Westminster Video Diary – 22/11/2012

This week: Energy Bill, Energy Advice Surgery, My role as PPS & Scottish Referendum Debate

MP URGES PEOPLE TO CALL HOME HEAT HELPLINE

6500 households in Glasgow North West entitled to help with their fuel bills

 

New research reveals that around 6500 households in Glasgow North West are entitled to help with their energy costs and local MP, John Robertson is encouraging people to call a free helpline to find out about the assistance available. Nationally, more than one in ten UK households is eligible for help.

 

The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) is a free, impartial and confidential service that connects people and families on low incomes and those in poor health with support which is worth an average of £160. The help available includes grants for insulation, new boilers, discount and rebate schemes. Representatives from the Helpline will also be at John Robertson MP’s Energy Advice Surgery on 30th November to answer any questions you may have and give concerned people guidance in person.

 

John Robertson MP said:

“Many people don’t realise what support is available. Anyone in Glasgow North West who is concerned about staying warm should call the Home Heat Helpline or come along to the Energy Advice Drop-in Surgery to speak to them and other energy advisors. I would also ask people to look out for neighbours, friends or relatives who may be in difficulty and make sure that they are aware of the Home Heat Helpline.”

 

People can call the Home Heat Helpline and speak to one of the friendly advisers who will provide advice on reducing energy bills. You can also access the service online by visiting www.homeheathelpline.org.uk where a new Energy Checker will help to show if you are entitled to help.

 

Christine McGourty from the Home Heat Helpline also advises people to think about what they can do around the home to reduce their energy consumption:

“As the weather gets colder and households turn on their heating, now is the ideal time to remind people that lots of help is available to keep warm, and that the Home Heat Helpline is there to assist them. We’re urging anyone on a low income, older people, families with young children and those with long-term health conditions to call the Home Heat Helpline to claim the free help they are entitled to in reducing their bills.”

 

There are also some other simple steps people can take in reducing their energy. For example:

  • turning your thermostat down by 1°C could cut your heating bills by up to 10 per cent and save you around £100 a year.

 

  • turn radiators down in rooms which you only use occasionally

 

  • switch your lights off when you’re not using them

 

  • turn appliances like TVs and phone chargers off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby when they’re not being used

 

  • replace normal light bulbs with energy efficient ones

 

  • regularly defrost your freezer to make sure it’s operating at full efficiency

 

  • draw curtains over windows at night to provide insulation for the room

 

  • move furniture away from radiators and heaters to allow heat to circulate around the room

 

Home Heat Helpline: 0800 33 66 99 or www.homeheathelpline.org.uk.

 

The Energy Advice Surgery will be on Friday 30th November, 1-4pm at the Three Eyes Project, 52 Knightscliffe Avenue, Knightswood, G13 2TE. The Surgery is a drop-in session so feel free to arrive whenever it is convenient. Tea and biscuits will be provided.

For more information or advice, see the Little Book of Energy

Local MP calls on schools to take part in Autism Challenge

John Robertson, local MP for Glasgow North West is supporting a nationwide charity challenge to help raise awareness of issues affecting pupils with autism and is calling on all local schools to take part.

The Anderson Schools Challenge is a joint campaign between The National Autistic Society (NAS) and the Anderson Foundation, which asks schools to complete 50 fun and easy tasks in celebration of the NAS’ 50th Birthday.

The tasks, which range from fitting 50 items into a smartie tube to holding an autism-awareness assembly, can be undertaken by 50 individual pupils or a whole class, unless any pupils fancy taking on all 50. The money raised will help the NAS to provide much-needed services and support for people affected by autism across the UK.

John Robertson said: “I’m delighted to be supporting the Anderson Schools Challenge and am calling on all local primary schools to do their bit and help raise awareness of autism. School can be a real struggle for many children with the condition, but better understanding among teachers, school staff and other pupils can make a real difference. This is a fun and easy way to improve awareness of autism and raise vital funds for the NAS, so that it can continue to support individuals and families across the UK.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the NAS, said: “We’re thrilled that John Robertson is championing this important challenge and encouraging as many schools as possible to take part. Autism is more common than most people think – around 1 in 100 people have the condition and it touches the lives of over 500,000 families in the UK. Raising awareness and providing vital support can make a world of difference to people with autism and their families.”

Mark Anderson said: “The NAS has been making a difference to the lives of children, adults and their families living with autism for 50 years. The Anderson Foundation Schools Challenge is a campaign designed to push forward autism awareness in schools as well as raising much needed funds for the NAS to continue to provide this essential support.”

To sign up to the Anderson Schools Challenge visit www.autism.org.uk/

Facts

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicated with, and related to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

The National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for people with autism and their families. Founded in 1962, it continues to spearhead national and international initiatives and provide a strong voice for all people with autism. The NAS provides a wide range of services to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome live their lives with as much independence as possible.

The NAS relies on the support of its members and donors to continue its vital work for people with autism. To become a member, make a donation or to find out more about the work of the NAS, visit the NAS website www.autism.org.uk

For more information about autism and for help in your area, call the NAS Autism Helpline on: 0808 800 4104 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday, (free from landlines and most mobiles).

The NAS Autism Services Directory is the UK’s most comprehensive directory of services and events for people with autism. Visit www.autism.org.uk/autismdirectory to find autism services and support networks in your area.

Energy Advice Surgery on Friday 30th November

Struggling to pay your bills?

  • Find out if you can pay less for energy
  • Speak to your MP about your energy worries
  • Use the internet to find the best prices
  • Find out all the tricks to get the best deal

John Robertson MP and local energy experts invite you to a drop-in session.

Friday 30th November

1-4pm

Three Eyes Project (52 Knightscliffe Avenue, Knightswood, G13 2TE): Map here

For more information, call 0141 944 7298.

Preparation for personal independence payments

Last night I led a debate in Parliament on preparing for personal independence payments.

In April 2013, the Government will begin replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with personal independence payments (PIPs). With half a million people set to lose out, I called for the debate in order to make sure that things are done properly. I questioned the Disabled People Minister, Esther McVey, about the assessment process and the concerns that face-to-face assessments will disadvantage some applicants. I also asked her how long DLA claimants, who were not eligible for PIPs, would be given to find a new source of income. She avoided this question, which I am sure will disappoint many DLA claimants who are worrying about this happening to them.

If you have any concerns about PIPs, please do get in touch with me or my office.

You can see the video of the debate here: Westminster Hall Debate on \’Preparation for Personal Independence Payments\’

A full transcript of the debate is available here.

Help for Disabled who lose out on Benefits

With 500,000 disabled people losing out due to a change of the benefits system, MPs will debate how to make sure they are assessed correctly and what happens to those who are no longer eligible.

In April 2013, the government will roll out the replacement to Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments. While many agreed that there needed to be a change in the system, the new payments have been criticised. A new focus on face-to-face interviews is seen to disadvantage those with mental health problems and learning difficulties. Many people who rely on DLA for additional benefits, such as the Motability Scheme, are also concerned that they will struggle to find the money to pay for these necessities. This will affect around 280,000 people, who will no longer receive or will lose their automatic entitlement to the higher rate of benefit.

John Robertson MP, who called for the debate, will say in his opening speech: “I think it is of vital importance that we discuss the plans for personal independence payments now – so we can be proactive in solving any issues, rather than waiting for them to become a problem and reacting when it is too late.”

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope said: “We welcome the move by John Robertson MP to keep reform of Disability Living Allowance and the new Personal Independence Payment high up on the agenda. Disabled people are incredibly anxious and afraid that the switch from DLA to PIP is just an excuse to cut the support they need. We urge the Government to grasp this opportunity and re-think cuts to this critical piece of support.”

Bill Scott, manager of Inclusion Scotland, said: “Disabled people face much higher costs than non-disabled people, and DLA currently covers some of that additional expenditure. We do not know how people will cope when they lose that essential benefit.”

Head of Policy and Campaigns at RNIB, Steve Winyard, said: “The current draft of the criteria would exclude many people with a severe visual impairment from the enhanced mobility rate of PIP. Leaving the criteria as they are would put the clock back even further [to before the previous Welfare Reform Act], to 1992, when you were guaranteed the higher rate if you were a wheelchair user but could not get it if you were blind.”

Guest Column in the Scotsman

Here is my Guest column, which was published in the Scotsman 3rd November:

 

John Robertson: Need for tighter controls on all our internet data

By John Robertson MP
Published on Saturday 3 November 2012 18:30

 

THE invention of the internet completely changed the way we think about our personal details and how public they should be. Social networking sites see us giving our name, date of birth and photos to anyone who cares to look. Shopping sites like Amazon also have an extensive list of the types of things we like to buy and offer helpful suggestions for our next purchase.

But what worries me, and actually what worries a lot of people, is what happens to that data once it is “out there”.

A new report by Demos, “The Data Dialogue”, presents the findings of a massive survey on what the public thinks about its data. There are some interesting, though not always surprising, results. For example, people are particularly concerned about companies having control of their data, with around 80 per cent worried about companies using data without permission and around 75 per cent concerned about data being sold on to third parties.

We give our data because we have to, if we want to make use of the multiple things we can do on the internet. Without giving my credit card
details, I cannot buy things online. Without sharing my personal information online, I cannot connect with people through social networking or email. We may not like it, but without providing these details we cannot function in 21st century Britain.

I actually think this is OK – if we can control what happens to that information. And what concerns me is that we do not have control, we do not know who is tracking our online presence and we do not know what they are using that information for. The above report, for example, found that a third of people did not know Google mail scanned the content of their emails to offer them more targeted advertising. I’m not sure where the line should be drawn, but clearly people are unhappy with this invasion of privacy – only 10 per cent of people were content with Google mail using their information in this way.

And I do not actually think simply having more information on how our data is used will improve the situation. The EU recently introduced the “Cookie law”, whereby websites have to inform their visitors if they are using cookies to track their movements online. The Information Commissioner’s Office found that only 13 per cent of people fully understood how cookies worked and there is such a low understanding of what they are that people often click “yes” to the requests to use them without even thinking.

So what do they do? Cookies are saved on your computer by a website and can store information about you every time you visit. They can be used to remember your username and password for a website, store your search settings or save a custom text size. They can be very useful and enhance our visiting experience. But if you don’t want information about your browsing history to be saved, you must delete them.

But what I would like to see, and almost 70 per cent of people surveyed for “The Data Dialogue” agree with me, is some sort of way to see what data is held on me. We need more transparency in this because I think companies take advantage of the fact that a lot of people do not understand what’s going on. So education is needed, of course. Butcompanies, and by this I mean all organisations that hold data on us, need to be much better at being open and honest with their customers.

More than 70 per cent of people would also like to be able to withdraw their data. I can see that this is a monumental task for online shops and websites. Once data is in the public domain, it is hard to track exactly where it is and who has it. But more work is needed in this area. The EU is looking at bringing in the “right to be forgotten” but even this cannot go far enough, as while one company may delete your data, it is difficult to know who else may have it.

• John Robertson is Member of Parliament for Glasgow North West and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Communications