Today I set out the challenges that my Constituents face in the wake of the UK governments welfare reforms and the significant impact the reforms are having in many areas of the Cowdenbeath constituency. I also discussed some of the important community events which are occurring in my constituency and how grateful we should be to those who put there time and resources in to making these events a great success.
This week a study commissioned by the Scottish Parliaments Welfare Reform Committee into the impact of welfare reform was published and showed that the Lochs ward which takes in Benarty and Kelty is amongst the top worst affected wards in Scotland. The study estimates that £670 a year per adult of working age will be removed from the local economy in the Lochs compared to £180 in St Andrews.
This is why we need a coordinated approach to supporting people who can work to get into work. The welfare reforms are punitive in their approach and doomed to fail for they do not recognise that there are not jobs at the end of every street and that the jobs that are available require people to have skills, qualifications and often experience just to get an interview. There are also other barriers including childcare, transport and the complexity of the benefit system itself not to mention low pay and zero hours contracts.
I have always believed that people who can work should work and my ambition in politics is to achieve full employment but that requires a fundamental shift in approach to education, lifelong learning and how we grow the local economy. It also requires the political will to target resources at the areas where the pressure is greatest. Our schools do not perform at a similar level to those in the more affluent areas and there are many economic and social reasons for this that require positive action if we are to break the cycle of deprivation that is prevalent in the Cowdenbeath area. We also need a much closer link between schools, colleges and employers and I very much welcome the progress being made but it needs to move at a faster pace.
We must also intervene at a much earlier stage of a young person’s life and again there is some really good work starting to take place in the area of early years and family support through Fife Council but again we do need the political will to target more resources and be bolder in approach.
The problem with the current welfare reforms is that it assumes that if you make people even poorer then they will be able to find an alternative to welfare. This is creating absolute poverty something that had been abolished in this country but is now prevalent amongst people who are least able to help themselves.
I attended Cowdenbeath Gala on Saturday and would want to congratulate the Civic Week Committee for all the work they did throughout the year that went to making this year’s event such a massive success. The town was buzzing for the parade and the park was a hive of activity with hundreds of local people coming together showing just how strong a community Cowdenbeath is.
I also attended the first ever Pipe Band Contest to be held in Lochore Meadows Country Park that attracted top bands from across the country and was also attended by hundreds of spectators who had a great day in the wonderful surroundings that is the ‘Meedies’. I would congratulate the Benarty Events Group for having the vision to attract this event to Lochore and the Chieftain of the contest Cllr Willie Clarke who said to me it was fitting that all these bands were competing on the site of the former Pit given that it was the miners who funded the many local bands in days gone by.
I look forward to Kelty Gala this Saturday and Benarty Gala on Sunday and the now famous Scottish Coal Carrying Championships which takes place on Saturday morning on Kelty Main Street. All the people that work for all these events to take place in our communities should be applauded.