Newspaper Columns

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on volunteering in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the July 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

We recently (June) celebrated Volunteers’ Week so I wanted to take this opportunity to recognise all the brilliant work that volunteers do in Bristol South.

I’m fortunate enough, in my role as MP, to meet with lots of volunteers who develop, run and work with organisations helping people across the constituency.

Bristol City Council’s Quality of Life Index 2018-19 found that, on average 68% of Bristolians volunteer or help out in their community at least three times a year. You don’t have to look far in Bristol South to find a volunteer. From Scout and Guide leaders to volunteers helping maintain the local parks and green-fingered folk creating berry mazes to British Legion poppy sellers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of community centres and help out at my Money Entitlement Events too.

A lot of these charities and community groups are developed and delivered by women who have been directly affected by the area they’re now making a difference in. Take the women who volunteer with Mothers for Mothers, supporting new mums through postnatal depression following their own challenging journeys.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing too. It’s a great way to meet new people or learn new skills and can lead on to employment.

Without volunteers, a lot of these organisations and projects would not exist and it’s important that we recognise those efforts. But we must strike the right balance. We should not be relying on the voluntary sector to deliver key services which should be provided by national and local government.

Charities and community projects cannot run on the goodwill of volunteers alone. It’s not sustainable when volunteers have other commitments – the need for paid work and caring duties. When I speak with those working in the voluntary sector, it’s clear that they – like local government, health providers and schools – have been hit by funding cuts and more competition for the money available as new initiatives emerge. It means that, as well as relying on support from volunteers to deliver services, they also rely on support from the community to donate money to cover running costs.

That said, I was very pleased to see Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HHEAG) secure funding to be able to carry on the good work it has been doing locally for over 25 years. They offer healthy eating advice and workshops, help people with stress reduction and run drop in coffee mornings among a whole host of other things.

I’d like to say a big thank everyone who volunteers to make Bristol South a better place. If you’re thinking of volunteering, the Vocsur website is a great starting point:

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on the Brexit impasse

(Newspaper column as seen in the July 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

People regularly stop me to say what an interesting time it is to be in politics. As a Labour activist for over 30 years, I agree; but sometimes I wish it was a little less ‘interesting’!

The years of uncertainty since the referendum have been made much worse by the resignation of Theresa May and the next few months will undoubtedly be difficult. It is making people very anxious. The country is divided and people are worried about the future. We must find a way through this impasse.

The conversations I had with people ahead of May’s European election revealed a significant desire from many to remain in the European Union. But I’ve also been contacted by people in Bristol South who want Brexit delivered immediately – deal or no deal.

I’ve heard a lot of inaccurate figures shared. People have told me that 80+ per cent of Bristol South voted leave and I’m misrepresenting my constituency by not delivering Brexit; others have told me that over 70 per cent of Bristol South wants to remain and I should be representing those views and voting to revoke Article 50. Neither of these figures are correct. Like the country, Bristol South was divided in how it voted in the 2016 referendum – 53% voted to stay and 47% voted to leave the European Union. People continue to be divided on the best route forward.

Like many of you, this increasingly polarised nature of politics at the moment concerns me, in particular the threat from the far right. Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party believe that the answer is simple: we leave the EU with no deal. Some of the smaller parties believe it’s also simple: we revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. It is not simple. The last few years have damaged the UK’s reputation both politically and as a destination for investment. We need the debate to be much more honest.

Back in 2017, the Labour Party said it could not accept a ‘no deal’ Brexit as an option as part of our commitment to protect jobs, rights and living standards and our position remains the same today. The government has presented a deal which does not protect this, which is why I voted against it

As it stands, there is no ‘good’ Brexit for people in Bristol South.

I believe that, in order to get through this and heal the division, any deal needs a confirmatory vote; and that any confirmatory vote must have the option to remain in the European Union.