No Sense Cutting Budgets For Women’s Aid As Demand Increases

Yesterday I took part in a debate in parliament brought by the government on violence against women. Men’s violence kills or incapacitates more women each year than cancer, malaria, road traffic accidents and war combined. Read on to see what I said in the debate.

Alison

Stop violence against women

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is right to insist that we “take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves.”

Violence against women affects us here in Scotland and affects women across the globe. We see it at its most extreme in countries where femicide occurs, and the resulting imbalance in the gender ratio is threatening women’s lives in sinister ways and making it ever harder to attain the equality that is required if such practices are to be addressed.

When she was 14, Tarcila Rivera Zea was told that, as an Indian servant, she was not considered worthy of further education. Nearly 50 years later, she is the director of Chirapaq, which is a leading agency that campaigns for the rights of indigenous women in South America, and she has spoken out against women’s inability to access education or achieve economic autonomy. She recognises that women are often unaware of their rights, and she says:

“We believe that this situation of complete vulnerability, in which we find ourselves submerged, is a form of violence.”

Her powerful words are worthy of much consideration.

Scottish Women’s Aid, in its briefing for today’s debate, said that 92 per cent of its services are working with a reduced or standstill budget, which represents a budget reduction, given inflation and increased energy costs—and that is at a time when almost 70 per cent of women’s aid groups report greater demand for their services. We are told that the bedroom tax has resulted in women remaining longer in refuge and that fewer women are able to access refuge when they are at crisis point.

Our justice system appears to be unable to cope. Domestic abuse courts are under strain. In Glasgow, women need to wait longer for a domestic abuse case to be heard than they would wait for a generic case to be heard, even though the domestic abuse court is supposed to be much faster. As Malcolm Chisholm said, there is currently a 23-week waiting list, and access to courts is a postcode lottery, particularly in Edinburgh. The lack of dedicated resources must be addressed.

As Jackie Baillie and other members said, violence against women is rooted in persistent gender inequality. We must engage with all the issues that make it a shameful and persistent feature of national and global life. We need to intervene, to monitor and to demand change.

Last week I was made aware of a chain letter that is circulating among a group of 11 and 12-year-old girls. It is entitled, “Did U Know?” and it informs its young readers, “It’s true. Guys DO insult you if they like you.” That is not harmless and we must intervene. We need to ensure that our young boys and girls understand that abuse takes many forms and is never acceptable.

As Margaret Mitchell said, the social and economic cost of violence against women is enormous. Women suffer isolation, inability to work and the loss of wages. They might quite simply become scared stiff and utterly disempowered.

If a woman finds the inner resolve—perhaps after being encouraged by a poster or another woman’s testimony—to contact one of the organisations that do incredible work with women and children who have suffered violence in any or many of its forms, the least that we must do as a society is ensure that such organisations have the funding and resources that they need if they are to offer the support that their expertise and experience enables them to provide to those who need it.

I ask the minister to say whether she will meet local government colleagues and insist that they look at extending funding agreements with agencies, so that agencies can use their expertise to best effect.

4,574 homeless children in Scotland this Christmas

I’m backing Shelter Scotland’s Christmas campaign.

It’s shocking that we have 10,494 households in temporary accommodation in Scotland, including 4,574 homeless children.

AJ Shelter pic

It’s essential that families who find themselves in this situation have access to good quality temporary accommodation. The Scottish Government should guarantee minimum standards.

I’ll continue to highlight this issue. Meantime please consider supporting Shelter’s efforts.

Alison

Payday Loans No Cause For Festive Cheer

This week I have been highlighting the terrible impact of payday lending on individuals and families. Citizens Advice Scotland is running an excellent campaign, which appears to be backed by none other than Santa, as you can see!

AJ and payday Santa cropped

I also took part in a debate on the issue, secured by fellow Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale.

Read on to see what I said in the debate.

Alison

 

I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of payday lending on individuals and families who felt that they had no option but to apply for a short-term loan when that next pay day was too far away, or when there was not enough food in the cupboard or money for the electricity meter or bus fares to get to work or college.

It is not surprising that people turn to that form of credit, because the ubiquity of advertising for payday loans in our newspapers and on our televisions and radios is remarkable. Last year, that accounted for 1.2 per cent of all advertising on TV in the UK. Kezia Dugdale highlighted that, in 2008, payday lenders bought 17,000 ad spots; last year, that number had risen to 397,000. More than one in 100 ads was a payday loan ad. The non-stop barrage normalises payday lending in our culture. As Graeme Pearson noted, according to Ofcom research, children aged four to 15 saw millions of ads from payday lenders. We have heard that very young children are pestering their parents to apply for a payday loan.

We know, too, that people turn to such loans as a last resort. In the past three years, 6 million Britons have been declined credit by their bank. Affordable alternative credit is part of the solution.

The number of clients with arrears in priority areas such as gas, electricity and rent has increased significantly. Credit is being sought not for luxuries but for everyday living costs. In the face of inflation-busting price hikes by the big six energy companies, it is not surprising that energy arrears affect more than one in 10 people. Organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland and StepChange are working incredibly hard, hearing from and seeing a notable increase in the number of people seeking their expert help in the face of rising personal and household debt.

When a person does not have £10, £10 of debt is a problem. However, a growing number of high-income clients are approaching those invaluable charities, too. In addition, although average unsecured debt has been falling in the UK for the past five years, more than 10 per cent of StepChange client debt in Scotland last year was due to payday loans; that was the largest share among the home nations.

Many clients with payday loans have contractual payments that are worth more than 100 per cent of their income. Citizens Advice Scotland has reported cases in which payday loans were received by clients who were unable to repay that loan, so the vetting was inadequate. I was horrified to learn of the case of a client in a citizens advice bureau in the east of Scotland whose payday lender contacted his workplace and spoke to his colleagues about his outstanding debt and, even though he had set up an affordable repayment schedule, the agent was demanding full payment.

When I first saw an advert for payday lending on television, I thought that there was a typo in it, because I simply could not accept that it could be possible or legal to advertise interest rates of almost 3,000 per cent or higher. Those of us on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee know that people do not purposely lead themselves into debt; they enter a credit agreement with the best of intentions, but sometimes employment and family circumstances change with little notice.

Along with other members in the chamber, I am absolutely committed to do all that I can to mitigate the impacts of payday lending.

SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

As retailers gear up for the busiest shopping weekend of the year, I’m encouraging people to do what they can to support local firms.

Buy local

I’m backing the Small Business Saturday campaign which is urging the public to shop local on 7 December.

High streets and small businesses across the Lothians are under sustained pressure from the big chains, so it’s important we do what we can to level the playing field. As people gear up for Christmas I’d urge them to consider how their spending decisions affect local firms and their local communities.

And for those going online I’d encourage seeking out local alternatives. Longer-term I will continue to campaign for greater support for small and micro businesses in Lothian region, both in terms of revitalising our local high streets and improving access to public procurement.