SNP MP appeals to UK Government to allow safe injecting pilot

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has called on the UK Government to give proper consideration to a request for a temporary relaxation of drugs laws, in order that a safe injecting pilot can be carried out.

Ms Thewliss – an ardent supporter of plans for a Safer Drugs Consumption Facility (SDCF) – will speak during a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, to highlight the myriad problems that drug users and the wider public face in Glasgow as a result of public injecting.

A cross-party letter, with signatures from a number of Scottish MPs, has been issued to the Home Office in order to demonstrate the extent of support for the plans which, up to now, have been blocked by the UK Government.

Commenting, Ms Thewliss said:

“Evidence on the need for action on this issue has never been more compelling. In 2015 for example, there was 47 new diagnoses of HIV compared to an annual average of 10, for those who are injecting drugs. Indeed, there is thought to be around 500 people who regularly inject drugs in public places in Glasgow City Centre alone.

“I can attest to the fact that Glasgow has a growing problem with respect to public injecting; my constituency office often receives reports of needles and other drug paraphernalia being discarded in public places. In addition, I have seen for myself public injecting taking place in locations not far from where my office is located.

“It’s clear to me that the drug injecting population in Glasgow face a number of different barriers in accessing health services which can help them with their addiction, and that current methods are falling short of offering the appropriate level of support. For this reason, Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, and other parties, have developed innovative plans for the implementation of a Safe Injecting Facility.

“It is imperative that the Home Office consider this request – which has cross-party support from a number of Scottish MPs – to allow an SDCF to be trialled in Glasgow. This issue has become a serious public health issue, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we do what we can to improve the situation not just for drug users, but for the wider public in general”.

Thewliss raises rape clause with new Cabinet Ministers

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has wasted no time in contacting new cabinet ministers regarding the damaging effects of the two child policy and rape clause, following the Prime Minister’s reshuffle earlier this week.

The campaigning MP has written to both Esther McVey, the new Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, and also to Karen Bradley, who was announced as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to ask that one of their priorities be to reverse the implementation of the two child policy for tax credits and Universal Credit, and the associated rape clause.

The Government legislated in April 2017 to restrict Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit (child element) claims to the first two children in a family, a decision which the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has said will force 200,000 children below the poverty line.

In addition, women who have conceived a third or subsequent child as a result of rape, must apply for an exemption, requiring them to relive their harrowing ordeal during an interview. In Northern Ireland, third party referrers are obliged under law to report instances of rape, even if doing so means that women are placed in further danger of violence.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“This is as good a time as any for the UK Government to drop the vile and medieval rape clause, and stigmatising two child policy which lies behind it.

“Esther McVey is now the fifth Secretary of State for the DWP since I was elected in 2015, and the first woman in that time. I want to know from her whether she is comfortable in making a woman who has suffered the trauma of rape, domestic violence and coercive control go through the shame of proving her child was conceived as a result of that sexual abuse.

“Similarly, I am keen to understand Karen Bradley’s views on the ongoing legal uncertainty in Northern Ireland with respect to this policy. The current system places third party referrers in an impossible position and arguably puts women off claiming an exemption at all. If cases are referred to the police, this potentially places women who are already vulnerable in even more danger at the hands of their abusive partners.

“So far, the UK Government has failed to listen on this issue. I am hopeful that the Prime Minister’s reshuffle presents an opportunity for the right thing to be done by women and families, and for this abhorrent policy to be rescinded once and for all”.

SNP MP calls for more guidance on breastmilk sharing

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has urged the UK Government to offer guidance on milk sharing – a practice that thousands of women are already participating in through online networks across the country.

Milk sharing has become an increasingly popular method for mothers to get access to breastmilk for their babies, particularly amongst those who have encountered difficulties when breastfeeding.

The sharing of breastmilk online is unregulated and some experts are concerned that without NHS supervision or Government guidance, there is a chance that the practice could spread infection and viruses.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“There is a growing recognition of the unique qualities of breastmilk, and the growth of milk sharing online is to some degree a symptom of this. It is important that milk donors are following best practice to ensure breastmilk is free from any contaminants, but this will always have a degree of uncertainty when people are sharing milk online.

“Milk banks provide safe and rigorously screened donor breastmilk for those babies who need it. The model used by One Milk Bank for Scotland ensures that breastmilk can be collected from donors, processed and distributed using a well-developed network, and I would like to see this available across the rest of the UK. At the moment, milk banks are often underfunded and running as a project of individual hospitals.

“This also sits in the context of cuts to breastfeeding support projects – Unicef Baby Friendly highlighted recently that local infant feeding leads in England had reported a 47% cut in support groups, and a 58% cut in health visitors. Women who wish to breastfeed can find themselves without the valuable support and expertise they need, and may turn to online donors as an alternative to their own milk.

“I am keen for the UK Government to work with the UK Association of Milk Banks to invest in services to allow those wishing to donate breastmilk to be able to do so locally, in a safe and regulated way, and for those requiring breastmilk for their babies to be able to access it easily. I have asked to meet with Ministers to discuss how breastmilk can be shared safely.”

Alison Thewliss MP marks 200 years of Parkinson’s UK

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has joined the charity Parkinson’s UK to mark 200 years since Parkinson’s disease was first recognised.

At the parliamentary reception in Westminster on Tuesday 5 December, Alison Thewliss MP met with representatives from the charity and people affected by Parkinson’s to hear about the charity’s ambitions to end the fear associated with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Ms Thewliss talked to staff and volunteers about the strides that have been made in understanding the condition since James Parkinson’s Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817. She heard about the work that is still to be done to stop the disease in its tracks, as there is no cure for Parkinson’s and current medication can’t stop the condition from progressing.

Ms Thewliss heard how important it is that people with Parkinson’s disease get the right financial support to help with the extra costs of living with the condition. Shockingly, 25 per cent of people with Parkinson’s are losing some or all of this support as they are moved from Disability Living Allowance to the replacement benefit Personal Independence Payment, leaving people unable to pay for aids and adaptations, energy bills and transport.

Parkinson’s affects 1 in 500 people in Glasgow Central, and can cause a myriad of symptoms including insomnia, depression, and hallucinations, robbing people of their independence. But through more research, improved services, and empowering people with Parkinson’s to take control, their quality of life can be drastically improved. Parkinson’s UK wants to see quality services as standard for the 127,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK. They also want people with Parkinson’s to feel empowered to take control of their lives, and to take part in clinical trials in their local area to help find better treatments and a cure in years, not decades.

After attending the event, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“I want to help ensure that people in Glasgow Central are not losing out as they are moved to Personal Independence Payment.

“I look forward to raising this issue nationally to ensure people get the support they need and feel empowered to take control of their life with Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson’s UK Chief Executive Steve Ford said:

“With 2017 marking such a significant anniversary for us, we wanted to reflect on what we have achieved and what we have yet to do in order to improve the lives of everybody affected by Parkinson’s, but we can’t do this alone.

“That’s why it’s brilliant Alison Thewliss MP has pledged to help us ensure people with Parkinson’s are getting the financial support they desperately rely on.

“We look forward to seeing the difference Alison Thewliss MP can make in Glasgow Central, and how she can help us to keep Parkinson’s on the political agenda.”

For advice, information and support, visit their website or call their free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303.

Alison Thewliss MP supports the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter

On Tuesday 12th December in Westminster, Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, signed the TUC “Dying to Work” Charter, to support and protect any of her employees who become terminally ill.

Since its launch in April 2016, The TUCs ‘Dying to Work’ Voluntary Charter now protects over half a million employees with companies such as Legal and General, Santander, Co-Op, Carillion, Rolls Royce and the Royal Mail joining E.On and signing up along with a number of public sector bodies including NHS trusts, police authorities and many local authorities.

The Dying to Work campaign was set up following the case of Jacci Woodcook, a 58-year-old sales manager from Derbyshire, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The campaign is calling for a change in the law to prevent the same thing happening to other working people.

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is shocking to think that if people with terminal illnesses are dismissed or forced out of their jobs that their loved ones will lose the death in service payments that the employee has planned for and earned through a life-time of hard work.”

“That is why I am proud to have signed the TUC ‘Dying to Work’ charter to protect my employees and I will be encouraging businesses in my constituency to follow suit and sign up to the TUC’s voluntary charter.”

“In addition, I hope something will soon be done to ensure that every individual with terminal illness will receive the protection and support they deserve.”

The campaign has also been endorsed by a number of trade unions and charities, including The National Council for Palliative Care, Hospice UK, Breast Cancer Care and Second Hope.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Serious illness is tough enough without having to put up with extra hassle at work. Everyone can surely agree that terminally-ill workers deserve protection.

“That’s why unions, MPs, employers and charities are coming together to ensure that workers get the support and protections they need when times are toughest.”

This broad support was demonstrated in a recent Survation poll of over a thousand people which found that 79% of respondents support a ‘protected period’ for terminally ill workers where they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition with only 3% opposing it.

SNP MP urges UK Government to think again on safe injecting facility

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has once again expressed her frustration at the UK Government’s position on safe injecting facilities, following a request from the Scottish Government to devolve drug laws to Scotland.

A Safe Injecting Facility (SIF) had been approved in principle by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership last year, and the idea had garnered consensus from a number of organisations including the Alcohol and Drug Partnership. The Home Office, which controls drug legislation, has however refused to back the plans, calling them illegal.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“In refusing to give credence to proposals for a Safe Injecting Facility, the Home Office is perpetuating the status quo for drug users and the wider public.

“Drug use and its associated problems are a major public health concern deserving of a forward-thinking, creative solution. Proposals for an SIF are exactly that, and have been developed by those who deal with issues relating to drug misuse and drug litter on a daily basis. SIFs give those with an addiction a safer place to use drugs, where medical staff can intervene in an emergency and also look to offer support services.

“Evidence from safe injecting facilities in other countries demonstrates that they reduce levels of drug addiction, as well as improving public safety through reducing the level of discarded needles and other items of drug paraphernalia. In 2015, Glasgow saw a 35% increase in new diagnoses of HIV among people who inject drugs in the city centre. Clearly, these figures do not suggest an improving picture.

“Doing nothing gives little hope to those injecting on our streets and fails to reassure local communities that the UK Government is taking this issue seriously. I fully support the Scottish Government’s calls to have drugs law devolved. Failure to do so it seems will let down those who clearly need support”.

SNP MP heralds multi-agency response to two child policy

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has praised the efforts of charities and organisations in coming together to condemn the two child cap and rape clause.

In a meeting held at Westminster today, UNISON, Women’s Aid, Child Poverty Action (CPAG), and representatives from a range of organisations, provided insight and testimony as to the effects being felt – in particular by women and families – as a result of UK Government changes to Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits which are now in force.

Commenting following the meeting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“I’ve been fighting the UK Government on this issue for over two years now, and it’s clear to see from the attendance at today’s meeting that there is growing agreement that the two child policy and rape clause is a pernicious and medieval policy, and that it must be revoked.

“Analysis by CPAG and the IPPR shows that in excess of 200,000 children will be forced below the poverty line as a result of the two child policy. Indeed, working families with three children could be up to £2,780 worse off per year under the new rules.

“In addition, the UK Government is putting women in Northern Ireland in an impossible position given that they, and third party professionals, risk criminalisation if they do not disclose rape to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Women in Northern Ireland should not be forced to choose between struggling to put food on the table or going through the full process of the criminal justice system.

“It is welcome that there is such strong agreement from charities and organisations on this issue. I sincerely hope that the weight of consensus will make the government see the error of its ways, and scrap the two child policy and the rape clause.”

SNP MP urges more action on measuring food insecurity

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has today called on the UK Government to do more to measure the extent of food insecurity across the country, to fully illustrate the root causes of this growing problem.

Thewliss, who has campaigned on the issue of food banks and food insecurity, spoke following the introduction of a ten minute rule motion by Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, asking the Government to better report on food security through the use of official statistics.

Commenting, Ms Thewliss said:

“I was disappointed – but far from surprised – to see The Trussell Trust report earlier this month that outlined that food bank use in Scotland has risen by 20% in the last year. Not only that, the research indicated that problems processing benefit claims represented the biggest cause for referrals to food banks in Scotland, making up around 42% of cases. This is completely unacceptable, and the UK Government should be ashamed that its actions are driving people further into food poverty.

“I fully support Emma Lowell-Buck’s Bill – measuring the scale of this problem is a necessity, and is a move supported by organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Oxfam and the UK Food Poverty Alliance, amongst many others. The UK Government continues to deny there is a problem, and seem unwilling to act on the testimony of charities and those having to visit food banks. I am hopeful that a formal measurement will force them to take notice.

“They would do well to follow the steps taken by the Scottish Government who last year set up an independent working group on food poverty, and whose findings are now being built on by the ‘Menu for Change’ partnership – an alliance of charities who have come together to evolve the response to food poverty in Scotland.

“The local response in Glasgow to the issue of hunger has been admirable – for example, Dalmarnock Primary School hosted a summer club where parents and children could eat a hot meal together during the summer holidays, offering key support for many families struggling to make ends meet.

“It is a scandal that the UK Government is forcing people into desperate situations, I will continue to challenge their failure to acknowledge the root causes of food poverty.”

Budget 2017: A missed opportunity to scrap rape clause

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has voiced her exasperation following the Chancellor’s budget statement today, which once again failed to address the shortcomings of the mediaeval two child policy and rape clause. The Glasgow MP noted that the omission only served to further illustrate the Government’s reluctance to do the right thing by women and families.

The two child cap restricts tax credit payments to the first two children per family. At the same time, it forces women who want to claim an exemption for a third child – for example as a result of rape – to do so by submitting evidence and navigating a laborious administrative process.

Commenting following the Chancellor’s budget speech, Ms Thewliss said:

“I am sorely disappointed and exasperated that the Chancellor has missed yet another opportunity to do the right thing and scrap the UK Government’s pernicious two child policy and rape clause, which will push 200,000 children into poverty.

“I have been pursuing the UK Government on this abhorrent policy for over two years now, and its sickening impact on women and families across the country is becoming clearer by the day.

“On top of this, the Government is continuing to fail women in Northern Ireland who – along with third party referrers – could face prosecution under existing laws in Northern Ireland if they apply for an exemption, as I highlighted recently in parliament. The fact that these women are being forced to choose between struggling to put food on the table or going through the criminal justice system is unthinkable.

“Clearly the Chancellor does not think the plight of women and families is an important enough issue to receive the attention it deserves. I, and my colleagues in the SNP, could not disagree more, and I will continue to urge the Government to reconsider their approach.”

Northern Ireland Secretary passes buck on rape clause

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has highlighted that Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has sidestepped serious concerns raised about the operation of the two child policy and rape clause in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, the campaigning MP challenged the Northern Ireland Office on the interaction between Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 and referrals under the rape clause, as existing law in Northern Ireland results in automatic disclosure of rape allegations directly to the police.

The following day, the Northern Ireland Office issued a written statement which passed responsibility to the devolved Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, despite there being no Minister for that department since the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in January 2017.

Speaking after the written statement was issued, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The Northern Ireland Secretary clearly wasn’t listening carefully to the criticisms of the rape clause from groups such as the Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation, doctors, nurses, social workers and midwives, that I highlighted to him in Parliament on Wednesday.

“It is beyond farcical that the UK Government has passed the buck to a non-existent Northern Ireland Assembly; the reality remains that women and third party professionals risk criminalisation if they do not disclose rape to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Women in Northern Ireland should not be forced to choose between struggling to put food on the table or going through the full process of the criminal justice system.

“Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office cannot hide behind devolution – the only way to remove the risk of criminalisation is to ask their colleagues in the DWP to scrap the pernicious and mediaeval two child policy and rape clause once and for all.”