Oct 152016

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.


Dr Whiteford with Ethel Risi and Olive Sharpe of Banff & Buchan WASPI.

Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaigners in the North east have welcomed support from Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford, following a recent meeting at her constituency office in Peterhead.

Dr Whiteford met with local women Olive Sharp and Ethel Risi of WASPI’s Banff & Buchan Branch, to receive a petition with 500 signatures in support of WASPI’s objectives.

The UK Government has accelerated the process of equalisation of pension ages for men and women, which means that women born in the 1950s have lost thousands in pensions payments without having sufficient time to plan for the changes.

Hundreds of women in the local area are affected by the most recent changes, on top of the pension age increase of 1995.

SNP MPs have repeatedly raised the issue in Parliament, and have met with WASPI campaigners at Westminster to demonstrate support.

Ms. Sharp said:

“We have no problem with equalisation of the state pension age, but we do feel we should have been informed in 1995 when that momentous change came in.

“Anybody affected should get in touch. We have a local group which people can contact for information.”

Dr Whiteford added:

“The women of WASPI have my full, unequivocal support, and the UK Government really should reconsider this ill-thought out policy.

“Nobody doubts that there are challenges associated with an ageing population. For women born in the 1950s, however, the fact that the pension age has now risen twice is deeply unfair.

“The UK Government should have phased these changes in gradually, without punishing one particular age cohort. That’s why I am pleased to support WASPI’s calls for fair, equitable treatment.

“There are far fairer ways to address the challenges of an ageing population.”

Anyone affected by the changes can get in touch with Olive on 07735575127 or by e-mail on olivesharpe1955@gmail.com

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May 192016

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]feat

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has welcomed the release of the SNP’s Alternative Queen’s Speech at Westminster, saying it offers “a real alternative to Tory austerity.”

The Queen’s Speech today will highlight the Conservative Government’s legislative agenda for the coming year, and will likely include increases to tuition fees at English universities, and a weakening of the prerogatives of the Lords – where the Government has suffered a string of recent setbacks.

Speaking in advance of the Speech, Dr. Whiteford said:

“We now have a situation where the UK Government has failed to meet its own targets on key economic indicators. Debt, deficit, borrowing, productivity, innovation, trade, exports – you name the target, the Tories have missed it. Austerity has choked off economic growth – and the UK’s trade deficit is now at its worst position since 2008.

“The upshot of austerity is that, inevitably, it’s the poorest in society who pay the most. We’re calling for a modest – 0.5% – increase in public spending, which would help mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, and boost economic growth.

“The only way to tackle the deficit is to grow the economy, and it’s a lesson this Government has singularly failed to take on board. Choking off investment when it’s needed most is economic madness.

“With Labour mired in in-fighting, the SNP represents the only real alternative to a Tory Government. We want a fairer country, and that’s what we’ll keep fighting for at Westminster.”

Other proposals in the SNP’s Alternative Queen’s Speech include:

  • measures to boost exports
  • a Fair Tax Bill to crack down on tax evasion
  • a real Home Rule Bill, including devolution of social security, corporation tax, broadcasting and resource management
  • reform of Westminster, with replacement of the House of Lords by a democratically elected second chamber
  • an end to arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

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Jul 162015
Christian Allard at Instant Neighbour foodbank

Christian Allard MSP at Instant Neighbour Foodbank, Aberdeen

With thanks to Lee Robb, Caseworker to Christian Allard MSP.

North East MSP, Christian Allard, has welcomed the news that Aberdeenshire is ahead of Scotland’s capital city in terms of average disposable income. However, the SNP MSP warns that a rising number of foodbanks in the region indicates that many families are being left behind.

This comes in response to a recently released study conducted by SPICE (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) that reviewed levels of average disposable income in areas of Scotland, compared to the UK average.

The SPICE study reports on figures from 2013 and showed Scotland’s average disposable income to be at £17,039 – compared to the UK average of £17,599.

Commenting on the findings, Mr. Allard said:

“The good news is that people are prospering here in the North East. However, it cannot be ignored that there has been a rise in foodbanks in Aberdeenshire over the past few years.

“This is a clear indication that there is an imbalance of wealth and opportunity, leaving families behind to rely on charitable food parcels.

“This, in the most affluent area of the country, is frankly unacceptable. This year, we saw an Aberdeen-based foodbank running out of food!”

Aberdeen’s Instant Neighbour foodbank appealed for help in March after running out of supplies and having to turn away families. Mr. Allard has volunteered with local foodbank collections in Aberdeenshire, the latest one being at the beginning of this month.

“People in Aberdeenshire know the problems that some families face. Unrelenting cuts to basic welfare needs have meant that families cannot sustain themselves. It was incredibly touching to see such a great contribution from the local community to Inverurie Tesco’s push for foodbank donations.

“I would like to congratulate the local Tesco store for their efforts, and thank all those who donated to this cause.”

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Apr 042014
Christian Allard at Instant Neighbour foodbank

Christian Allard at Instant Neighbour foodbank.

With thanks to Stuart Donaldson, Constituency Officer to Christian Allard MSP.

North East MSP, Christian Allard has welcomed the decision by French company Atos to end its contract with the UK government early.
The company assesses people for benefits on behalf of the UK government and carries out tests to see if they are ‘fit to work’.

Commenting the French-born MSP said:

“It is telling that Atos are no longer willing to carry out these assessments on behalf of the Westminster government.

“The assessments, part of the welfare cuts agenda, are designed to harass and intimidate vulnerable people.

“This agenda is driving families further into poverty and emptying the shelves of local foodbanks in the North East.

“I would encourage those who feel strongly about these unfair tests to direct their anger at those responsible for implementing them, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster.

“There is an opportunity to do so this weekend with the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference taking place at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.”

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Apr 222011

By Tania Harris.

I am a hard worker, some may even say an over achiever, and I always have been.

For the last 10 years I have suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or M.E. for short, having contracted this following a viral flu like illness. Nevertheless, I struggled on for 10 years in a senior management position of a company I had founded.

We carried out work for our dear government rolling out the Out of School Childcare initiative. The company became the largest of its kind in the North East. It was hard but enjoyable and rewarding work.

In June 2010 I had a major relapse in health, which had accumulated from several smaller relapses. This has left me severely impaired and housebound/bed bound ninety percent of the time. My health has not improved despite long and frustrating sessions with physiotherapists, and the usual lack of support services for chronic M.E sufferers.

I receive higher rate mobility and middle rate care payments on Disability Living Allowance and my GP has started to do over the phone appointments, as she knows a visit to the surgery will set me back for a week.

I went onto Employment Support Allowance after my statutory sick pay ran out and I had to give up work. It is unlikely I will ever get back into a regular ‘9 to 5’ job and I am hoping the Job Centre can find me something where I sit in bed and lick envelopes all day or the like. I cannot explain how demoralising and degrading it is to become a “disabled statistic” and to see first hand how people in this position are treated.

I cannot be referred for mental health support as I am not clinical depressed. However, ‘invalided’ and ‘discriminated against’ can be used to describe my experiences.

And so, let me introduce ATOS Healthcare, the caring ‘health professionals’ – and their role in assessing our ability to work – despite what other proper health professionals say. So far I am keeping an open mind but here are my experiences so far and I hope to share them with you as the story unfolds.

I have determined to stay in employment in defiance of my health condition

At 2pm on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, I got a call from the ATOS Appointments Centre. I wonder how much overtime they are getting paid for working weekends? Are they checking to see if I am at home at the weekend?

Of course I’m at home. I am rarely able to enjoy the outdoors anymore.

That aside, the lady is nice and quite helpful – although she has definitely not read my recently returned form, describing my situation and my need to be assessed in the first place.

After going through all this with her she thinks I might qualify for a home visit or taxi pick up, as the assessment centre is a bit of a walk from the nearest car park. Although it is on ground level, people in wheelchairs or those reliant on walking aids, as I do, pose a fire risk in the building due to the speed they can be evacuated. She asks me to get my GP to fax them a letter detailing more info on my condition in order to assess the need for a home visit.

A day later, a letter arrived inviting me to the assessment centre for my appointment on the “provisional date” she first mentioned. Confused, I gave them a call to discuss the conversation about the GP fax etc. The man on the other end explained that they had to generate something on the computer after first contact and I should call them in a week to “move the appointment on a bit”.

This is to give them time to assess my GP letter when it arrives – as they do not approve home visits unless completely necessary, and some people are not genuine.

Hmmm…  This may be true in some  cases, but considering that the nature and extent of my disability has been long established and monitored by medical professionals, and that I have determined to stay in employment in defiance of my health condition, it really irks me that because of a perceived “high level of benefit fraud” the government chooses to treat me as guilty until proven innocent.

Anyhow I am waiting to see what will happen next. It is ironic that I had my first Atos contact during a time I was not in receipt of benefit. They had not processed my sick line and simply cut off my payments (with no explanation or contact).

Hopefully it will be paid soon and my anxiety regarding how ATOS will view my claim will prove to be unfounded.

… I’ll let you know.

Photography credits –
© Chiyacat | Dreamstime.com

© Scott Hales | Dreamstime.com



Jul 232010

By Ross Cunningham.

There has been much controversy aired recently about benefits and those claiming them. With a new coalition government in place, they hurriedly arranged an emergency budget to set about slashing the £150bn deficit in public finances. One of the higher-spending areas is benefits. In 2009-10, it is estimated that £3.1bn was overpaid in benefits due to error and fraud. Conversely, estimates show that £1.3bn was underpaid due to error and fraud. You would be inclined to believe that the second statistic is of less concern as is the perception that overpayment has been made to people who neither need nor deserve it. But how is it decided who is worthy of benefits and who is not? Who makes these decisions and who else is involved?

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