A common assumption about politicians is that we all have lots of holidays, and time off, especially over recess periods. However, I know that for myself and many other MSPs and MPs in the Scottish National Party, this is not a criticism that can be levelled at all politicians. Why? Because we are fortunate to have some of the most talented, professional, elected Parliamentarians of any political party.
So while the common assumption is that we are off sunning ourselves in distant and foreign parts of the world, actually we are all pretty normal people. We have families, children, we have friends that we hardly ever see! Take for example; someone like Phillippa Whitford MP – nominated and awarded a prize for offering her vast years of surgical skills and expertise to decrease waiting times, and in dangerous political settings offering her time to give lifesaving treatment. Our MSPs – whilst also running the day-to-day operations of the Scottish Government – people like Derek Mackay MSP – Finance Minister & father of two, or Aileen Campbell MSP and Minister for Health & Sport and is also mother of two.
You might wonder why any of this is relevant? Here’s why – because I, unlike many colleagues, have no surgical or medical experience to lend – I, unlike many others, do not have a young family to look after, whilst also running a Government Department. Instead, I choose to spend my summer – volunteering at the Hamilton Trussell Trust Foodbank – run by enthusiastic, passionate and dedicated volunteers like Isobel Graham McPartlin. A woman who I have also had the great pleasure to work alongside – wearing many different hats – over recent years.
So let me turn to the question of the initiative to offer free, sanitary products to women. Something I’m sure something we can all relate to is the weekly shop and needing to remember the daily basics of life… Bread, Milk, Shampoo, etc. But what if you got to the till and you couldn’t afford to pay for your baby food, your bread and milk, and the sanitary products that you will undoubtedly need that month? What if you worked part-time but you still struggled to make ends meet at the end of the month? You have young children, who require food for fuel, a school uniform, new schools shoes – you need to pay the bills too. What are you supposed to do?
We are not all – in the words of certain mainstream media outlets – talking about “benefit-scroungers”, “wasters” or “generational-worklessness” we are talking about hard working women, up and down this country, reliant on the UK Government’s tax credits system – cut off from sources of vital income by an outsourced American company called ‘Concentrix’. These are the women who need our support and our help the most – because they are the ones feeding, clothing, inspiring and enabling the future generation of young minds. The future innovators, creators, surgeons, lawyers and politicians.
These women need one basic fundamental thing – sanitary products – provided at the point of need, to those who are most in need. Why? Because they are already struggling – thanks to a Westminster ‘benefits’ system, that seeks to stigmatise and play one form of deprivation off against another.
A UK Government happy to praise the hardworking, generous, volunteers and called Foodbanks a sign of “Big Society” in action. Foodbanks are not a sign of “Big Society” it is a sign that it is failing. It is failing those most in need.
The UK Government are happy to pay for the renewal of nuclear weapons, they are happy to claim they are doing all they can to “welcome refugees” and unaccompanied minors to safety in the UK whilst simultaneously paying for drone strikes in Syria – the country of origin for many of these innocent, young children, seeking asylum in the safest place they can reach.
Sadly, we cannot afford to pay for women’s pensions – they paid in, it’s time the UK paid out. They are not willing to address the systemic inequality that 80% of those affected by the UK’s austerity driven Welfare Cuts are women – the very women – relying on foodbanks to feed their families, as they continue to work hard, and are still struggling to make ends meet.
Maybe the UK Government will pay heed to the work undertaken by new Social Security Minister, Jeanne Freeman MSP, and respectfully consider this in Scotland’s block grant? I doubt it. How are you supposed to finance a system – designed with the values of dignity, fairness and respect from its inception – whilst still mitigating a myriad of other UK cuts.
So what is there left to do? The Scottish Government – responsible for all aspects of its devolved competencies – and soon to have even greater powers over designing such a system with ‘fairness, dignity & respect’ at the heart of it, one which understands the needs of those who rely upon these vital means of support.
Aree the Scottish Government supposed to continue to mitigate for the UK Government’s failures? Are they to keep plugging the gap? Are they to keep funding vital third sector, charitable organisations, like Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, Engender et al. to deliver vital frontless services – while the UK continues to take with the other hand?
It’ss time the UK Government got a reality check. Big Society is nothing more than words – if it is not followed by action. This UK Government are perpetuating the systemic inequalities that women face every day – and so – when we consider a modest proposal which would save women the further embarrassed and save their dignity – respect their hard work – I think it’s time for the UK Government transformed it’s ‘Big Society’ ideals from words into deeds.
It’s vital that the UK fund the Scottish Government accordingly for this service and many other vital services it could provide. To allow it to not merely mitigate but to multiply its responsibilities. In order for this to truly be deliverable – it must duly be funded accordingly. Women need access to basics. How about hearing the calls from my colleague, Alison Thewliss MP, and scrap the tampon tax? How about funding the Scottish Government to allow them to provide a vital service to these women? Just an idea.
A simple ‘S-Card’ would allow women to discreetly pass a card to a local pharmacy, Doctor, or Nurse – no questions asked – and be handed, a small white pack containing sanitary products that they will need that month. That’s one less thing to add to the shopping list & one less thing than that Foodbanks have to hand out. A Scottish Government can deliver a system which has ‘Fairness, Dignity & Respect’ at its core – it needs to be adequately funded to do so.