LABOUR MSP David Stewart is urging the UK pensions minister to come to the Highlands to meet plumbers who have been hit with million-pound pension bills

LABOUR MSP David Stewart is urging the UK pensions minister to come to the Highlands to meet plumbers who have been hit with million-pound pension bills.

Mr Stewart has invited MP Guy Opperman to hear first-hand accounts from the bosses of small family firms who have received estimated debt demands from the multi-employer defined benefit scheme, Plumbing Pensions.

The Highlands & Islands MSP, who has secured cross-party support from Moray MP Douglas Ross – Scotland’s new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State – is calling for changes to be made to the pension scheme’s one-size-fits-all approach, which he said is clearly having unintended consequences for plumbers.

Moray MP Douglas Ross, who is also supporting an affected constituent, said: “It is really good that myself and MSP David Stewart can have a cross-party approach to this because there is further work we can do in Moray and the Highlands to keep this issue at the top of the policy agenda.”

Current legislation means, in certain circumstances, liabilities from one sponsor can become the responsibility of other companies in the pension fund. Other conditions create what is known as Section 75 “debt” for that employer.

And for 71-year-old Inverness plumber Murray Menzies, his estimated Section 75 debt is £1.2 million.

It was triggered when he retired in 2015. Other plumbers across the UK, including a 56-year-old father-of-three in Moray, are also caught up in this “pension nightmare”.

Mr Menzies said he has no way of paying the bill. Selling his home and everything he owns would only cover a fraction of what he has been told he owes to the pension fund despite the fact that he paid all the required contributions.

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart with Murray and Jennifer Menzies at a catch-up meeting in Inverness.

“It’s hard to believe that after working hard all my life and looking after my employees I may lose everything,” he said.

“The Section 75 regulations were never meant to bankrupt ordinary employers. They were meant to ensure that unscrupulous companies could not close businesses and walk away from any debts in their pension fund. But it has all but ruined our lives.”

Others in the same boat include Elgin plumber Jimmy Wiseman. Like Mr Menzies, he too, for many years, paid all the contributions required into the pension scheme for his employees. He too was stunned to be served with an estimated Section 75 debt for £1.7 million – triggered when he attempted to wind up his business, Wiseman Plumbing & Heating Ltd.

And he too has no means of paying.

His business is a limited company; therefore he is not personally liable for the debt. But the downside is he does not know when, if ever, he can close his business and retire.

He bought his business partner out of the firm four years ago for a four-figure sum. At the time of the transaction neither were aware that this pension debt was going to be served.

Mr Wiseman said: “When I first received the bill I got very down in the dumps and I felt sick about everything. It just totally changed me. I kept thinking ‘how am I going to get out of this’? How is this going to affect the rest of my life and my children’s lives?’ My solicitor didn’t have the specialist knowledge to take this on and I couldn’t afford to pay for expensive legal advice so it’s just that same old story of the small fish being left to fry.”

Mr Wiseman said he has had no contact with the scheme for some time and no official I haven’t demand for money has been served, only the estimated bill.

He added: “So really, all I can do is keep working, because that helps to keep the stress under control.”

Mr Wiseman feels angry about the situation and believes not only should the law be changed to wipe the “debts”, but compensation be awarded to the plumbers who have been issued with the estimated bills.

This sentiment is echoed by a pressure group called the Plumbing Employers Action Group (PEAG).

Set up to raise awareness among UK plumbing companies, and to help those who are affected, PEAG says the £2 billion pensions scheme is fully-funded. The campaign group argues that administration of the scheme has been poor. It claims the trustees failed to apply the law correctly and that they also failed to keep employers properly advised. PEAG is lobbying in alliance with the Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Federation (SNIPEF) for changes to be made to the law.

Last week, PEAG and SNIPEF met with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Plumbers’ Pensions met to discuss their proposals. This discussion is ongoing.

Mr Stewart, who met with Mr and Mrs Menzies this week following his meeting in London last week with MP Douglas Ross and policy leaders at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “There undoubtedly seems to be widespread consensus that a change in the law is long overdue to protect Mr Menzies from financial ruin and others who are in a similar position.

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart in talks with Moray MP Douglas Ross, Scotland’s new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, during a visit to London for a meeting with pension policy leaders at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Mr Stewart said: “Certainly, in my 20 plus years and two case-works in two Parliaments I cannot think of a greater injustice. They’re not just facing financial ruin but homelessness, which is an appalling position.”

The Labour MSP, who has written to the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund and has held meetings with PEAG, SNIPEF and the chief executive of Plumbing Pensions scheme Kate Yates, added: “Pensions are a UK Government issue, but I am pursuing a meeting with the Scottish Government which does have some mitigation powers and some representation powers, so at the very least what I will be wanting is a note from the Scottish Government to the pension trustees saying ‘look at this again please, because this is disgraceful’. I can’t say that I can magic it all away, but I can bang on every door and try to get something done.”

 

Stewart took his campaign to Dover House,. the London headquarters of the Scotland Office, where he led a discussion on the issue.

Mr Stewart is currently researching what protections there will be, if any, for these individuals if or when the debt notices are legally served.

Mr Menzies said life “has not been the same since we got caught up in the ‘pension nightmare’ last year”.

He said: “Being told that you are expected to find £1.2 million to fund an artificial pension shortfall in a pension scheme that you ceased to pay into when you retired is farcical. But that is the reality of my situation and it not only applies to me but to many other UK plumbing firms who paid into this non-compulsory pension fund for their employees.

“My wife Jennifer and I are hugely affected by the stress that we are constantly under. We await with trepidation the next telephone call, email or letter from the trustees of this pension fund. We have been unable to focus on family events as our lives have been consumed with worry and fear about the future. It is very possible that we may lose our family home and our livelihood. This may come about if we are forced into a situation whereby we have to sell our family home and my shop which facilitates my livelihood. All of our children live abroad. Our eldest daughter lives in Australia, our middle daughter lives in New Zealand and our youngest lives in Spain, so family get- togethers are special to us all. Christmas 2019 should have been a joyous event as two of our daughters were coming home to spend Christmas with us. However, it was difficult to ‘get into the family spirit of Christmas’ with the constant reminder that we have to find £1.2 million if this appalling legislation is not changed.”

Mrs Menzies said the strain was also taking its toll on her.

She said: “This should have been a very special year in our lives as it will be our 50th Wedding Anniversary, my 70th birthday, and our eldest daughter’s 50th, but we are unable to make any travel plans to meet up with our family to celebrate these happy events which we were so looking forward to because of the uncertainty of our future.

“Instead of taking life a bit easier now that he is in his seventies, my husband has been forced back to work in order to pay legal fees. We don’t have any savings to fight this through the courts. We try daily to ‘get on with things’ but it is difficult at times. Well-meaning folk don’t fully understand our plight and we are told quite often that ‘it will be all right, things will work out’. However, the reality is that it may not work out and we will be left destitute and homeless at the age of 71 and 70 respectively, as a result of a situation we are not responsible for.”

Article notes:

The Plumbing Employers Action Group (PEAG) was formed three years ago in response to the notification by the Trustees of their intention to commence collecting Section 75 debts. It has more than 50 members, all of whom are or were employers in the scheme.

The group’s aim has been to see what pressure it can bring to have the Section 75 legislation amended, to provide support and general advice to members and to establish what other remedies may be available to PEAG employers affected or potentially affected by Section 75.

It argues that it cannot have been Parliament’s intention to bankrupt individuals in this way and through no fault of their own. And it accuses the Plumbing Pension Trustees of negligent wrongdoing in failing to apply Section 75 as they should have done since 2005 and claim they failed to even advise employers about the issue until 2016.

Mr Menzies is understood to be among 29 unincorporated employers who cannot take advantage of easements within the Employer Debt Regulations 2005 (source PEAG).

The Pensions Minister Guy Opperman’s officials at the DWP are currently analysing proposals by PEAG and SNIPEF, which both groups believe will remove the threat of bankruptcy from these 29 individuals without having a negative impact on the pension scheme.

Mr Wiseman is not in the same category as those 29 individuals as his business is limited so he is not personally liable for the debt.

Radical action needed to tackle diabetes

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, questioned Nicola Sturgeon today on the need for radical action to tackle diabetes.

Mr Stewart is Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister and a long-time campaigner for solutions to the rapid rise in cases. A new study by Diabetes Scotland has highlighted the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Scotland has increased by 40% over a decade.

Mr Stewart, during First Minister’s Questions, said: “The First Minister will be well aware that Scotland has one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in Europe and it costs the NHS £1billion a year in avoidable complications. One in ten hospital bed days relates to diabetes.

“Does the First Minister share my view that we need radical and immediate action to reduce the long-term complications of diabetes, a condition that maims, blinds and kills?”

The First Minister replied that, in general terms, yes she did share the view.

She acknowledged Mr Stewart’s long-standing interest in diabetes and said that action was needed across a range of different areas, mentioning early access to the best treatment was important, as well as supporting people to see the condition reversed or managed without further complications.

“Prevention remains the most important focus in many respects,” she said, adding that in this parliamentary session the Restricting Foods Promotion Bill would be brought forward to help make sure people were supported to eat healthily.

Mr Stewart said afterwards that there was also more than 26,000 people in Scotland who were living with the condition who have yet to be diagnosed.

“It is a crisis and one that I have seen grow over the years,” he added.

“There must be more action from the Scottish Government to tackle the root cause, helping people to choose a healthier life style, healthier foods and to take more exercise.

“And, GPs, or indeed diabetes and practice nurses, should be able to offer screening earlier to patients who are most at risk, which is normally people over 45 who have a family history of diabetes and are overweight.

“Otherwise lives will continue to be blighted and people will continue to suffer the consequences.”

  • If type 2 diabetes goes untreated, the high blood sugar can affect various cells and organs in the body. Complications include kidney damage, often leading to dialysis, eye damage, which could result in blindness, or an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.

More questions asked on chronic pain delays

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has tabled more questions in the Scottish Parliament in his bid to see waiting times improved at NHS Highland’s chronic pain clinic.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, was approached by constituents who complained about the waiting times for first appointments in the north, advising that in some cases there can also be more than a year’s wait for follow up appointments.

NHS Highland acknowledged an increased demand for the service, the lengthy waiting times patients in the north have to wait to be seen and also advised that there is a significant shortage of consultants in chronic pain nationally.  They have also cited the ageing population and an increase in the numbers of people living with long term conditions as contributing factors.

Mr Stewart said “I contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, but she failed to answer how the Scottish Government is going to address the national shortage of consultants.

“I understand other NHS boards have also cited workforce shortages as a contributing factor to lengthening waiting times for chronic pain services in Scotland.  Findings of a 2017 Facilities Planning Model Census found there were a similar ratio of chronic pain doctors (anaesthetists) in Scotland in 2017 compared to 2011, equivalent to 1/100,000 people, which highlighted that more were needed.

“Meanwhile constituents try to cope as best they can with excruciating pain or have to pay for private treatment.  This has to be addressed.

“I have tabled more PQs (Parliamentary Questions) asking how many chronic pain doctors are in training.  I’ve also asked how the £703m as yet unallocated to drive down waiting times is to be allocated between Scotland’s health boards.  Of the £119m that was allocated this year, only £7.5m came to NHS Highland and how much of that was actually directed to chronic pain is not clear.” he continued.

“The idea of waiting a year to get help while in severe pain is horrific, it often stops people being able to work and affects their home lives immeasurably.  We need to see the Scottish Government commit more to reduce these unacceptably long delays.”

 

 

Question S5W-27291: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/02/2020

To ask the Scottish Government what the (a) longest and (b) shortest wait time for chronic pain treatment has been in each year since 2017.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 03/03/2020

Question S5W-27290: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/02/2020

To ask the Scottish Government how the remaining £703 million of Waiting Times Improvement Plan funding will be allocated in 2020-21, also broken down by NHS board.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 03/03/2020

Question S5W-27288: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/02/2020

To ask the Scottish Government how many chronic pain doctors have been in training in each year since 2017, including to date in 2020.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 03/03/2020

Question S5W-27289: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/02/2020

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the Waiting Times Improvement Plan funding was allocated to chronic pain services in 2019-20.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 03/03/2020

‘Home care services for the dying in Scotland are patchy at best’

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart told MSPs today that end of life care should be at the top of the political agenda but home care services for the dying in Scotland were patchy at best.

He highlighted how one GP had told him that resources for supporting care to help patients who wished to die at home seemed to have been “designed out of the system.”
Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, was speaking in the Scottish Parliament at his cross-party member’s debate on the ‘Right to Full Care to Die at Home’.
The debate was promoted by a plea from Shetland GP Susan Bowie that there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled by being able to die at home with suitable palliative care.

During the debate Mr Stewart said: “As Susan Bowie told me: “I almost dread someone asking to die at home at the minute because we struggle so much to find the compassionate round -the-clock care they need for the last few days of their lives.
“Even if folk have caring relatives willing to help, relatives can become exhausted and need a break, and it can end up that the dying person ends up in a hospice, care home, or even a hospital because we can’t access enough care to allow this.

“It would be a huge relief to me and many other GPs across Scotland that when someone says they want to die at home we know for sure we can get the compassionate care to back up the palliative care we can provide.”

Another GP told Mr Stewart: “.people no longer expect to die at home and choose the community hospital because they are afraid of the lack of support at home. We do occasionally achieve a well-supported death at home, but usually because of extraordinary family commitment.”
While another doctor added: “Patients are unable to die at home, even when they wish to do so, because of the lack of availability of care; it seems the resource for supporting this has been designed out of the system.”

Mr Stewart said that being able to die at home was a basic human right that accords with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Marie Curie, in a recent opinion poll of Scots, highlighted that 61% would prefer to die at home.
Research by Marie Curie, University of Edinburgh and Kings College London says that if current trends in where people die continues then by 2040 two thirds of all Scots could die at home, in a care home or a hospice. Currently less than half do.

However, it is very unlikely to happen without substantial investment in community-based care including care home capacity. Without this investment hospital deaths could rise to 37,089 (57%) of all deaths by 2040.

Dr Bowie told Mr Stewart, previously, when someone wished to die at home, she was able to organise volunteer help for families in caring for their relatives.
A list of trained people would be available to help occasionally if required, and to give relatives a break. However, that service in Shetland was closed years ago. Social care could not fill the gap, so there is very little care available in the evenings, at night or at weekends.

Dr Bowie continued: “We want to be in our most secure of places, our own bed, attended on by loved ones. Unless health boards and social care are forced to by legislation they may chose not to provide this kind of service, and so home care services for the dying in Scotland are patchy at best.”
Around 10,295 people die in the Highlands and Islands each year and of these 7,720 have palliative care need.

Mr Stewart said; “Parliament has rightly been praised for its legacy of policies on matters including free personal care, the smoking ban and minimum unit pricing for alcohol. A right to die at home could join that illustrious group of legacy policies that parliamentarians and constituents of the future could look back on with pride.”

He also stressed that parents currently have the right to have their child born at home and the national health service provides midwives, but we do not have the right to carers to enable us to die at home. “I see a real policy gap, there,” he said.

“We need to shift the balance so that we not only train more carers and nurses to be available to support people who wish to die at home, but make sure that those carers are better paid for the valuable job that they do,” he said.

Mr Stewart continued: “The right to die at home is, as Sue Ryder charity has said, embedding human rights in end of life care. It is realistic medicine in practice. It is about Right to Express a Preference, and the Right to Change Your Mind if circumstances change. The Scottish Government strategy on palliative care will be complete next year – surely now is our chance to put end of life care at the top of the agenda?”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant also backed the debate and said: “It is not so much about dying at home it is more about living at home”.
“When days are few they are precious. There is a greater need to live them to the full, to savour and appreciate things around you. That is much better to do at home than in an institution,” she added.

“There is also the greater need to spend time with family and friends, although a terminal illness can make that tiring. Therefore, how much better to be at home, where family and friends can have somewhere to wait until their loved one has the energy to spend some time with them.

“In a hospital that becomes difficult, sitting beside a bed, getting in the way and nothing else to do that just simply sit.”

She praised GPs such as Susan Bowie and carers who give above and beyond to support people to live and die at home.

“I have a constituent whose partner is being forced to give up work to care for him and even at that it would appear he will not get the support he needs to allow him to spend his final days at home,” said Mrs Grant.

“To live these days to the full, he needs to be at home. He desperately wants to be at home and he is being failed.”

Public Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick, said that the IJB on Shetland had been looking at out-of-hours palliative care on the islands and had produced a Palliative Care Strategy to improve such care, which had just been was signed off, although it might not yet have been published as it was ‘hot off the press’.

MSPs press the case for women’s custody facility in the north

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, in Parliament today about facilities for women prisoners from the Highlands and Islands and Moray.

During Portfolio Questions, Mr Stewart asked the Cabinet Secretary what plans the Scottish Government has for a new women’s community integration unit in the Highlands and Islands.

The Cabinet Secretary replied that in 2015 the Scottish Government announced plans for a new eighty place national women’s facility at Cornton Vale and up to five new community based custodial units (CCUs) which would each accommodate around twenty women at locations across Scotland. He stated that custodial arrangements for women in the Highlands and Islands remain as they are at present and that the national facility and the first two CCUs in Glasgow and Dundee were due to be operational by the end of 2021. The Cabinet Secretary said the decision on the next phase of CCUs will depend on risk profile, community locations of women in custody and on lessons learned from bringing the first phase of CCUs into operation.

Mr Stewart however responded to the Cabinet Secretary that in 2019 there were twenty four women in custody from the Highlands and Islands and Moray who were serving their sentences in HMP Grampian or Cornton Vale. The MSP said that distance from families affects relationships at home and behaviour within the prison environment. He asked if the Cabinet Secretary will consider a Community Integration Unit within the Highlands and Islands for women who are serving short sentences, on remand, on community integration or are at the end of their sentence.

The Cabinet Secretary said there were no longer facilities for women prisoners in Inverness due to low numbers of women prisoners in the area but said Mr Stewart makes the important point that locations for the other custody units have not yet been decided upon and that Mr Stewart should make representation to the Scottish Prison Service if he thinks there is a justifiable case for a Cummunity Custody Unit in the Highlands and Islands then he should put that forward.

Speaking afterwards, David Stewart said “Together with my colleague, Rhoda Grant, I will indeed make representation to the Scottish Prison Service on this.

“The new Community Custody Units are being designed to accommodate twenty women. In 2019 there were sixteen women from the Highlands in custody with the other eight being from island communities or Moray.

“Distances within the Highlands and Islands and Moray are already vast and to ask family members to travel further into Grampian or the central belt to visit female relatives is completely unjust. We will be making the case for facilities to be made available within the Highlands and Islands.”

Rhoda Grant who has also campaigned for local facilities said “Prison sentences not only impact on the prisoner but on their families too and we must ensure families, particularly children, can easily visit a loved one whilst they are serving their sentence. This is even more important where that access is to their mother.

LABOUR MSP raises concerns the SNP is slipping in its efforts to mitigate UK welfare cuts

At First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood today (16th January), Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart, questioned Nicola Sturgeon about a compelling situation in Moray where benefits staff face having to deny desperately-poor families emergency cash handouts from the Scottish Government-funded Welfare Support Fund amid concerns it could run out.

Money from the fund is handed out to claimants to reduce the impact of universal credit delays.

However, a surge in demand has now prompted staff to warn the money needs to be prioritised to the most urgent cases. All at a time when benefits staff say the number of people presenting as feeling suicidal due to money problems has peaked.

Speaking in chamber, Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Eradication of Poverty and Social Inequality, said “The First Minister will be well aware of the concerns expressed this week by the leader of Moray Council who said there was a severe cash shortfall in his council’s Scottish Welfare Fund. Front line benefits support staff say there has been a rise in the number of people feeling suicidal and of those with acute mental health and drug issues. Does the First Minister share my concerns and what comfort can she give to the hard-pressed front-line staff in Moray and the highly vulnerable people they serve?”

Mrs Sturgeon said it was true her government’s welfare fund was under pressure in many parts of the country, but she said this issue would be considered while the new budget for 2020-2021 was being drawn up.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “It could soon be unbelievably difficult for these front-line benefits support staff in Moray who will effectively be working with one hand behind their backs. They will be torn between having to protect the cash that is left in this dwindling fund and making sure families get the extra bit of money they need to warm their homes and put food in the cupboards.

“It is the poorest who are being hit hardest by continuing austerity and the SNP government has a duty to use every possible method to protect them. I will be keeping a close eye on next month’s budget to check that the First Minister has delivered.”

Cases of sepsis in the Highlands has almost doubled in three years: MSP

Highlands and Islands MSP, David Stewart, has discovered that cases of sepsis have almost doubled in the Highlands in the past three years.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, submitted a Freedom of Information request to NHS Highland prompted by a constituent’s case.

The health authority said that in 2017 464 were reported, in 2018 it was 596 and 2019, 878.

Anyone can get sepsis, but babies under one, people over 75, people with diabetes, those with a weakened immune system, patients who have recently undergone surgery and women who have just given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion are particularly susceptible.

“These figures are quite staggering for our region, although I am aware that the way sepsis was recorded changed in late 2017, but it is still eye-opening for me to see this increase,” said Mr Stewart.

“The figures give a truer picture of the number of cases which is very concerning.

“Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection and can very hard to spot so I am happy to try to raise awareness in the region.

“I realise there are extensive health staff education programmes on this, but I am keen to raise public awareness so that people can spot the symptoms and if they suspect anyone is affected they can seek medical help immediately.

Mr Stewart said symptoms include blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue; a rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis; difficulty breathing, confusion or slurred speech and in children, a weak, abnormal, high-pitched cry, sleepiness or not showing interest.

Answering the FOI, NHS Highland said that the figures were given as patient discharges from hospitals in its area within the financial year end period, plus any additional deaths in the region.

It stressed sepsis was identified by an international classification of the disease, documented in the medical records and recorded with codes A40 and A41, when found in a discharge from hospital or contributing to the cause of death.

NHS Highland explained that in late 2017 a new procedure was adopted designed to ensure that A40 and A41 were applied and “this resulted in a sudden increase in the coding of sepsis in almost every board area”.

The health authority added: “It is not thought that this sudden increase represents a major shift in incidence of sepsis. There has also been a large effort across NHS Scotland to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis and this heightened awareness may also have contributed to the increase recorded.”

It went on to say other factors may also be an ageing population more vulnerable to infections that commonly lead to sepsis including flu, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Mr Stewart also found out that a trained quality improvement advisor was working in Primary Care supporting GPs, ambulance staff and district nurses in early identification, management and treatment of sepsis.

Stewart invites cross-party working to block £2billion pension fund’s plan to leave Inverness plumber penniless

MSP David Stewart with Murray Menzies.

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart has secured cross-party working to win support in the Commons for a change in the law in his bid to save a 71-year-old city plumber from financial wipe out by a pension scheme.

Mr Stewart has won the backing of Moray MP Douglas Ross who has agreed to use his new role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scotland Office to act as a liaison and make good connections with other UK Government departments.

It comes after Murray Menzies was issued with a shock estimated bill for £1.2 million by the Plumbing & Mechanical Services (UK) Industry Pension Scheme.

The bill was generated because the pension scheme has a legally-binding requirement to issue “debt notices” to those who have left or retired, or have changed the structure of their business.

This legally-bounding requirement was brought in with pension reforms introduced in and around the 1990s following pension fund scandals.

The reforms brought in strict rules with what would appear to be unintended consequences for multi-employer schemes like Plumbing Pensions and individuals who have paid into it.

And now Mr Menzies, along with others who have left the scheme, are being told they are liable to pay astronomical sums.

Mr Stewart was appalled when he heard of Mr Menzies’ plight.

Mr Menzies said he and wife Jennifer have been “stuck in a bad dream” since the estimated bill landed on their doormat in 2018.

Mr Stewart was appalled when he heard of Mr Menzies’ plight.

He was searching for levers within the Scottish Government to help Mr Menzies but was told none existed.

With the ultimate aim of pressuring the lawmakers in Westminster to make changes to The Pensions Act, Mr Stewart approached Conservative Moray MP Douglas Ross, the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scotland Office.

 He has also secured talks in Whitehall with UK pensions minister Guy Opperman.

Mr Stewart said: “I met with Kate Yates, the chief executive of Plumbing Pensions last month and she was saying she was absolutely certain that the pensions reforms never intended to so harshly punish people by sending them extortionate bills just for paying into a pension scheme for their workers. It’s a scandal and I’m looking at The Pensions Act to try to resolve this unintended consequence. But it is really positive that MP Douglas Ross has agreed to a cross-party approach. I know, from my own experience as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for Alistair Darling in my MP days that Mr Ross will be a good advocate who can make connections with other UK Government departments and act as a liaison.”

The £1.2 million pension “debt” served on Mr Menzies is equal to his share of the shortfall in the pensions scheme on a ‘buy-out’ basis.

The sum includes an allowance for the estimated expenses that would be incurred in the hypothetical situation that the scheme decided to wind up and buy annuities for all the members.

Mr Menzies’ share of the shortfall is based on the benefits accrued by each member whilst employed by him at his firm William Menzies and Son, based on Academy Street in Inverness.

He said saw no signals in the seventies, when he signed up to it, that it had the potential to leave him penniless. He thought his decision to retire and close his plumbing business in 2015 would end his association with the scheme. However, three years later, he received the shock demand in the post.

 He is now angry with the pension’s trustees, saying they should have told him about the consequences sooner.

“They were sitting on this information for about 14 years and they did not inform anybody,” he claimed.

 “They could have told me there was a way of protecting myself, because I could have protected myself by changing my business from a partnership to a limited business. Thos is having a devastating toll on myself and my wife. It’s hard to sleep at night. It feels like we’re stuck in a bad dream. We need all the help we can get.”

MSP David Stewart, in parliamentary debate, raises the right to die at home

Highland and Islands MSP, David Stewart, said today that having the right to die at home was a ‘basic human right’.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, was speaking at a member’s debate raised by MSP Miles Briggs on Research Projections into Place of Death in 2040.

The debate homed in on research by charity Marie Curie, the University of Edinburgh and Kings College London which said that if current trends continue by 2040 two thirds of Scots could die at home, in a care home or a hospice. Currently less than half do.

However, the research says it is very unlikely to happen without substantial investment in community-based care including care home capacity. Without this investment hospital deaths could rise to 37,089 (57%) of all deaths by 2040.

Mr Stewart told fellow MSPs: “This is an issue that has long interested me and has fundamental public health implications for Scotland.

“Having a right to die at home in my view is a basic human right and accords with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Mr Stewart highlighted concerns by Shetland GP Susan Bowie who contacted him about the gap in ‘hospital at home care’ for patients. He has also received similar concerns from other GPs in Scotland.

Dr Bowie and Mr Stewart believes there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled to die at home.

Mr Stewart explained that the Parliament had previously been praised for ‘legacy policies’ such as free personal care, the smoking ban and minimum unit pricing on alcohol.

He continued: “In my view a right to die at home policy could join the illustrious group of legacy policies that parliamentarians and constituents of the future could look back on with pride.”

Mr Stewart said that in a recent Marie Curie poll 61% of Scots said they would prefer to die at home and research by group, Dying Matters, found around 70% of people would prefer to die at home, yet around 50% currently die in hospital.

“Parents have the right currently to have their child born at home and the NHS provides midwives, but we don’t have the right to have carers to enable us to die at home. So, I see a real policy gap there,” said Mr Stewart.

“In conclusion there can be fewer more important policy areas in health than one that provides certainty to those suffering from terminal conditions and the choice over place of death, to spend the last days and hours at home with loved ones rather than in hospital with strangers.”

Mr Stewart asked Public Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick, if the Scottish Government had thought about enshrining in law the right to die in a community setting. Mr Fitzpatrick replied that it wasn’t something that had been considered but he wondered whether it should be.

  • Mr Stewart’s own member’s debate on the right to die at home is set to be heard early in 2020.

Ends

Note for editors

During the debate Mr Stewart outlined the concerns of Dr Bowie who said in the past when someone wished to die at home, she was able to organise volunteer help for families in caring for their relatives, as often children find it difficult to take care of their parent’s personal needs.

A list of trained people would be available occasionally to help if required, and to give relatives a break. It was a great low-cost service.

However, this was closed in Shetland years ago and social care could not fill the gap, so carers were not available at night or at weekends.

He said during the debate that the situation had moved on since last year with Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, telling him that the current model of on-call nursing on Shetland is to be extended to a waking night service using advanced nurse practitioners alongside care staff to support people in the community. This will start this year.

However, despite reassurances to the contrary from Shetland IJB, he has heard that there are still not enough carers and nurses especially during weekends and evenings.

“This can only get worse with an ageing Highlands and Islands population,” he added.

“I agree with Marie Curie that the care of terminally ill people must be given a higher priority and there must be more substantial support services.”