Smart phones, social media and cyber-bullying

Today’s guest blog comes from Dr Susie Davies, Founder of Papaya, and considers the impact of smart phones, social media and cyber-bullying on the mental health of adolescents.    

Never before has one small object with its shiny gleaming surface and multiple apps been such an iconic symbol of modern life. From alarm clocks, to bus passes, calendars, and contactless payments our phones have become an essential part of the mechanics of our every moment. In addition are the social media platforms which help us to connect to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Even as adults, there is no doubt that smart phones, and especially the social media apps which they arsade home to, hold an addictive lure. However, most of us over the age of 30, can still remember a time before we owned a smart phone and the forgotten days of reversing charges from a phone box late at night to beg our parents for a lift home.

However, it is different for those born in the so called iGen generation (1995-2003) and the years there-after. Today’s young adults’ neuronal pathways have been formed alongside apps, social media and smart phones. Many haven’t had a tech-free window in adolescence in which to develop their sense of self or relationships without technology at the core of their interactions.

Concerns about the impact of social media and smart phones are reported in the press almost daily. The recent tragic case of Molly Russell has highlighted to parents one of our deepest fears. Even from the supposed safety of their bedrooms, our children can access harmful content online, which can potentially lead to the most devastating of consequences. But Molly’s case is sadly not an isolated one. The BBC reported that more than 30 parents have approached PAPYRUS (a support charity for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts) to say they believe that social media was implicated in their child’s suicide (1). However, suicide is but the tip of the iceberg. There is a huge mountain of mental health issues, which are potentially triggered or compounded by social media, affecting our children today.

The evidence for the effect of the potential harm of social media and smart phones has been contested. Despite this Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, has advised that parents should take a precautionary  approach with regards to phone use  in children because of the potential risks, which are as yet unmeasured.(2) Personally, it feels similar to the denial of the smoking – lung cancer link in the 1950s. The rise of lung cancer and the potential link to smoking was becoming apparent, but the evidence was not yet clear (or as was the case with smoking the evidence was actually being hidden by those who sought to profit from tobacco). Do we as a new generation of parents shut our eyes and pretend the negative impact of social media is not happening? Or do we have the courage to decide to act differently for our children?

Apart from the obvious issue of lost time – time which could be spent pursuing hobbies, doing home-work, and socialising with real people – what are the other issues?

To me, the real heart of the issue is the effect that social media is having on our young people’s ability to develop a robust self-esteem. Self-esteem is our unique internal mirror. It can be a true reflection of self, or as is often the case in adolescents, it is a negatively warped perception of our true self and value. This is rather like looking at a distorted image of yourself in a fairground mirror! Self-esteem goes up and down with the world around us or even more importantly varies according to how we perceive our role (either good or bad) in these events. Adolescence is notoriously a period for poor self-esteem. Puberty, exam pressures and relationship issues all arise in a narrow window of time when many teenagers will inevitably experience some emotional turbulence.

It is into this toxic mix of hormones and self-doubt that the Pandora’s Box of social media has arrived. Instead of learning to self-reflect in a positive way, which is an essential part of the healthy  adolescent journey, social media sites have externalised self-esteem to social media platforms making young people dependent on ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ for their self worth. The search for the perfect selfie or the need for an affirming response from followers is, at best, an exhausting place to inhabit.

“Social media and its dopamine induced high of likes and followers doesn’t actually translate into real life experiences or happiness.”

Social media is inadvertently reducing young people’s ability to self-evaluate. By making them dependent on other people’s opinions, it is having a dramatic effect on their ability to develop a robust self-esteem and to build emotional resilience. At the simplest level, it is virtually impossible to feel happy if you don’t like yourself. Young women seem to be particularly affected by this with a quarter of 17-19 year-old females having a diagnosed mental health problem.(3) This is a very significant statistic and it should ring alarm bells to parents, politicians, and anyone who cares for the future welfare of our nation.

Recently, I received a despairing email, in the middle of the night from a mother whose daughter was being cyber-bullied. The mother was desperate and said her daughter was self-harming and suicidal. This had been caused by the hateful messages she was getting online. I don’t think anyone can really deny the potential harmful effect of cyber-bullying on young people’s well-being.  Issues traditionally resolved in the playground are now, very publicly and relentlessly, being played out online, both during the day and, worse still, at night. A recent study found that 18% of children have been bullied online.(4) This is a potentially public and highly humiliating experience which can, and often does, result in anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.

“The experience of being cyberbullied was associated with greater stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Victims were also more likely to exhibit a range of behavioural, emotional and somatic symptoms, and the findings identified a moderately strong association with suicidal intention. This suggests that victims were significantly more likely to have contemplated committing suicide.” (5)

However, research suggests that only 13% of children being bullied online will delete the app. On the other hand, 24% turn to self-harm and a further 22% will attempt to change their appearance in response to the abuse. (6)

These figures reflect the power that social networking sites have over children; that they are almost twice as likely to self-harm as they are to delete the app on which they are being bullied.

Returning to my story, I was able to advise the mother to encourage her daughter to delete the app she was being bullied on or alternatively to have a period without her phone. Her mother emailed back to say her daughter had voluntarily given up her phone and was now a different child. She was back in control of her life and had cut the magnet by which the bullies could access her.

In my work as a GP I am regularly seeing young adults with significant and enduring mental health problems, which include anxiety and depression, personality disorders, self-harm and suicidal intention. Is it more than coincidence that these young people are the first generation of adults to grow up with unlimited access to smart phones and social media?

As parents (I have three children) what can we do in this tumultuous season? We don’t want to live in fear but equally, none of us want our child to be the victim of cyber-bullying or of self-harm algorithms on social media. All of us, I believe, would want our children to thrive in making personal connections and relationships.  Cynics will say that it is a digital world and that tech-savvy teens will have an advantage in their future work place. However, social skills and resilience are essential if the next generation is to navigate the complexities of the real world and relationships.

What do I propose? The charity I have set up PAPAYA (Parents against Phone Addiction in Young Adolescents) aims to help children thrive in the digital age. It is also to support parents to make good, positive choices around their family’s use of technology. However, to achieve this, we as parents, need to be prepared to work together. We all know how hard it can be to say no and the persuasive tsunami that our children assault us with when they really want something. However, how much easier is it to set positive boundaries when we know other parents are doing the same thing? One parent that I recently met said their community of parents had all agreed their children could only play Fortnite (a very addictive online game) at weekends (and even then for only set periods of time). Another mother, phoned all the parents of the children that her son was gaming with. They agreed a set time that they would all get their children to stop.

As parents, what are our options? At PAPAYA we encourage parents to come up with their own personal solutions and also solutions at a community level. There are no set answers and each family will find something different that works for them. Some groups of parents have collaborated and sent their children to secondary school with nothing more than a basic phone. By doing this en masse you ensure your child is not alone. However, this is not the answer for everyone. A huge step forward would be to follow the advice from Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, not to allow phones in rooms at night. It is within the isolation of a bedroom that most of the dark side of technology occurs (such as online grooming, pornography, inappropriate content about self-harm and cyber-bullying).

If as parents we can get back on the front foot and make unified decisions together we can see our children advantage from all the positives of technology without being negatively affected by its darker side.

Dr Susie Davies

Founder of PAPAYA

www.papayaparents.com

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47019912
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/07/children-parents-screen-time-electronic-devices-bedrooms-uk-medical-officers
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46295719 
  4. The Health behaviour of school aged children survey http://www.hbscengland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/National-Report-2015.pdf
  5. Kowalski,R.M.,etal.,Bullying in the Digital Age: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Cyberbullying Research Among Youth. Psychological Bulletin, 2014
  6. https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/the-wireless-report/

papaya

Bristol Talks

Bristol has a long history of debate and dissent often delivered through a biting wit. We are a city that is simultaneously immensely proud and robust with itself. This includes a rich commitment to publicly debating every potential weakness of the city and those who rise to prominence within it.

This can be an asset. It speaks to the city’s authenticity and is a safeguard of our democracy. Bristol has harvested the fruits of this. It’s enabled it to carve out a niche in the nation as the city that does things differently. It’s enabled the city to avoid “group think”, driven creativity, innovation and political change. But there is a view that in some ways this great quality may have become so distorted that it now hurts the city. People have been racing back and forth on Twitter and the comments left beneath news articles.

This distortion is part cause and part consequence of the tendency in today’s culture to polarize and “other” those who hold a different goal or even those who share a goal but may differ in their view of how to get there. It is part cause and part consequence of the social media platforms that drive us toward short, single dimensional arguments of a complex world, feed addictions to faceless affirmations through “likes”, “retweets” and “reposts”. It reaches its height of toxicity when this culture and these means of communication become THE means of interaction between politicians, journalists and the public as journalists look for division and conflict, politicians serve up division and conflict, and the public are entertained by division and conflict.

Although politicians have come to expect a poor public reception, but we know that some political debate has reached new lows when threats of violence are commonplace. It would be bad enough if this remained in the political world. But I fear it doesn’t.

Over recent months a number of people from business, public sector, voluntary community sector, health, faith groups and the media have come together to share concerns with me about what they see as a deterioration in the tone, quality and as a consequence usefulness, of Bristol’s civic discourse. By civic discourse they mean the conversation the city has with itself about itself.

A doctor friend of mine runs a charity tackling phone (social media) addiction in young people. Poor mental health is a huge consequence. We were discussing the implications of the way we undertake our civic discourse for young people. The question we got to was this: to what extent does the example set and culture created by fifty odd year old keyboard warriors sitting around late at night writing mean things about people shape the way young people begin to communicate with each other? We struggled to see an upside. We concluded the consequences of the culture our young people are growing up with are real, with consequences that will resonate through the decades to come. It suggests to me that how we behave and disagree as city leaders, journalists, private citizens and commentators is as important an input into the lives of our young people as the houses we build, services we fund or campaign for. The ability to disagree well could be one of the most important gifts we give our children in what seems to be becoming an increasing fractured world.

A cartoon I was sent had a little boy sat at his computer about Cartoon - Civic discourse

to post in the comments. His father is standing next to him with furrowed brow saying:

“Son, if you’ve got nothing nasty to say then don’t say anything at all”

It’s an amusing cartoon, but the humour fades if we reflect on the possibility that this is actually what we have come to, that nastiness is the mode of communication we are making the norm for our young people.

Those who have come together have suggested we need a city debate. Let’s have a chat with ourselves about the way we chat about ourselves. In a school, in a workplace, in a home we can be intentional about reviewing our culture. I think we can and should do the same as a city. We can take a proactive approach to assessing the quality of the civic discourse we currently have. Let’s take a view on it. If we like what we have, then fine. If not, then we can think about what we would like and how we get there. I don’t think its beyond us as a city to do this.

Here is a suggestion: let’s take Lent to do this. 40 days. #BristolTalks.

Let me know what you think.

Prioritising Affordable Childcare

Today, the Family and Childcare Trust published its annual survey looking at the cost of childcare – as with previous years, it has found that childcare costs have risen, by three percent in the last year alone, with parents paying an average of more than £6,600 per year for a part time nursery place. Following the roll out of new Government support schemes in the last few years, most parents are now entitled to some help with childcare costs but there are concerns that the different types of support can create a confusing picture, risking the situation where some parents are missing out on the help they need.

Of particular note is that fact it would be families with lower incomes and younger children who are the ones most likely to be squeezed by any increase in childcare prices – the survey finds some parents are still worse off in work once they have paid for childcare, especially larger families or families with young children.

I am pleased that, in Bristol, we have managed to keep all of our Children’s Centres open by coupling them with nurseries in the majority of cases, and by creating a funding environment that means we have not needed to close them.  The city has a high number of nurseries, which are a key part of our early years services. But along with other authorities, we are still awaiting confirmation from the Department for Education about a sustainable nursery school funding model that will be so critical in the future.

The importance of childcare provision has also been reflected citywide through the commitments put forward through our One City Plan. At our most recent City Gathering, providing affordable childcare was identified as one of the three key ambitions to take forward  as a city this year, alongside tackling gang violence and eradicating period poverty. This demonstrates our collective commitment to delivering affordable childcare.

We recognise that childcare costs are one of the key barriers to economic inclusion. This is why ensuring families have access to affordable childcare also lies at the heart of my inclusive and sustainable economic growth strategy. One of the first priorities for action is to pilot an affordable childcare and nursery education programme, enabling low income families and lone parents the opportunity to work. The Bristol Women’s Commission is also carrying out meaningful work around this aim, with their Women of Lawrence Hill Project. Once again, the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual survey shows that government support for childcare simply isn’t enough for most families. As a city, we are finding collaborative, place based solutions to national government’s shortcomings.

Budget Speech 2019

Below is my speech to the budget Full Council meeting, given on the 26th February 2019. 

THIS BUDGET IS ABOUT:

  • Safeguarding our services
  • Ensuring we retain Bristol control of the authority and its services rather than being subject to takeover by Government directed Whitehall bureaucrats
  • Developing the council’s role as a catalyst for city action
  • And strengthening the city’s reputation as a place attractive to the public and private sector investment we need

All this through bringing financial competence to the authority and by extension to the city.

 

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge that covers everything we do in city government remains government imposed austerity. We are now nine years into the era of austerity which was launched by the Conservative and Lib-Dem government of 2010.

When the Prime Minister claimed austerity was over, it was a recognition that the country has had enough. That the nation wanted something other than the decimation of the public sector, the further impoverishment of the poorest and most vulnerable, and the failure to invest in our country’s future. We haven’t seen any evidence to back up this claim.

And local government has suffered the biggest austerity cuts of the public sector. The Local Government Association calculate the funding gap will be £7.1bn by 2020, including £1.3bn needed to stabilise the care system. Council spending was 22% lower in 2018 than in 2010.

Let me just outline what this means: Our funding is decreased year on year by government cuts. Meanwhile, demand for children’s services and adult social care has continued to rise – for every £1 of council tax collected in 19/20 across the UK, as much as 56p could be spent on caring for the elderly, vulnerable adults and children.  This figure is even higher in Bristol.

In Bristol this has meant £120m in savings.

We continue to grapple with a growing need with diminishing resources. This is in the face of a growing population, tackling the consequences of our outdated infrastructure offer, the need to build houses and the growing demand on public services being driven by failures of national government policy – particularly in the area of welfare reform. And we anticipate this will only worsen through the Brexit debacle.

 

WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED

It is testament to the work of this administration and particularly to Craig Cheney, ably supported by Finance Director Denise Murray and the finance team that we are presenting a budget with no new cuts.  As I have said before, Craig does the boring very well and as a result of us bringing financial discipline to the council, we are now able to bring Labour values to the leadership of the city and deliver on our promises.

In 2018 opposition parties sought political popularity through voting blindly for a spend of up to £200 million with no awareness of the risk or evidence of impact. So I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on exactly who Bristol citizens can trust with their money.

It’s this Labour administration that has:

  • Protected our Children centres – to give every child in Bristol the best possible start in life and started a city wide movement to protect the rights of children in the city through the Children’s Charter and the Adverse Childhood Early Experiences strategy.
  • Brought the Better Lives programme to adult social care, empowering people to stay in their own homes and lead fulfilling lives for longer. And we’ve introduced the ethical care charter.
  • We have kept all libraries open and are invigorating their future with community partnerships. This is an astonishing achievement when you hear that 130 public libraries closed in the UK in 2018.
  • We are hitting our housing targets and accelerating delivery. This means we are tackling the housing crisis, including launching our own housing company and bringing through new methods of delivery including modular off site manufacture.
  • We made the council a Living Wage employer and are pioneering efforts to become a Living Wage city. We signed and are rolling out the construction charter, became a Time to Change and Dying to Work employer.  All of these achievements are underpinned by our financial stability.
  • In the budget meeting this time last year we secured the future of the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, providing tax relief to our poorest citizens, including those hit by the appalling introduction of Universal Credit. We are of course the only Core City to be able to offer this scheme today and one of only a handful of councils anywhere in the UK.   Many try to take the credit for this achievement but only the Labour group actually voted for it when it mattered and only this administration delivered it.
  • And we have rallied the city to the One City Plan with city-wide priorities for 2019:
    • Providing affordable childcare
    • Tackling street and youth violence
    • Ending period poverty

The One City Plan, along with the City Fund, is a testament to the credibility and inclusive nature of our leadership.

This Labour administration and the Labour group has really delivered on our promises. We have proved that we will base our decision on evidence in pursuit of the long term interests of the city rather than Facebook likes or twitter retweets. And one truth is more evident than all the others – amongst the political parties in Bristol, the people of Bristol can only trust this Labour administration with their money.

 

GOVERNMENT TREATMENT 

At the recent Labour LGA conference, Labour leaders from across the country asked Shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Gwynne to ensure the next labour government were as focussed on advantaging Labour led authorities as the conservatives have been in disadvantaging them.

The Government’s cuts to councils have seen Labour areas lose on average more than £500 per household since 2010, while in Conservative led areas, spending per household has fallen by just an average of £115.  That’s less than a third of the impact of austerity…  the is the definition of party before people.

Some Conservative areas like Surrey have even been given sweetheart deals by the Treasury while the Government has removed the weighting for deprivation from the settlement, making it so much harder for cities like Bristol.

Labour group leader Marg Hickman has written, setting out our opposition in the strongest terms.   We are still waiting for other parties to step up for Bristol and do the same.

As the LGA Labour Group’s “100 More Innovations by Labour in Power” shows, we are delivering for our communities. It highlights how local Bristol Labour councillors and I have fought against austerity, convening the first ever joint meeting between the Core Cities and Metro Mayors, and rallying Bristol and lobbying Parliament for fair funding.

And this month, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, held up Bristol as a prime example of how Labour councils are delivering for their residents.   And, national attention for both the Children’s Charter and the Ethical Care Charter shows that we are standing up for everyone in Bristol, from cradle to grave. Our pioneering work and leadership is inspiring cities the world over.

From the 2016 Bundred report to the 2018 Local Government Association corporate peer review, it has been clear to those with expertise who came at the question with objectivity that we have turned this council around and put it on a journey toward success, based on the simple fact that we have got a grip.

And while I have lost hope in the existence of a Bristol political culture in which our opponents would acknowledge the scale of the achievement, it remains the fact that inheriting the £30 million of failed savings along with £120 million of government cuts, makes today’s no cuts budget an incredible achievement.

With strong financial management and prudent use of reserves, we have genuinely brought Municipal Socialism to Bristol.

 

MESSAGE TO OUR OPPONENTS 

Of course, I will ask you all to support the budget tonight and to even look closely at some of the amendments. And I will appeal to our political opponents:

To my Conservative colleagues I say:

Please reach out to your Government. Lobby for fair funding for Bristol. To get us the finance we need. This year’s Comprehensive Spending Review key for local authorities – let’s come together in one voice about it.

There are party differences at the local level but, surely at some point we can come together and put advocating for the city ahead of protecting the reputation of the national party.

Argue the case for certainty around Brexit – not just what options the country faces but also how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work and should work: locally devolved and fully flexible.

To the Liberal Democrats I say:

Spend more time thinking how to get delivery rather than searching through the weeds of the council for minor weaknesses in big plans.

And to the Green Group I say:

It’s how you vote when it matters that counts, not what you post on social media.

Please focus more on making a genuine contribution and less on trying to claim credit for things.

Your hyped proposal to introduce a congestion charge is mistaken and seriously flawed.  It will worsen poverty. And just in case you think you can only charge out-of-town residents, you cannot; I’m afraid it’s illegal. It’s not good enough for your second shot at a major policy.

And to the city I say:

We have done substantial modelling of clean air zones and will table our initial plans to improve air quality in the city in March, based on evidence. The evidence clearly shows a charging zone for individual cars will adversely and disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities. Air quality is a population health issue, that goes without saying. But so is poverty and we must take poverty seriously.  As evidenced by in the British Academy’s 2014 report “If You Could Do One Thing”, 40% of health outcomes are determined by socio-economic factors which is the single biggest impact.

We must make our air cleaner without worsening poverty, which in itself is the most serious health risk.

We will take a leading role in tackling climate change. We are doing this at a global level through my co-chairing the Global Parliament of Mayors and membership of the Mayor’s Migration Council.

But that role must bring the city with us, not just point the finger. As University of Bristol Emeritus Director of the Cabot Institute and 30 year expert on the environment, Richard Pancost said in my guest blog this month:

‘in our fear of catastrophic climate change and in our urgency to declare a climate emergency, we are failing to build an inclusive movement’ 

 As was demonstrated by 500 Bristol students last week,

‘climate change will affect children more than their parents, the young more than the old but will also impact on the poor, the vulnerable and the isolated the worst.  Volatility of food production will impact most on those who already struggle to feed their family’.  

And as Richard goes on to say,

‘if climate action is a question of social justice, then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement.  They must set the agenda of that movement.  They must lead the movement.  And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged, and instead must ask how we have failed’.     

A movement that leaves whole communities behind will fail and the kick back against it could set it back decades.   Please think through the kind of politics we make more possible when we entrench inequality and further deprive people of economic hope and opportunity. You can see it in the current crop of populist leaders – climate change denying, one dimensional, reactionary, opportunistic politics.

This is not – as some have simplistically argued in 240 character tweets – trading off money and jobs against the environment. Its city leadership working in a complicated and challenging world to deliver on all fronts.

A congestion charge is an example of people seeing the challenge of climate change through a prism of privilege.

This Labour administration will deliver carbon neutrality and clean air and tackle climate change in Bristol and we will do so alongside social justice and equality, with inclusive and sustainable growth.

 

THE FUTURE OF DELIVERY

And alongside that fundamental challenge, we will continue to deliver with financial projects that benefit the city:

TRANSPORT

A Bus deal, with public and private sector investment, underpinned by Bus prioritisation that will double journeys to work made by bus.

More than £17.5 million for sustainable transport projects, including the Cycle Ambition Fund, Go Ultra Low and bus shelter replacement.

We will continue toward the delivery of the Mass Transit system

GREEN SPACES

£2 million to improve our Parks and Green spaces.

WASTE

£4 million to build the third Household Waste Recycling and Reuse Centre at Hartcliffe Way. Several recent administrations failed to deliver it, and we are.

ENERGY

Major investment towards the £1 billion City Leap programme, changing the way we generate, store, distribute and use energy.

EDUCATION

Investment of almost £68 million for new schools and buildings, more school places, and improving existing facilities – on top of almost £15 million for educational improvement.

CULTURE

£60 million for redevelopment and improvement works at the Colston Hall, Old Vic, St George’s, and Bottle-yard Studios.

SPORTS

We are investing in sports centres, tennis courts, bigger sports halls and swimming pools.

REGENERATION OF OUR CITY

£43 million towards the regeneration of Temple Meads, Engine Shed 2, Temple Square, Station Approach, Temple Quarter, and the Redcliffe Corridor.

£990,000 Port Resilience Fund for regeneration projects in Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, and £200,000 to develop new office space at Filwood Green Business Park.

HOMES

Almost £85 million for the Housing Delivery Programme, to accelerate new home building – particularly new affordable homes – plus a further £61 million for Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s new housing company.

And underpinning all these successes are this budget and our mid-term financial plan and our financial competence.

For these reasons I have no hesitation in commending this budget to you.

 

Building Homes Fit For Heroes

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Paul Smith, cabinet lead for housing.

paul smith

Council housing has shaped Bristol, literally. After two World Wars, the city expanded to house a growing population relocating from the slums. The last expansion of the city boundary was to bring in the new estates being built in Hartcliffe and Withywood in Bristol.

Bristol’s first council housing was built in 1905 in St Werburghs, however at that time Bristol Corporation was a reluctant developer of homes. It took a World War and national government instruction to force its hand. In May 1918 the council bought private land in Hillfields, Sea Mills, Knowle and Horfield to build whole estates for when the war ended.

In 1919 the Housing, Town Planning Act was enacted, which set the financial systems in place (and the compulsion) for councils to build homes at scale. Promoted by the Secretary of State for Health Dr Addison it later became known as the Addison Act. It is this law which we are celebrating this year. The council housing then was built at the highest standards, in both quality of build and size. It was also more expensive to rent than the Victorian slums it was to replace so it housed the wealthier working class families.

Over the following decades, council housing was a battleground for the differing ideologies of Conservative and Labour governments. The big issues were quality versus numbers and, housing for everyone versus a priority for the poorest and most vulnerable. In the 1980s, the right to buy option changed the face of council housing in Bristol again. Prior to the 1980 Housing Act which brought in the discounts, Bristolians could buy their council house, for the full market value and with a council guarantee of a replacement. However since the right to buy policy we have seen the number of council owned homes fall by over 20,000. From a third of all Bristol homes at its peak, council housing now makes up only 13.5%. An increasing proportion of those homes sold are now private rented homes with rents 2 or 3 times the level of council rent.

This anniversary is particularly fitting as Bristol has started to build council housing at scale again. Reflecting the earlier ambition, the stock built is hoped to be among the best housing in the city. In this year we will also be consulting on how council housing is allocated to look at whether we can both eradicate homelessness and be able to offer social housing to a broader range of people on low incomes.

What shape will this celebration take? On 4th June 1919, Dr Addison helped plant a tree in Sea Mills, so 100 years later we will be inviting the community to celebrate the birthday of that magnificent Addison oak tree. Then later the same day we will plant a new sapling on our new council estate in Ashton in south Bristol. There will be three new books: a history of council housing in the city, guided walks around some of our estates and one of essays written by people who have grown up in council housing, sharing what it meant to them. The Festival of the Future City programme in October will have a day focussed on issues around the history and future of council housing. The Architecture Centre’s very popular annual event Doors Open Day will also highlight council housing. On three of the estates Hillfields, Sea Mills and Knowle local history projects are already starting. Libraries are also being supported to produce local displays and Bristol Archives is are currently being trawled for relevant information and documents.

This centenary is a great opportunity to discuss what sort of city we want and to increase our understanding of how the housing crisis developed. We are very grateful to Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England in their support for this important celebration. You can follow the latest developments using the hashtag #HomesForHeroes100 on social media and the Festival of Ideas Facebook page.

National praise for our local council

Westminster’s cuts to councils have seen Labour areas on average lose more than £500 per household. Meanwhile, Conservative areas have seen their per household spending fall by £115 – less than a third of the cuts faced by Labour councils. Despite this Tory austerity, the LGA Labour Group’s 100 More Innovations by Labour in Power shows that we are delivering for our communities. It follows hot on the heels of 100 Innovations by Labour in Power, and highlights how local Bristol Labour councillors and I have fought against austerity, pulling together the core cities and metro mayors, and rallying Bristol before lobbying Parliament for fair funding.

Last weekend, Jeremy Corbyn held up Bristol City Council as a prime example of how Labour councils are delivering for their residents. National attention for both the Children’s Charter and the Ethical Care Charter shows that we are standing up for everyone in Bristol, from cradle to grave. Our pioneering work is inspiring cities the world over.

Introduced by Councillor Helen Godwin, my Cabinet lead for Women, Children, and Families, the Bristol Children’s Charter is the first of its kind in the UK. Based on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, our ten-pledge strong charter has seen more than forty city partners and organisations sign up already. It has really demonstrated our commitment to be a family-friendly authority and represents a guiding principle for our council and for Bristol.

Working together with UNISON, Councillor Helen Holland, my Cabinet lead for Adult Social Care, is in the final stages of developing an Ethical Care Charter for Bristol. With the council accredited by the Living Wage Foundation as a Living Wage employer, Helen has also overseen improved pay and conditions for homecare workers, including paid travel time, and an important campaign to show how much we value the social care sector.

Our administration has won praise for our innovative work. We also take real inspiration from what other Labour and Labour-Coop councillors and councils are doing for their local communities. Labour are proud to be delivering for Bristol, and hope that the spotlight focusing on Bristol helps share best practice across the country.

Fighting Austerity, standing up for Bristol

This weekend, I have been in Warwick for a summit of Labour council leaders and, with many of Bristol’s local Labour councillors, Labour’s local government conference.

It’s our first national conference since I and almost 80 Labour council leaders wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for Theresa May’s Government to honour her promise to end austerity. It’s a great opportunity too to meet with some of the 5,000+ Labour councillors (which included all of Bristol’s Labour councillors) who petitioned Number 10 Downing Street as part of the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group’s ‘Breaking Point’ campaign. It’s also our first conference since Labour councillors in Bristol passed a Full Council motion repeating our calls for the reversal of national Government cuts, which all of the other parties opposed.

In Bristol, Labour remains the at the forefront of the fight against austerity. It was welcome to hear Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, repeat his commitment that the next Labour Government will give Bristol and other local councils the fair funding which we deserve and the powers which we need. The shadow Local Government Secretary Andy Gwynne and shadow Education Secretary Angie Rayner spoke passionately about the importance of local councils like Bristol as the last line of defence against Westminster’s cuts, and the first priority for the next Labour Government to rebuild Britain for the many, not the few. Andy also wrote the Guardian this weekend to set out some next steps for a radical rebalancing of sovereignty, bursting the Westminster Bubble by empowering councils through a new commission of councils to better inform decision-making in Parliament.

LGA Labour

Cllrs Mhairi Threlfall, Helen Holland, and Mike Davies with me at Labour’s local government conference 2019

I spoke at a public health panel, reiterating that the Government’s cuts to preventative and intervention services are a false economy. Bristol City Council has lost almost £2.6 million in public health grant funding since we came into office in 2016, alongside more than £100 million of wider austerity from Westminster, the pressures of a growing population, and increasingly complex health needs. And the former Mayor’s £30 million black hole in the council’s finances only made matters worse. Nationally, since 2015/16, over half a billion pounds of annual public health funding has been cut by the Tory Government.

Speaking alongside fellow local government leaders and experts from the Terrence Higgins Trust and Cancer Research UK, I once again outlined the urgent need for the Government to abandon further cuts to public health and devote the resources which are needed. I also took the opportunity to share copies of the One City Plan – a document written together with hundreds of partners from across the city.

It sets out an ambitious future for public health in the city, working together to end period poverty for girls and women and tackle knife crime and gang violence in 2019/20. If Bristol and her institutions fully utilise our combined resources and influence in a shared vision, we can deliver our 2050 vision. A city where we can all thrive, with our physical and mental health equally supported and an integrated health and social care system. A better Bristol where no ward is in the 10% most deprived in the country and the life expectancy gap, which currently stretches as wide as 17 years, between richest and poorest has significantly closed. Clean air to breathe, healthier choices truly able to be made, fresh produce aplenty and obesity reduced, and preventable mortality halved. In short: a Bristol where we all live long, healthier, happier lives.

Councillor Helen Holland, Bristol’s longest serving Labour representative, also appeared on a panel about new municipalism and community wealth building. She highlighted the good work of our administration, representing our city and its innovation well as she does regularly at LGA events the country over. Helen spoke powerfully about the potential of new municipalism within her adult social care cabinet portfolio. The Better Lives programme, in-sourcing, and the three tier model are working together to maintain people’s independence and improve community-based care. For example, partners like AgeUK and Bristol Community Health are pulling together support services, tackling social isolation and building more resilient communities, and reducing reoccurrence of medical problems to just 2%.

On community wealth building more widely, our new procurement policy will double the weighting for social value. Our commitment to local businesses has won us an award from the Federation of Small Business and seen more than a third of the local authority’s procurement spend remain within Bristol, with a further eighth in the wider region. 40% of our spend is with SMEs.

Bristol City Council has also, under Labour, backed our local credit union, invested in a new co-operative ethical bank for the region, pushed for more strategic and responsible investment of the Avon Pension Fund, been accredited as a Living Wage employer and encouraged other employers to do the same, and backed start-ups through business incubators. We have also continued to invest in the council’s wholly-owned companies to deliver waste and energy services, started our own housing company to deliver more affordable homes, and examined how to use assets like land and property to best benefit all Bristolians.

 

Time to Change

This week, Bristol City Council will pledge to become a ‘Time to Change’ employer and join the growing social movement supporting people to open about mental health.

We want to ensure we have an environment which supports colleagues to open up; to talk and to listen. Becoming a Time to Change employer is a sign of our commitment to this and puts mental health and wellbeing top of the agenda in City Hall.

Time to Change is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and by signing the employer pledge the council is committing to change the way we all think and act about mental health in the workplace. The announcement comes ahead of Time to Talk Day (7 Feb) a national awareness day encouraging people to have conversations about mental health and challenge stigma.

Behind the pledge sits an action plan to set out how we will achieve this and how we’ll make sure we’re embedding mental health into our policies to best support colleagues. Practical things we will be doing include creating an environment where colleagues feel more able to discuss mental health concerns, providing information to managers on mental health and working collaboratively with trade unions, staff-led groups and external expertise to hear voices from all employee groups.

We know that this is one part of the picture and mental health is an issue that needs to be looked at from many different angles. That’s why we’re working on a 10 year programme focused on prevention called Thrive Bristol. BCC has also signed the Public Health England Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health demonstrating its commitment to join the national drive to take action to prevent mental health problems, promote good mental health and build resilient communities.

I want to see other city institutions come on board and pledge to this too, as a city wide commitment to better mental health. This reflects the approach we have taken with our pledges on the UNITE Construction Charter, our Living Wage accreditation and recently the Dying To Work charter. These set out the benchmark we want to see for employers in the city and hope other can follow our lead.

Signing the Time to Change employer pledge is another mark of our commitment to putting mental health on the same footing as physical health.  This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore and we need to create a workplace culture where we are all confident to open up the conversation around mental health.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme & Empty Property Premium

At this afternoon’s cabinet meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the last of its kind in the core cities, which provides a discount of up to 100% for the poorest households in Bristol.

In a continuing era of austerity, where the government continues to increase the gap between rich and poor and look away from the increasing difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, I was really proud to take the decision to maintain this benefit which maintains the current levels of support to households on a low income.

Keeping the reduction scheme also reduces the risk of increased debt to the council for households on a low income, an increased concern as the switch to Universal Credit really starts to bite for many people.

Our aim remains working towards Bristol being an inclusive and accessible economy for everyone

Council tax reduction and exemption is provided to around 10,000 pensioners and students across Bristol. The reduction scheme provides support to people of working age and around a further 25,000 households.

As we would expect, single parents, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities, and women rely dis-proportionately on benefit from the scheme. Again we know that more people are affected in less affluent areas with more than 9,300 working-age households in receipt of the CTRS, from just five of Bristol’s 34 wards.  These are Hartcliffe & Withywood, Lawrence Hill, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, Filwood, and Ashley. 3 of these wards are amongst the most deprived wards in the city.

Today’s meeting also saw plans to increase the rate of council tax on long-term empty properties to 300%, having already scrapped the 50% discount in place under the previous administration.

Cabinet approved proposals to increase council tax on long-term empty properties – defined as being unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years – to up to 300% of their Council tax. The premium will not apply in certain circumstances, for instance where an owner has gone into hospital or care home, has moved to another residence to receive or provide care, has passed away.

We estimate this will raise an additional £189,000 over the next financial year. Even more importantly it will help encourage people to bring more of the 291 domestic properties which have been empty and unfurnished for at least two years back into use as homes. Given the housing crisis and the consequences it has, we need to use every available tool at our disposal to make sure empty houses become homes.

These two policies demonstrate our progressive approach to taxation in a way that no other core city has achieved.

Our City – on film

It was great to host talented young filmmakers from across Bristol in City Hall today.

They were entrants to the One City film competition, launched in 2017. This competition was borne out of our work with the city’s media and creative industry to attract Channel 4 to Bristol.

We always set out saying we would go for Channel 4, but that even if we didn’t get the Creative Hub, good things would still have come from the sector coming together in this way.

One of these things was how we created a space and platform for young filmmaking talent to showcase itself and get involved with telling the city’s story.

The finalists of the Our City competition are offered mentoring from leading Bristol film and TV production companies such as Aardman, Doghouse Productions, Drummer TV, Films @59 and Icon Films. The £1,000 prize was this year split between two winning entries: ‘BeBristol’ by Patch de Salis and ‘BRISTOL | Create Here’ by Michael Doran. These films will also be showcased at this Friday’s City Gathering.

This is all part of our commitment to identifying and working with the city to identify the opportunities for young, creative talent.

The creative sector is a huge part of Bristol’s economy and it has been fantastic to work with the sector over the past 18 months.  As Mike Norton said in his editorial for the Bristol Post following the announcement that Bristol has won a C4 Creative Hub, ‘this victory was but a small indication of what can be achieved when Bristol unites behind a project’.

Congratulations to the winners and all the finalists on their achievements. I hope this competition and expert mentoring acts as a catalyst for future creative careers.