Help is a phone call away 

As we all face extra restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, Iain Gray MSP is helping promote the free support available from The British Red Cross.

The charity says that support is just a phone call away for anyone who is lonely, worried or in need as a result of the increased measures being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus across Scotland.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The British Red Cross has been doing an outstanding job supporting people facing hardship or in need of some extra help through the pandemic and continues to offer confidential support and advice for those in need.

 “Its Covid-19 support line – 0808 1963651 – is a one-stop-shop for emotional support and practical help. The line is confidential and open to anyone and I urge anyone in need of assistance to use it.”

For those who don’t speak English, translators are available, and people can also email SupportLine@redcross.org.uk if they prefer.

For more information about the Support Line, visit redcross.org.uk/get-help/coronavirus/support-line

Report reveals growing scale of child poverty crisis

A new report from a coalition of anti-poverty groups has revealed that around 5,000 children in East Lothian (26.2 per cent) are now estimated to be living in poverty, a rise of nearly four per cent in the period 2014 to 2019.

Published by the End Child Poverty campaign, the research shows that child poverty has increased in nearly every Scottish local authority and Westminster constituency since 2014/15.

The report is based on data published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in March 2020, and on estimates of the effect of housing costs on poverty rates produced by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, based on survey evidence.

The new data, which does not include the period of Covid-19 and lockdown, shows the scale of the challenge faced by UK, Scottish and local government if commitments to end child poverty in Scotland are to be met. It also comes just a week after a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report which showed nearly one in four children in Scotland are growing up in poverty.

Local MSP Iain Gray has blamed the impact of the UK Government’s Universal Credit welfare system, which was piloted in the East Lothian area, and cuts to public services for the above average increase in the county’s child poverty rate since 2014.

Commenting on the new figures, Mr Gray said:

“This is the latest in a series of reports over recent months that have highlighted increasing levels of child poverty across Scotland. Despite the best efforts of the local council, East Lothian is not immune from the effects of the calamitous Universal Credit, years of austerity and cuts to funding for local services which are driving up poverty levels here and elsewhere.

“This report shows how important it is for governments at both Scottish and UK level to focus on lifting children and families out of poverty rather than obsessing about constitutional questions. Too many children are being failed by government policies, with more now growing up in poverty than five years ago.

“The scale of the problem revealed by the report also underlines the importance of redoubling local efforts on poverty, which is why I have called for East Lothian’s plans for tackling deprivation and inequality to be revisited and renewed in light of the pandemic.”

The full report and further background information can be found at www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/child-poverty-in-your-area-201415-201819/

Iain welcomes Committee U-turn on Bill to protect private tenants 

The Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill, which aims to protect renters from uncontrolled rent increases, has been given another shot at success due to a dramatic U-turn from the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee.

In June this year, the Committee said it had run out of time to take the Bill to Stage One, meaning it would have no chance of being considered before next year’s Holyrood election.

After a sustained campaign by Scottish Labour and Mike Dailly at the Govan Law Centre, the Committee announced this week that they would now be taking evidence with a view to proceeding with the Bill.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was very concerned that a vital piece of legislation like this had been dropped by a committee. For that reason, I was pleased that Mike Dailly, of his own accord, took a petition to the Court of Session on behalf of his client Jayne Ely from ‘Living Rent’.

“I am absolutely delighted that the Local Government Committee have now had a change of heart. Tenants in East Lothian, now more than ever, need an effective set of laws that give them the right to have their rent assessed and action to curb above inflation rate increases. 

“I call on the Scottish Government to listen to renters in these difficult times and support this bill as a first step in serious law reform in the private rented sector.”

Jayne Ely from Living Rent said:

“I’m really pleased that this Bill is finally going to be considered by Parliament.

“It is important for low income families like mine that this issue is taken seriously, especially given the effect the coronavirus is having on our incomes and jobs.”

St Andrew’s First Aid #Savinglivesforthefuture campaign

St Andrew’s First Aid, Scotland’s only dedicated first aid charity, has launched a new fundraising campaign to help raise half a million pounds and ensure that it can continue its ambition to create a nation of lifesavers – an ambition for which everyone can play a valuable role.

Through the impact of Covid-19, St Andrew’s First Aid has seen its regular sources of income slashed. The charity has launched a public campaign to raise much-needed funds to support its important work.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“St Andrews First Aid has performed a vital role across Scottish society for 140 years. In countless disaster and emergency situations up and down the country, its volunteers have been the first ones on the scene, tending to casualties and saving lives. 

“Like so many other charities, it is now facing a financial crisis brought on by the impact of Covid-19. I’m pleased to help promote its call for assistance and encourage anyone who feels the same way to donate to its fundraising campaign now.”

Stuart Callison, chief executive of St Andrew’s First Aid, said:

“The pandemic has delivered us a brutal blow. Without any events taking place or training courses to deliver, our income literally dried up overnight.

“As Scotland’s only dedicated first aid charity, we have a unique history that has woven us into the very fabric of the country. Without our volunteers on site, there could be no football matches, music concerts or community gatherings and our favourite food and drink festivals would be drastically restricted in size.

“I hope that the people of Scotland will get behind us and our incredible volunteers, so that we can still be around in another 140 years.”

It is easy to support St Andrew’s First Aid in its time of need – just Text SAFA to 70660 or access the fundraising page at www.firstaid.org.uk/ donate now to donate £10 and help the charity save lives for the future.

North Berwick Trust Covid-19 Support Grants

Businesses and charities in North Berwick that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic can still apply for grants from the North Berwick Trust.
 
This could be to help with paying rent, making a building Covid safe, or adapting your business model to the new circumstances.
Forms and guidance notes are available at www.northberwicktrust.co.uk/covid-19-support-grant-update/
 
The closing date for applications is 31st October 2020.

Local enterprise highlighted in report on strength of co-operative model

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed a new report highlighting the resilience of co-operatives in Scotland and the role they have played in helping communities through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Revive and thrive: Why co-ops are pivotal to a fairer, stronger Scotland says the movement could now support people to get back to work in the face of widespread redundancies and business crises.

Prepared for the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Co-operatives, the report sets out six recommendations for policy-makers to act on, now and after next May’s Holyrood election, to further develop the co-op sector in Scotland.

The Crunchy Carrot in Dunbar features in the report as one of four case studies of Scottish co-ops that continued to operate and serve their communities during lockdown and beyond.

The report highlights that the community shop moved from delivering 60 weekly veg boxes before the pandemic to 350 during the early stages of lockdown, when it was closed and the business went delivery-only. Deliveries continued throughout, with customer requests maintained due to strong relationships with local suppliers.

Welcoming the report, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Co-ops always have an important role in the economy and local communities but, as this report highlights, they really came into their own during lockdown. Local co-ops across Scotland rose to meet the new challenges and adapted to serve their communities and make a positive difference, and it’s great to see the Crunchy Carrot featured as one of the examples.

“However, as well as showcasing the contribution made by co-ops during the pandemic, this report also makes important recommendations on how the Scottish Government can better support the co-operative movement. I hope Ministers will respond positively to the report and adopt its recommendations to support co-operatives.”

James Wright of Co-operatives UK, who wrote the report, said:

“The crisis has shown a need for greater co-operation at all levels of Scottish society and the economy.  It has highlighted the need for people and businesses to work together more – and more efficiently – and the report highlights the success of Scottish co-ops rising to the challenge of helping Scots weather the coronavirus storm.”

The full report can be downloaded at www.uk.coop/resources/revive-and-thrive-why-co-ops-are-pivotal-fairer-stronger-scotland

No concrete evidence of progress on attainment gap four years after fund launched

Four years after the launch of the Scottish Attainment Challenge it is difficult to tell what impact the Attainment Scotland Fund has had on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

The Scottish Government have celebrated the “perceptions” of impact and success from headteachers, however the report evaluating the Fund’s impact, released this week, makes clear that quantitative measures linked to the National Improvement Framework tell a different story.

The report states: “Overall, quantitative measures of the attainment gap do not yet show a consistent pattern of improvement.”

Scottish Labour has today accused the Scottish Government of hiding from scrutiny and has called on it to reinstate measures, such as the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, that would allow the public to properly assess the SNP’s record on education.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray MSP said: 

“The First Minister once said that education was the top priority of her government, and John Swinney has repeatedly stated his intention to close the attainment gap.

“The reality however is that the Scottish Government has systematically removed the measures that would allow proper scrutiny of its record on education, such as the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.

“As a result we are four years into the ‘attainment challenge’ and many millions of pounds have been spent, yet the government are forced to celebrate the results of a survey because they lack any robust evidence to show that their interventions to close the attainment gap are actually  working.

“It is time for the Scottish Government to get serious about addressing the attainment gap and measuring it with robust evidence.”

Call for different approach on new restrictions

Iain Gray MSP is calling on the First Minister to reconsider her blanket geographic approach to tougher new restrictions, which are set to be based on central belt health board areas, and instead revert to using local authority boundaries to allow for a more targeted approach.

Mr Gray believes this would more fairly represent the risk levels in different areas, with East Lothian currently having a far lower rate of new cases than other authorities within NHS Lothian, and enable less harsh restrictions to be imposed here.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The latest Public Health Scotland data shows that East Lothian has a lower weekly rate of new cases than anywhere else in the NHS Lothian area, significantly so in the case of Edinburgh and West Lothian. However, because NHS boundaries are so large these new restrictions will affect us in the same way as other parts of the Lothians with much higher infection rates. Bizarrely, it also means that some local authority areas with higher rates than us in health boards outside the central belt will not be subject to the same level of harsher restrictions.

“This is a confusing, inconsistent and unfair approach which lacks robust evidence and reasoning. I know many local people, especially those in the hospitality sector, will find it baffling and extremely frustrating. I have written to the First Minister to highlight this and urge her to revert to using local authority rather than NHS boundaries for implementing the new restrictions. This would allow for a more targeted approach and hopefully enable businesses in East Lothian to continue with their recovery rather than facing a further two-week closure.”

Care Experienced Week 2020

Who Cares? Scotland is inviting people to get involved in the third annual Care Experienced Week, which takes place from Friday 23 October to Saturday 31 October.

Iain Gray MSP is helping to promote the week and the key events and activities Who Cares? Scotland is organising to help celebrate it.

These include the charities two traditional national events which have been moved online:

  • The Digital Love Rally will kick off the week on Friday 23 October at 19.00.  Some special speakers from across the world will be involved.
  • Time to Shine Online is the charity’s annual festival for Care Experienced people.  It takes place on Saturday 31 October from 12.00 to 16.00.  Registration for Care Experienced people is now open.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The annual Care Experienced Week is an important opportunity for care experienced people to celebrate what it means to them and their lives. It provides a range of inclusive opportunities for members of the Care Experienced Community to connect with each other.

“It is particularly needed in the current lockdown climate and I’m pleased to be support Who Cares? Scotland and help promote the week by encouraging anyone who could benefit to register now.”

Find out about what’s happening during the week and how to get involved on the Who Cares? Scotland website.

Wear Red Day highlights important anti-racism message

Iain Gray MSP is supporting the annual Wear Red Day on Friday 16th October to show his support for the Show Racism the Red Card campaign.

The anti-racism educational charity organises the national day of action, now in its sixth year, which encourages schools, businesses and individuals to wear red and donate to the campaign.

Show Racism the Red Card was established in 1996 and utilises the high-profile status of football and football players to help tackle racism in society.

Most of the campaign’s output is the delivery of education to young people and adults in their schools, their workplaces and at events held in football stadiums. Across Britain, Show Racism the Red Card delivers training to more than 50,000 individuals per year.

Speaking ahead of Wear Red Day, Iain Gray MSP said:

“There has been an unprecedented focus on racism and the importance of challenging it over recent months thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Football has very much been at the forefront of the campaign, with clubs, players and officials demonstrating their support in high profile ways.

“Show Racism the Red Card plays a huge role in raising awareness and educating people about anti-racism all-year-round. While we are living through exceptional circumstances this year, I hope East Lothian residents will join me in again supporting Wear Red Day and the fight against racism.” 

Find out more about Wear Red Day at www.theredcard.org/wear-red-day/