Supporting Families -Scottish Parliament speech 5th. November 2009

This is an interesting and important debate.
The central issue for all our children is their entitlement to live in safety and security in a loving home, and to be nurtured.
It is not just in poor families that children are denied those things.
I would be concerned by any implication that poverty means that children are denied a healthy and happy upbringing. In my constituency, there are families who, despite their financial circumstances, could teach us all a lesson about how to parent.
As a parent, I often have grave anxieties about my capacity to find a safe place to rear my children.
I am concerned at the implication that the issue is one for "them out there" and not for all of us as a society. In that context, a financial incentive to marry is entirely irrelevant.
The issue that is of concern is the extent to which we value children and families.
Elizabeth Smith talked about Iain Duncan Smith's Damascene conversion in Easterhouse.
He may have wished to reflect on the issue a little earlier, in the 1980s, when people were telling him what was happening in communities throughout Scotland and beyond.
It is not enough to create the impression that poverty is a plague in which no political decisions have been made. People live in difficulty because of political decisions—we should reflect on that.
The motion
"regrets that one in four children"
lives in a family in which there is a lone parent.
First, there are parents who are widowed who actively choose to spend the rest of their lives bringing up and focusing on their children.
The implication that that is the wrong choice is cause for concern.
Equally, for some people it is a courageous decision to leave a marriage to protect their children, especially given the financial implications for women of making that choice.
There is a dichotomy at the heart of the issue.
When we talk about domestic abuse, how often do we hear the question, "Why doesn't she leave?"
However, when she leaves, it is implied that she is creating problems for her children.
One of the problems for lone parents is not the fact of lone parenthood in itself but the way in which we support them financially and give them economic opportunity.
When I was a teacher, there were a number of occasions on which youngsters were disturbed by the periodic reappearance of their father, who caused mayhem in their homes.
One young boy could not, when his father was at home, sleep for fear of what would happen to his mother and could not, as a result, learn the next day.
The Tories ought to move away from the glib suggestion that lone parenthood in itself is the problem.
If we wish to support families, we need to address how inequality and disadvantage are experienced, and how we can create economic opportunities, safe communities and safe families to allow people to thrive.
Yesterday we got information on a skills strategy, which did not reflect that
The enterprise strategy contains no responsibility for place or people and does not address the inequality that disproportionately leaves women as carers in low-paid jobs, with no recognition of their needs.
We need an education system that talks about more than buildings and class sizes, and which recognises that some of our children cannot even access education because of what is happening in their wider life.
We need to understand the particular pressures on different kinds of families, such as the families of disabled children.
I regret that the Scottish Government did not step up to the mark in addressing the transformational change that is required to support those families and which would allow those children and their siblings to achieve their potential.
On kinship care, there is an issue with the benefits system, but the Scottish Government has a responsibility to address the huge diversity between what is offered to kinship carers in different parts of the country.
It has to recognise that the issue is as much about children's rights as anything else.
The SNP Government needs to recognise the vulnerability of funding to the voluntary sector, which will have a consequence for families.
There ought to be no sacred cows—nothing should be off-limits.
There should, rather, be proper reflection on what is happening, in order that our families can be protected.

Elderly Care - Scottish Parliament speech 28th. October 2009

I welcome the minister's contribution on this important issue.
I also pay tribute to my colleague Irene Oldfather, who has, along with the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing, driven a lot of the work on the issue. Unfortunately, because of to her own caring responsibilities, she is unable to contribute today.
In debating services for older people, we must recognise that many older people are active and positive contributors, even though—inevitably—the discussion then begins to focus on care issues.
When Malcolm Chisholm and Rhona Brankin, as ministers, drove our older people's strategy, they were keen to ensure that there was an emphasis on the former aspect as well as on care
I hope that colleagues will forgive me if I concentrate on care issues in my speech.
Journalists do not often find themselves being praised in the Parliament, but I begin by offering a vote of thanks to the BBC and The Herald for what was investigative journalism at its best.
They made an important contribution to opening up a more rigorous debate on the nature of care of older people in our communities by confronting us all with the reality of neglect and abuse of vulnerable older people.
The "Panorama" exposé on home care and the more recent Herald investigation have had a powerful impact, but I regret that there has been insufficient evidence of urgency on the part of the Scottish Government in its response to their findings.
The investigations revealed the misery and inadequate support of real men and women.
Those findings are in tune with the reports of some of my constituents and, I am sure, of constituents of members throughout the chamber.
Few of us will be untouched by the realities and frustrations of securing proper care for older people.
Too many people—and their carers—describe their search for consistency and continuity of care as a battle or a struggle that is shaped by fear for the future rather than by confidence.
When we think of carers' battles for their loved ones, how much more fearful should we be for those without family or those for whom family members, as The Herald identified, are the problem because they are the perpetrators of abuse?
In the face of that situation, the Scottish Government's approach as indicated by the concordat—although certainly not by the broader contribution from the minister today, which was welcome—focuses simply on respite places and funding issues around free personal care.
That approach is inadequate and it misses the point.
We know all too well of cases in which people are offered inappropriate respite and that, as a consequence, much-needed support is not taken up.
It is also evident that we need to go beyond simple repetition of a commitment to free personal care, to addressing the quality of care and, indeed, what we mean by care.
The journalistic investigations have highlighted the gap between the reality in communities and the debate that the Parliament has been having over time.
We face a massive challenge: if the voices describing physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable people and those who are unable to defend themselves are to be heard properly and understood, we should not—indeed, we cannot—be defensive.
Our response must be brutally honest and urgent.
This is no time to explain away or defend the situation, or to marshal statistics to prove that everything is better than it has ever been—or, if it is not, to claim that the blame lies elsewhere.
I agree with the minister that the huge challenges that face us go beyond our usual politicking: this is the time for members of this Parliament to ask what we can do to address the challenges, and to examine what we need to change in order to respond to this scandal at the heart of our communities.
The challenge for ministers, the Scottish Government and the Parliament is to acknowledge that everything that they do must be tested against whether it makes people safer or makes things worse.
One example is the Scottish National Party's commitment to a centrally imposed council tax freeze.
Although the move has given some older people £1 or so a week extra in their pockets, it has also resulted in cuts to their day care services at a time when the Scottish budget has increased by £600 million.
If we are to interrogate the options seriously, we cannot simply leave to one side the reality of the impact of the imposed council tax freeze, with only assertion to defend it.
In response to the "Panorama" programme, the minister has said that she will issue guidance on home care that will be "very robust indeed".
I would welcome more information on whether that work has been done, on the dialogue that she has had with local authorities on the matter and on concerns that have been expressed about contracts.
As I say, the nature and scale of the challenge demand creative thinking and the acknowledgement that, as far as our society's priorities are concerned, we are in very-big-question territory.
Although much of the debate about older people has focused on pensions and funding, and despite our recognition that for many people the fourth age is a time for learning new skills and facing new challenges, the fact is that surveys of older people have repeatedly identified as key concerns loneliness, isolation and safety issues.
How should the Scottish Government be protecting those often very low-level but nonetheless lifeline services that are provided by lunch clubs, projects that take people to the library or to church and community transport schemes that allow people to visit hospital—in other words, the services that provide the kind of experiences that sustain people in their own homes, as opposed to care regimes that contain them there?
How is the Scottish Government going to support the community initiatives—such as the reminiscence groups run by the Village Storytelling Centre in my area—that seek to intervene early in respect of the impact of dementia, or the services that support elderly carers who wish to keep their loved ones with them as long as possible?
The fear is that, despite this debate and discussion, those very services, which provide people with real quality of life, are seen as luxuries when funding decisions are made.
We must be concerned by Audit Scotland's finding that local authority spending on care is being retrenched towards high-level needs, so I would welcome the minister's saying what discussions she has had with local authorities on that shift.
We have to fear for localised services when the efficiencies that the Scottish Government is demanding might be resulting in the stripping out of the key bits of care that make a difference.
We must acknowledge that if such services, which are driven by a compassionate understanding of need, are proving to be vulnerable, and if contracts are being squeezed to the extent that care providers are experiencing high staff turnover, the result can be the unbearable image from the "Panorama" programme—which is, I am sure, seared on all our minds—of an elderly man being washed while his carer was talking on her mobile phone.
Such an image will drive everyone in the chamber to tackle these issues.
I am interested to find out what the Scottish Government is doing to address staff turnover and the lack of regular contact with the same person, which are particular concerns in relation to quality of care.
I cannot be the only member with constituents who still, with all the stress that it involves, go home at lunchtime to check whether the support for their elderly parents has been delivered in the right way.
I am glad that the minister has acknowledged the critical role that the voluntary sector can play in understanding and meeting needs.
However, what is the sector's real role in the Government's work streams?
I understand that we cannot start with a blank sheet of paper, but liberating those who best understand need to tell us what has to be done has informed policy in the past and can do so again.
For example, we know that older volunteers have played a key role in supporting people and that an active interest in volunteering can keep people healthy and involved for longer.
It is therefore a matter of regret that the retired and senior volunteer programme had to close through lack of funding.
I am sure that the minister will recognise the anxiety of many that the shift in the balance of care will lead to increased pressure on carers, including voluntary carers.
I seek from the minister assurances on sustained funding, particularly for carer centres, which advocate for carers and offer a proper understanding of their experience as well as a support and help group for them through very challenging times.
Such centres provide proper and meaningful support so that carers can do what they want to do as well as possible. Although I understand that spending alone does not solve problems, stopping spending often creates problems or compounds them.
That is my concern about what is seen as the bonus issue.
There is an important debate to be had about the limit of technology as a means of supporting people in their homes. Although technology can buttress support in practical ways, it cannot be a substitute for it.
Technology cannot hold a person's hand when they are sad.
I am interested in what work the minister has done to shape the current approach of the Minister for Housing and Communities, at a time when sheltered housing is reducing—the number of wardens is reducing—and when organisations such as Inclusion Scotland are highlighting the need for local authorities to do more to provide housing to meet disabled people's needs.
Another issue is the effectiveness of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care in monitoring and in dealing with those who abuse the trust that we place in them to care for people.
We must ask how a dementia strategy can be supported and funded so that we transform the nature of care and provide proper processes in relation to personalised care and who is in control.
The future care of older people is a care issue, but it is also a justice issue.
We must hear from the minister about the discussions that she has had with justice officials and the care commission about prosecuting those who are guilty of stealing time from care packages or of abusing older people who are in their care.
That is not just in the interests of the identified victims; it will also deter those who might be tempted to prey on the elderly, which we will revisit tomorrow.
It is a scandal that the only action by the police as a consequence of the "Panorama" programme was to arrest the journalist who exposed the neglect rather than the perpetrators of it.
We should all condemn the treatment of the undercover journalist Arifa Farooq.
We must know that the justice system recognises its role in protecting the elderly.
If ever there was a need for a national conversation and a big debate, it is for one on future services to support older people.
People need consistency, continuity and confidence
The work of The Herald and the BBC opened up a set of circumstances.
It is a test for the Parliament to rise to the challenge. I assure the minister that, on the big questions, she will have the Opposition with her in ensuring that we have a proper strategy to protect our older people.

Volunteering - Scottish Parliament speech 8th. October 2009

Labour has chosen to use its time to debate volunteering and the voluntary sector both in recognition of their importance and because it is concerned about the lack of opportunities for consideration and scrutiny of the Scottish Government's approach that the Government has afforded.
The Scottish Government has promoted a wide range of non-debates in the chamber, but I cannot remember when these particular issues were last debated.
We want to give voice to concerns that are being reported to us by people throughout Scotland who are too afraid to speak up or speak out on their own behalf.
Indeed, I have been struck by the significant number of briefings that we have received as a result of this debate.
I thank everyone who provided a briefing; it is a measure of the subject's importance that they have been submitted.
It is right to recognise and celebrate the voluntary sector's role and we salute the volunteers who make a real difference to people who are very often the most isolated and vulnerable in our communities.
We know that volunteers can identify need, help to shape services and reach out into the parts of our communities where the state cannot go.
Volunteers such as those who work for Home-Start in my constituency can support and be trusted by vulnerable families who might fear more formal interventions by social work or health staff.
We know that volunteers make a massive social and economic contribution and that their influence on community life and cohesion is beyond measure.
We know, too, that volunteering enriches the lives of volunteers, both young and old; indeed, we have seen how significant the support for volunteering among older people has been.
Warm words, however, will sustain neither volunteers nor the voluntary sector and, like many others, I remain concerned that in its approach the SNP has been typically high on rhetoric but weak on delivery, with a separation between what it says it cares about and what it provides resources for.
I am also struck by the gap between ministers' approach, which borders on the complacent, and the issues that have been raised at a local level, including funding cuts, fears for the future and increased concern about the conditions of those who work with the voluntary sector.
In the time available, I will try to highlight some of those concerns.
First—and I do not say this lightly—I have been struck by the extent to which those involved have suggested that there is an atmosphere in which it is difficult for them to air concerns.
I hope that we all believe in and celebrate the independence of the voluntary sector, but the threat of the withdrawal of funding if critical voices are raised seems all too real.
That cannot be acceptable, but it has been reflected in the debate on the future of the councils for voluntary service network and the development of local interfaces.
Instead of following the principle of voluntary collaboration, we seem to be driving towards a forced measure, with funding being used to create compliance.
As I said, that is entirely unacceptable.
Secondly, there is concern that the Scottish Government seems to be of the view that the development of volunteering opportunities does not require resources.
The national volunteering strategy seems to have come to an end, and the single outcome agreements say nothing about the need for such strategies to be developed at a local level.
Thirdly, not that long ago, Unite, Unison and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations came together to highlight to the Parliament the crisis in the voluntary sector.
Who can forget the image of the hearse, which captured the fear of the sector's destruction?
Well, SNP back benchers will have forgotten it, because they did not have the courage to turn up and speak to the people who were raising these concerns.
There is also grave concern at the Scottish Government's lack of understanding of the powerful role that volunteering can play in tackling disadvantage, and we need to be proactive in encouraging such activity in our most disadvantaged communities.
After all, volunteering can improve skills, build confidence and form an important bulwark against the consequences of economic recession.
We need the Scottish Government to act, especially when we are faced with two contrasting sets of figures.
First, 18 per cent of adults in deprived communities volunteer, while the figure for Scotland is 33 per cent; secondly—and in stark contrast to that—the figure for young people not in education, employment or training is 11 per cent for the whole of Scotland, but 25 per cent in our 15 per cent most deprived communities.
The Scottish Government must find a way of intervening to ensure that our poorest communities, which would benefit most from the skills that volunteering can bring, are afforded such opportunities.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Does the member not agree that one of the difficulties that the voluntary sector is facing is the move to compel people who do not want to go into employment or training to accept a place in the sector? Surely the whole ethos of volunteering is that it should be voluntary. Does the member agree that compulsion in this matter is very wrong and will she condemn the United Kingdom Government for trying to force through such a measure?

Johann Lamont: I regret the fact that Tricia Marwick wishes to attack the United Kingdom Government, rather than join us in contemplating challenges in our local communities.
Young people in poor communities could be afforded the opportunity to volunteer, which would address the fact that disproportionate numbers of them have been hit by the recession.
The Scottish Government's answer to that situation is to end funding for ProjectScotland, a body that has a focus on reaching out to young people for whom it is more difficult to access volunteering opportunities and who would benefit disproportionately from them.
There are examples of that in my community and, I am sure, throughout Scotland.
Despite that, the Scottish Government is ending ProjectScotland's funding.
The Government says that it is a matter of cost, but the reality is that 87 per cent of the money from the public purse that is used to support volunteering opportunities through ProjectScotland goes directly into the pockets of the young volunteers and, from those young people, out into the hard-pressed communities in which they live.
We know that 40 per cent of ProjectScotland's volunteers come from the 20 per cent most deprived communities.
At a time of economic recession, it is bizarre for the Scottish Government to make that decision, which shows a lack of understanding of the recession's disproportionate impact on poor communities and individuals.
It is time for the Scottish Government to confront the consequences of its decisions.
Its budget has increased in real terms by £600 million, but it is devolving responsibility to local level, with a reduced budget.
As a consequence, there are cuts in local government budgets.
Local government's capacity to find resources is restricted because of the impact of the council tax freeze.
The Scottish Government must accept that the funding problems that voluntary sector organisations and local volunteers are experiencing are its responsibility.
The Scottish Government should take a lesson from volunteers and the volunteering spirit.
It should take responsibility and recognise that warm words mean nothing without action to make the commitment real.
Having created huge problems for voluntary organisations and volunteering, the minister adds insult to injury by walking by on the other side.
I urge him to reconsider his position on ProjectScotland and to listen to and engage honestly with all those in the voluntary sector who wish to volunteer but who tell us that there are significant problems at local level.
That will give us confidence that volunteers and the voluntary sector can survive and thrive again.

I move,
That the Parliament recognises and celebrates the role of the voluntary sector and volunteers across Scotland in supporting individuals, families and communities and in shaping and delivering services locally; notes the excellent work of volunteering organisations in encouraging volunteering through offering training and volunteering placements and particularly in reaching out to those who might not otherwise have the chance to volunteer; agrees, given the opportunity that volunteering provides to develop skills and build confidence, that, in this economic recession, volunteering organisations should be given adequate resources to allow them to do that important work, and further agrees that innovative organisations that create structured volunteering placements for young people, such as ProjectScotland, should be recognised and supported by the Scottish Government.

Winding-up speech

Johann Lamont: The debate has been interesting, because it has captured three elements of the SNP's approach since it came into government.
First, there has been further evidence of its willingness to ignore the will of Parliament.
Parliament has spoken before on the issue of ProjectScotland, but the SNP has chosen to ignore its voice.
Secondly, we have heard warm words that are a million miles away from delivery or any sense of responsibility for what is happening.
Thirdly, there has been absolute silence from Government back benchers, who are unwilling to suggest that anything that ministers are doing may not be absolutely correct.
I was chided by an SNP back bencher when I mentioned their craven compliance.
She told me that I did not like the fact that SNP members are united.
My problem is that I do not like unity that is at the expense of voluntary organisations and others that need members to speak up for them.
The great test of the maturity of the SNP Government is whether its back benchers are allowed and have the confidence to raise even a squeak about the problems that our local communities face.

Tricia Marwick: Given my record over the past few weeks, when I spoke here opposing the Government on an issue in my constituency, I object strongly to the member's suggestion that I would not criticise ministers. However, I will not criticise them on this occasion, because on this occasion they are right.

Johann Lamont: The member is to be congratulated on having the confidence to oppose the Government once; whether that is followed through in voting is a different matter.
The point has been made, and the member may want to reflect on it.
I have referred to the Government's warm words.
Is the minister seriously saying that there are no concerns in voluntary organisations and among volunteers, and that they do not think that there is a problem?
He said that all the pessimism is here in the chamber, rather than in the outside world.
What does he think the hearse that was brought to the Parliament was about?
Why does he think that Unite, Unison and the SCVO came together to express their concerns?
Why, does he imagine, are people talking about the cuts at local level?
Are they just making it up, as Tricia Marwick seemed to suggest?
I found her comments that the voluntary sector has to be about more than just jobs for those who work in it absolutely insulting to those who have raised issues of concern; she may wish to reflect on that.
In relation to Mr Mather's warm words and the issue of ProjectScotland, I do not think that the whole debate is actually about ProjectScotland. ProjectScotland captures an approach.
I would like somebody in the SNP to explain to me why its members have such a problem with ProjectScotland. They are supporting a motion that welcomes
"organisations that create structured volunteering placements for young people, such as ProjectScotland",
and they agree that such organisations
"should be recognised and supported by the Scottish Government."
Are SNP members seriously saying that support does not involve funding, and that it involves only warm words? If so, they need to reflect on that, too.
We are told that there is a value-for-money test for ProjectScotland.
As we have said, 87 per cent of the moneys will go into the pockets of young people in the poorest of our communities.
Perhaps the minister would have more credibility on the argument around the value-for-money test if he was not promoting a Scottish Futures Trust that is spending £23 million to deliver absolutely nothing.
The minister has spoken about passion. We all have passion about the voluntary sector.
However, passion does not deliver services, and it does not in itself make a difference in our communities.
The interesting thing about people who volunteer—and about the voluntary sector—is that they have passion in partnership with a hard-headed approach.
If volunteers say that they are in dire straits, we should listen to them, rather than dismiss them in the way that has been suggested in the debate.
The Government makes great play of the resilience fund.
Apparently, it is wonderful and it will help the voluntary sector when it is under the cosh.
Actually, that captures a lack of responsibility.
The Scottish Government creates the crisis, cutting funding to local government despite its increased budget; it imposes a council tax freeze; and it uses a single outcome agreement model and the concordat without properly funding it, which is the major problem, rather than the model itself, as is suggested in Robert Brown's amendment. Then, when people say that there is a problem, the Government creates a resilience fund of £1.7 million for one year only—from old, previously announced money—which is a sticking plaster, and then trumpets that as a great success and evidence of its willingness to address the problem.
The minister talks about how the SCVO, COSLA and the Scottish Government have produced a joint statement.
That joint statement, on glossy paper, leaves unspoken some of the key issues that voluntary organisations, voluntary sector representatives and volunteers themselves have been addressing, including the difficult issue of full cost recovery.
The minister started by saying that he wanted to accentuate the positive.
The problem with that approach, which captures the language of a cheesy song from a cheesy musical, is that the minister is entirely distancing himself from the consequence of his Government's actions.
He is creating the impression that being nice about things will make a difference.
As I have said, however, the voluntary sector is a tough place, doing tough things, and it deserves a better approach than that.
The minister talked about ProjectScotland as a niche product.
As that one phrase shows, could there be a bigger gap between our vision, across the Parliament, of what ProjectScotland is and the minister's view of it?
It is a project that has changed lives.
The minister says that the Government wants to focus on people who are really difficult to reach, rather than on people who do not deserve it.
The figures about the reduction in placements across Scotland show that those reductions are coming about in the poorest of our communities, not in better-off communities.
Where ProjectScotland was reaching out to youngsters in deprived communities, it is now less able to do so.
I urge the minister, SNP back benchers and the Scottish Government to treat volunteering and voluntary organisations with respect.
There is a surfeit of warm words wherever we talk about volunteering, but the test must be whether the SNP is willing to recognise that this is not a trumped-up debate by the Opposition but a reflection of serious concerns across Scotland about the way in which Government decisions and actions are hampering organisations' capacity to do what they do best.
When meeting representatives of voluntary sector organisations, I urge the minister to deal with the issue of intimidation and to meet them as genuine partners.
We will judge the capacity and effectiveness of such meetings by whether there is a shift in his and his Government's policy.