On Saturday morning I spent some time responding to letters from second-year pupils at St Andrew’s and St Bride’s Senior School. The letters, all about the current refugee crisis, were really well thought out: Lots of different opinions about the situation, about the need to help, why we should and how we could do so. The overwhelming theme was compassion. Whilst sad at the content, I was pleased that the school discussed such things and that the young people were moved to write.
Sometimes I hear it said that ‘charity begins at home’, but as far as school pupils in East Kilbride are concerned, it certainly shouldn’t end there. I suspect all of our schools in East Kilbride, primary and senior, fundraise and do charity work as both local and global citizens. Churches, community groups and individuals too, right across the town, constantly raise funds for local charities and overseas work.
Sadly, fundraising and charity doesn’t solve everything. The current welfare system run by the UK Government is abandoning some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and failing to provide the safety net that some need. We’re now used to requests from foodbanks to make donations from our weekly shop, and aware from organisations like East Kilbride’s Loaves and Fishes that they are much, much busier than ever before in their 25 years of service to the town.
The Scottish Government has mitigated some of the excesses of that UK system, like the bedroom tax for example, and by boosting the Scottish Welfare Fund. New powers will be transferred too, but only accounting for 15 percent of the total Scottish benefit bill. Disability benefits and Carer’s Allowance are being transferred over, along with the ability to vary some elements of Universal Credit. Unfortunately Jobseeker’s Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance will stay with the Tories in London.
We are determined that, where we have responsibility, we will operate in a way that is humane and treats people with dignity, fairness and respect. The Scottish Government’s consultation on social security is now closed – many people in East Kilbride made submissions to that and this will help shape the new system. Now, the Social Security Minister, wants to hear from those with direct experience – those who currently rely on benefits, workers with knowledge of the system. She is determined to listen to those who really know, rather than those who just think they do!
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the latest Ken Loach film – ‘Daniel Blake’ – which is the story of someone who is well and truly shafted by the system and the awful effects that has. The local Citizens Advice Bureau, local advocacy services, volunteers and others, can talk of the ‘Daniel Blakes’ that they meet in our town regularly. In all my many years of working with the public, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve had people coming to my office who are hungry – yes, actually hungry. Things must change, and we must do all we can to effect that change.
Earlier this morning, I noticed that pupils from Calderglen Senior School recently raised a load of funds for the Beatson Cancer Charity. This weekend I’m heading for young Sam Hanna’s fundraiser for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity. Along with the East Kilbride Seniors Forum I thoroughly enjoyed the visit of The Singing Children of Africa at our Parliament last week – a marvellous charity set up by a Scottish grandmother. I finished my day on Saturday at the Claremont Church Craft Fayre in aid of the Red Cross Refugee Fund. All people working for others, and to make a difference. So important.