This is a guest blog kindly provided by Mary Rivers from our affiliated local group, Equality Bristol.
Well, it’s been quite a year so far - and we have hardly started! I am sure you are all too aware of the threat to equality and human rights that President Trump represents. We have yet to see how this could be exacerbated by the UK weakening its links with the European Union.
But what is happening at a local level? How is Bristol trying to respond to the challenges of inequality, and are there any lessons we can share from our experiences around the country?
Inequality has been rising in Bristol for years despite the myriad of public health and other interventions. There had been no signs of things changing, even before the recent challenges and hardships brought about by austerity and public sector funding cuts.
In his annual lecture last year, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees promised to reduce inequality in the city during his time in office. Gavin Kelly from the Resolution Foundation was impressed that a mayor had set himself such a challenge, but warned that Bristol has some of the worst outcomes in terms of education, and that all employers would need to commit to paying the Real Living Wage and tackling pay ratios if he were to succeed.
Mayor's City Office
The Mayor has since established a partnership called the City Office. This group of key movers and shakers in and around Bristol aims to find collaborative sustainable solutions to some of these intractable problems around inequality.
At a recent meeting with Equality Bristol, the chair of the City Office David Relph agreed that tackling economic inequality should be a key theme in the development of the One City Plan. It is hoped that Equality Bristol can help shape the agenda locally through our links with this new initiative and commitment from the Mayor.
Rough sleeping and homelessness
The first subgroup to be set up by The City Office has been a Rough Sleeping Partnership. The number of people rough sleeping in Bristol has increased dramatically over the last few years, and now stands at around 97 in any one night, compared to 2012 when it was less than 10.
The city council was one of 28 new ‘trailblazer’ areas across the country to be funded as part of the £50 million programme to help prevent people from becoming homeless. The Mayor also pledged further funding through The Mayor's Fund to take the long view about how changes can be made to the system to end street homelessness once and for all.
Metro Mayor debate on growth and living standards
Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset have joined forces and will be electing a metro mayor in May this year. The Resolution Foundation recently produced a report looking at the economic inequalities in cities that are about to elect metro mayors. An event was held in Bristol to explore how these new powers might be used to promote a more inclusive economy and tackle the deep inequalities in wages, income and housing that we experience in the region.
All the main parties have now nominated their candidates, so Equality Bristol will be following events closely during the hustings and help ensure that we get a mayor who puts tackling economic inequality and sustainability at the heart of their campaign.
Transition cites viewing of film Demain
Bristol Pound and the Transition Network hosted the UK premiere of an incredible documentary film called 'Demain' (Tomorrow in English). It’s a film about how wealth and power can be distributed in a different way to really empower local communities. During their journey, the film makers met the pioneers who are re-inventing agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education.
The Transition Network have managed to get the distribution rights for 6 months in 2017, so find out where you can see it and be inspired!
ASH CEO pay rise campaign
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) contacted TET and Equality Bristol to alert us to the fact that the Chief Executive of Imperial Tobacco was due a pay rise from £5.5 million to £8.5 million. ASH wanted to use the Imperial’s AGM in Bristol to call for better funding for tobacco control, since local authorities have had their public health budgets cut and are decommissioning stop smoking services. As a result of some excellent publicity by ASH, Imperial reversed their decision and have left the CEO on her £5.5 million package.
Women’s March Bristol 21 January
A Women's March took place on the first day of the presidency of Donald Trump. It was organised by a young woman who has only recently moved to Bristol but who wanted to show solidarity with women in the USA. Around 2,000 people marched for equality and human rights.
A new Female Empowerment Network has been established by the organisers to help women and others learn how to exercise their rights. It was refreshing to see young women who had never been involved in politics coming to the meeting keen to get skilled up to fight for their rights.
It’s been an horrendous but strangely life affirming 2017 so far. I feel heartened that, despite all the terrible things happening in the world, there are young keen caring people who want to uphold the values of fairness and freedom. Let’s hope that the voice of reason prevails in the end.
Mary Rivers, Equality Bristol
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.
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