How do you solve a problem like Fuel Poverty?

I recently wrote a blog about my proposal for a Fuel Poverty Champion in Government.

You can read my blog here.

A full report on the topic can be found in this collection of essays.

Parliamentary Update – 26th September 2014

This week: Referendum result and air strikes vote

John Robertson MP calls for an end to “game of chance” bus service for blind people

Getting off at the right bus stop is like “playing a game of chance”, says guide dog owner Linda, about her experiences navigating the bus network without sight.

Mr Robertson got a chance to experience for himself why people with sight loss need audio-visual announcements (AV) on buses, through playing a memory game, at the Labour Party Conference this week.

AV is essential for people with sight loss to live independently, yet only one fifth of the UK’s buses have AV. Without AV bus passengers with sight loss have to ask the driver to remember to tell them when they have reached their stop.

Finding out more about Guide Dogs’ work, Mr Robertson heard that 7 in 10 bus passengers with sight loss have been forgotten by a bus driver. For a sighted person, missing a stop is an annoyance, but for someone with sight loss, it is potentially very dangerous.

Mr Robertson commented:

“Remembering the journeys at Guide Dogs’ conference stand was a great way of emphasising how difficult it is for a bus driver to always remember to tell people when to get off. AV is such a simple solution and would ensure access for all to a form of public transport that is so vital to people’s everyday lives.”

James White, Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs commented:

“Guide dogs do fantastic work getting people out and about safely, and the lack of AV acts as a real barrier to their independence. That’s why we’re urging politicians like Mr Robertson to call for the mandatory installation of AV on buses, something that is cheap to do.”

AV doesn’t just help people with sight loss – tourists, older people and infrequent bus users all find AV useful. Guide Dogs released their Destination Unknown report this September showing that nearly half of survey respondents said they would use the bus more frequently if it had AV.

Read Harry Smith’s Speech

I was moved by the very powerful speech Harry Smith, 91-year-old veteran NHS campaigner, made at Labour Party Conference. You can watch it here, or read it below.

Harry Leslie Smith, speaking in the Health and Care debate at Labour’s Annual Conference in Manchester, said:

I came into this world in the rough and ready year of 1923. I am from Barnsley and I can tell you, that my childhood like so many others from that era was not an episode from Downton Abbey. Instead, it was a barbarous time, it was a bleak time, and it was an uncivilized time because public healthcare didn’t exist.

Back then Hospitals, doctors and medicine were for the privilege few because they were run for profit rather than as vital state service that keeps a nations citizens and workers fit and healthy

My memories stretch back almost a hundred years and if I close my eyes I can smell the poverty that oozed from the dusky tenement streets of my boyhood.

I can taste on my lips the bread and drippings I was served for my tea. I can remember extreme hunger, and my parent’s undying love for me. In my heart

I can still feel my mum and dad’s desperation as they tried to keep our family save and healthy in the slum we called home.

Poor mum and dad, no matter how hard they tried to protect me and my sisters the cards were stacked against them because common diseases trolled our neighbourhoods and snuffed out life like a cold breath on a warm candle flame.

I still remember hearing while I played as a child on my street the anguished cries that floated from a window on my boyhood street. They were the screams from a woman dying from cancer who couldn’t afford morphine to ease her passage from this life.

No one in our community was safe from poor health, sickness and disease. In our home, TB came for my oldest sister Marion who was the apple of my dad’s eye. It is why her sickness and his inability to pay for her medicine or the best care broke his heart.

Tuberculosis tortured my sister and left her an invalid that had to be restrained with ropes tied to her bed. My parents did everything in their power to keep Marion alive and comfortable but they just didn’t have the dosh to get her to the best clinics, doctors or medicines. Instead she wasted away before our eyes until my mother could no longer handle her care and she was dispatched to our Work House infirmary where she died 87 years ago. Mum and dad couldn’t afford to bury their darling daughter so, like the rest of our country’s indigent she was dumped nameless into a pauper’s pit.

My family’s story isn’t unique; sadly, rampant poverty, and no health care were the norm for the Britain of my youth. That injustice galvanized my generation to become after the Second World War the tide that raised all boats.

It is why for me in 1945, after a long hard Great Depression and a savage and brutal war, at the age of 22 and still in the RAF I voted for the first time.

Election Day 1945 was one of the was of the proudest days in my life I felt that I was finally getting a chance to grab destiny by the shirt collar and that is why

I voted for Labour and the creation of the NHS.

As I stand here today, my heart is with all of those people from my generation who didn’t make it past childhood, didn’t get an education, grow as individuals, marry, raise a family and enjoy the fruits of retirement because they died needlessly and too early in another era of austerity. But my heart is also with the people of the present, who, because of welfare cuts and austerity measures, are struggling once more to make ends meet, and whose futures I fear for.

Today, we must be vigilant, we must be vocal, we must demand that the NHS will always remain an institution for the people and by the people. We must never ever let the NHS free from our grasp because if we do your future will be my past. I am not a politician, a member of the elite or a financial guru, but my life is your history – and we should keep it that way. So say it loud and say it clear in this hall and across this country: Mr Cameron, keep your mitts off my NHS.

Naming Ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth

I recently attended the naming ceremony of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was there for the official naming.

This was a wonderful feat of engineering for all six yards, both north and south of the border. I want to pass on my congratulations to all those who worked on it, and in particular, the 2000 employees at Scotstoun yard.

Here are a few photos from the event, with MPs representing the constituencies holding the other two Scottish yards, Ian Davidson MP (Govan) and Thomas Docherty MP (Rosyth), among others.

John Robertson MP on board with Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign

John Robertson MP showed his support for a campaign led by the charity Guide Dogs to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss.

The MP for Glasgow North West went to a reception at the Houses of Parliament on 2 July in support of Guide Dogs’ campaign to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

The reception, which was addressed by Bus Minister Baroness Kramer, highlighted how announcements enable blind and partially sighted people to understand their location, and prevent them from missing their stops.

AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority of these buses operating in London.

Guide Dogs is calling for the Government to require all new buses be fitted with AV, as currently bus operators are under no obligation to include this technology when upgrading their fleet.

John Robertson MP said: “Blind or partially sighted people in Glasgow and across the UK are reliant on our buses, and we should be doing all we can to make public transport accessible to them. We all know the anxiety caused from ending up somewhere unfamiliar, and this can be all the more concerning to people with sight loss. I think this is an essential campaign from Guide Dogs.”

James White, Guide Dog’s Campaigns Manager, said: “Buses are a lifeline for people who are blind or partially sighted, and we welcome the support of John Robertson MP for people with sight loss to be able to travel safely and independently.”

“Without AV, bus travel for people with sight loss can be especially difficult, stressful, and dangerous when stops are missed and they end up in an unfamiliar area.”

“Safe and accessible bus services give people with sight loss much greater freedom to work, socialise and participate in the community.”

A message on Armed Forces Day

Today on Armed Forces Day people up and down the country will gather to recognise, remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the British Armed Forces community.

Our Service personnel work around the world in some of the most dangerous situations to defend Britain’s interests and national security. Just like those before them, they do so with unequivocal commitment, enduring professionalism and resolute courage.

But the sacrifice associated with military life is rarely endured alone – we must not forget the impact on the friends and families of those who serve too. They provide invaluable support to loved ones away from home and the contribution they make to local communities should never be underestimated.

Update from Westminster – 19th June 2014

This week: Referendum news and Energy

Local MP John Robertson supports drive to reach carers in Glasgow North West


John Robertson MP has pledged his support to carers across Glasgow North West as part of the national awareness campaign Carers Week, which runs from June 9 to 15.

One in eight adults are carers, but the very nature of caring – of being there for a loved one facing ill health or disability – means too often people don’t identify themselves as carers and, therefore, miss out on support.

Without the right help and support, caring can have a serious impact on their physical and emotional health, work and finances.

Carers Week Quest 2014 is calling on individuals and organisations across the UK – including community groups, GPs, health and social care professionals, employers – to connect with families in their local communities who are providing care.

To show their support for local carers, John Robertson MP met with the Carers Week supporter charities in Parliament – including Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’s UK.

Local MP, John Robertson, said: “Carers make a hugely valuable contribution to society and they need support to carry on the work they do – without carers the UK would face a £119 billion care bill. That is why I am supporting this campaign to reach out to carers across Glasgow North West and help ensure they don’t miss out on support.”

A spokesperson for Carers Week said: “By individuals and organisations working together during Carers Week we have a huge opportunity to help thousands of carers and get them support which can mean the difference between coping and crisis.”

Events will be taking place across the UK during Carers Week in June, to provide carers with advice, information and support with caring. To find out more about events in Glasgow North West visit: www.carersweek.org

– Carers Week 2014 runs from Monday 9 to Sunday 15 June.

– Carers Week is an annual UK-wide awareness campaign which takes place to celebrate and recognise the vital contribution made by the UK’s 6.5 million carers. It is also a time of intensive local activity with thousands of events planned for carers right across the UK. In 2013 more than 2,600 organisations registered to take part in the campaign.

– Across the UK 6.5 million – 1 in 8 people – are caring for a loved one who is older, disabled, terminally or seriously ill. As the population ages, the number of carers is rising fast. By 2037 Carers UK estimates that the number of carers will have risen to 9 million.

– Carers Week is made possible by Carers UK joining forces with Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Skills for Care and the Stroke Association.

John Robertson MP Calls for Better Deal for Scotland’s Women

Local MP John Robertson has signed up to support the Scottish Labour Party’s five pledges for women and joined calls for the SNP to do more to support women across Scotland.

John Robertson MP was joined by Shadow Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran MP to launch the five pledges.

The pledges, which Scottish Labour will deliver in Government, are:

– More free childcare for working mums.
– Better pay for low-paid women.
– End discrimination against new mums at work.
– Tell companies to publish their pay gap.
– 50:50 on public boards.

Commenting on the pledges, John Robertson MP said:

“As a part of the Labour movement I’ve seen first-hand how women’s rights have been won because of, and not in spite of, being part of the UK. From equal pay legislation to tax credits and maternity pay, Labour has always delivered for women and these pledges demonstrate how we will continue to do so going forward.

“But today, progress has stalled. While the Tories’ cuts fall disproportionately on women, the SNP have failed to make any difference. They promise more after independence in an effort to win women’s votes in the referendum, but this SNP Government has cut 47,000 jobs in local government and removed £1 billion from anti-poverty programmes – hitting women the most.

“The best way of standing up for women in Glasgow North West is by remaining part of the United Kingdom, where we can pool our resources and share the risk across 65 million people. At both Westminster and Holyrood Labour is committed to taking action that will make a real difference to women across Scotland.”

The Five Pledges in Detail

1. More free childcare for working mums

Scottish Labour will introduce 25 hours of childcare a week for every 3 and 4 year old and 15 hours a week for all vulnerable 2 year olds. This will be funded by using the Barnett Consequentials arising from a future UK Labour Government increasing the bank levy.

2. Better pay for low-paid women

One in five Scottish workers are paid less than the living wage of £7.65 per hour. Labour across the UK will introduce ‘make work pay’ contracts to incentivise companies to pay the living wage. Firms which sign up to pay the Living Wage at the start of the Parliament will benefit from a 12-month tax rebate of up to £1,000 for every low paid worker who gets a pay rise. The measure will be entirely funded from the increases tax and national insurance revenue received by the Treasury when employees receive higher wages.

3. End discrimination against new mums at work

An estimated 5,000 women a year in Scotland who go on maternity leave never return to work due to discrimination. Across the UK, this accounts for around 14% of women who go on maternity leave. In order to end this discrimination against new mums, Labour would change the law so that employers would have to make reasonable adjustments for women returning to work. We would also use new devolved powers to scrap the tribunal charges that deny justice to so many women.

4. Tell companies to publish their pay gap

There is still a 5.8% gap in pay between men and women working full time in Scotland. Progress has been made, but is has not been quick enough. We believe that the full public scrutiny of pay is required to make companies address this issue. That is why we will tell companies to publish their pay gap. And, if voluntary action does not work, we will legislate to compel companies to publish they pay gap in their annual reports.

5. 50:50 on public boards in Scotland

The SNP have failed to address the lack of women on the board of Scottish public authorities. Scottish health boards have an average of 37% women members, while many non-departmental public bodies have as few as 30% women board members. Visit Scotland’s six-member board only has one woman. Scottish Labour would introduce a 50% quota for public boards in Scotland to ensure that the boards that lead our public authorities look like the communities they serve.