eNews 2nd May 2022 - WASPI, MS, GFN

As you can see from the title of this email, this week was another packed with acronyms:

WASPI: Women Against State Pension Inequality
MS: Multiple Sclerosis
GFN: Good Food Nation

And I have written an update on the goings on in the RAINE committee too! (Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment).

I wanted to highlight the work of WASPI campaigners which demonstrates the economic benefits of compensation for women affected by the lack of notice of changes to the state pension age. The campaign’s calculations show that, for Shetland, if they were compensated by only a quarter of what they would have received if the changes to state pension age had not been made, this would result in approximately £15,750,000 being spent largely in the local community. In addition, it is predicted over 60% would go back to HM Treasury in income tax, national insurance and VAT from the women and local businesses, making the cost to the UK Government of addressing the currently policy lower than the gross cost. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that in 2005 and 2006 the Department of Work and Pension’s communication of these changes was maladministration. The PHSO is now working on the next stage of the investigation. There are an estimated 1500 women in Shetland impacted by this maladministration, who have had to wait a full six years after their 60th birthday to receive their state pension.

Women impacted by lost state pension have reported cutting back on spending that would have benefited themselves, their families and their local communities. Retirements are delayed, grandchildren miss out on quality grandparent time and local businesses lose out on customers. Compensating the 1950s women by even a quarter of what they would have received, if changes had not been made, would see these losses reversed. Beyond the moral imperative to right this injustice and the benefits it would bring to the women themselves, this would have clear economic and social advantages for the wider community. The WASPI Campaign has been calling for action for seven years now. It is time for the UK Government to do the right thing and address the impacts of the state pension age change. You can find further information about the WASPI Campaign here: https://www.waspi.co.uk/

It was MS Awareness Week (25th April – 1st May) and the Parliament held a debate to highlight Multiple Sclerosis on Tuesday. It is not known why but Orkney has the highest incident of MS anywhere in the world. Similarly more Shetlanders are likely to live with MS than their Mainland counterparts in Scotland. MS is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, the coating that protects nerves (myelin) is damaged. This causes a range of symptoms like blurred vision and problems with movement and feeling. The Shetland group of the MS Society can be contacted on 0131 335 4050, by email: [email protected] and online. In my speech I wanted to highlight some of the hidden costs for those living with the condition and their families and you can see my contribution here.

On Wednesday I took the opportunity in portfolio questions to ask the Cabinet Secretary:

‘How will the Scottish Government ensure that sufficient funds are available to those who need insulation or replacement heating systems for their homes—especially those who are on restricted incomes or in rural and island areas with high levels of fuel poverty?’

Shetland has high levels of fuel poverty and unique challenges in existing solutions to remedy the situation. Insulation and more fuel efficient systems will be a means to lower household bills and reduced carbon emissions but massive investment across the Highlands and Islands is needed now. You can watch my question here.

In the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee this week we heard evidence from Patrick Krause from the Scottish Crofting Federation on his petition to help control wild goose numbers. Large numbers of greylag geese are causing issues for crofting communities in the Western Isles and Orkney by rendering fields unusable, and this is an increasing issue in Shetland too. The committee agreed to write to NatureScot and the Scottish Government and consider the issue again once we have the replies. We also heard from agriculture and fisheries experts about the resilience of Scotland’s food supply chain in light of the war in Ukraine, rising fuel costs and climate change. I questioned Elspeth MacDonald from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation on the role that fishing can play in domestic food security, and heard proposals for policies the Scottish Government could enact to support fisheries to supply low carbon intensive food both to export markets and domestically.

Staying on the fishing theme, fisheries science expert Professor Ray Hilborn, from the University of Washington, was in Scalloway on Friday evening and gave an excellent presentation on “The Future of Food from the Seas”. Thank you to UHI Shetland, and Shetland Fishermen’s Association for organising the event.

And finally this week Alex Cole-Hamilton and I joined members of the Scottish Food Coalition ahead of Stage 2 of the Good Food Nation Bill currently going through Parliament. You can see a picture of us here ‘building a good food nation’!

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