In Scotland, we have seen a significant peak of people testing positive with Covid-19, largely due to the omicron strain. Therefore, as Health Secretary with the Scottish Government, we took steps to accelerate the booster programme. This included opening the online booking portal earlier than anticipated for everyone aged 18-29, appointments being added to the online portal daily, and Covid-19 vaccination capacity being increased. Furthermore, all NHS board areas have been working to increase the availability of drop-in clinics, with a particular focus on the over 40s.
The most important thing we can all do to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19 is to get our vaccinations and boosters when eligible. The vaccines we have are highly effective and safe and I urge anyone who is eligible and not yet vaccinated to book an appointment. Scotland already has the highest vaccination rate of all UK nations for first, second and third doses and we continue to follow clinical advice from the JCVI on offering booster jags through age cohorts in descending order to ensure maximum benefit.
In light of the rapid increase of transmission rates of Covid-19, the First Minister announced some tighter restrictions in Scotland. She highlighted that she would be willing to go further, however, the Scottish Government cannot implement stricter restrictions without financial support from the UK Government Treasury. At the time of writing, the Scottish, Irish and Welsh Government have jointly called on the UK Government to distribute further money so they can issue tougher restrictions. That being said, the Scottish Government have been able to pull some money together to help those businesses which have been negatively impacted by a loss of customers and therefore profit over the festive period.
New Winter Heating Benefit
A consultation has been launched on a new heating benefit that will give around 400,000 low-income households the reassurance of a guaranteed £50 payment every winter. The Low-Income Winter Heating Assistance will be introduced from winter 2022 to replace the current UK Government Cold Weather Payment scheme. The current UK Government benefit system only triggers a £25 payment when temperatures are recorded or forecast at below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row, whereas the Scottish Government’s new scheme will see that those most vulnerable will be provided with financial stability, no matter the weather.
Record funding for Health and Social Care in Scottish Budget
Scotland’s budget is set to focus on pandemic recovery, including record funding of £18 billion for Health and Social Care as it tackles the continued challenges of Covid-19. This funding will help local governments to retain care workers through better pay and conditions. Over £1.2 billion of this funding will be reserved for improving mental health services and £147.6 million to address drug deaths and tackle harms from alcohol.
Investment in our health and social care services is central to Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19 and to ensuring we properly recognise and reward the hardworking staff and carers who have gone above and beyond to make sure we are all cared for when we need it most.
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme
The UK’s first deposit return scheme will go live across Scotland in 2023 to help the recycling of billions of bottles and cans each year. The Circular Economy Minister has set out plans for a phased implementation of the scheme and has said that the target of achieving 90% collection rates by 2024 will be maintained. As part of the phased implementation, the Scottish Government is working with retailers on a voluntary basis to enable people to start returning their bottles and cans for recycling from November 2022. Despite calls from opposition to water down the scheme by removing materials or wait for other nations to ‘catch up’, the Scottish Government has maintained its position and ambition.
In the Constituency
- This year marked an auspicious birthday for one of our favourite Social Landlords, Govan Housing Association. This month I was delighted to stop by to wish them a happy anniversary and to say thanks for all their work in the Greater Govan area. Their commitment to the regeneration of Govan, and protecting and improving its historic tenement stock, is vital to the communities who live here.
- I welcomed the news that Warmer Homes Scotland, the Scottish Government’s national fuel poverty scheme, has supported 449 people in Glasgow Pollok since it was launched in 2015, with each of them saving an average of £171 off their energy bills. The Warmer Homes Scotland scheme provides a step-by-step service to identify where energy improvements can be made in the home and arranges for this work to be carried out. You can find out if you are eligible for support by calling 0808 808 2282.
- Due to the tightening of hospitality guidance, many businesses saw their bookings drop, meaning there was a potential for wasted food. However, the Scottish federation of housing associations worked with the Scottish Government food insecurity team and the hospitality sector in Glasgow to make sure no food went to waste. Working together, they managed to get food to local organisations, such as Linthouse Housing Association, to distribute the food.
- I was able to visit some local organisations who have been running Christmas Gift Appeals to drop off my donations. This included The Pantry and Glasgow Children’s Hospital, but this does not begin to cover the wide range of local community groups doing their bit to support others this Christmas. Thank you so much to each and every person involved in making someone else’s Christmas that bit more magical or less lonely through the gift of time, company, food or presents.