Job vacancy: Caseworker office of Karin Smyth MP

Karin Smyth, MP in Bristol South, is looking for a caseworker to join her constituency team to help respond to higher levels of casework due the coronavirus pandemic.

This new position is a part time, fixed term post. The successful candidate will work closely with the Senior Caseworker. The role is interesting and covers a broad range of casework.

Training will be provided as needed. The role is based in Karin’s constituency office in Bristol South. However, in the event of a new lockdown, the post-holder would need to be able to work from home.

Hours: Part-time, 30 hours per week (days/hours negotiable)

Fixed term contract:  To 31 March 2021

Salary: £20,800 for 30 hours, (£26,000 FT equivalent) per annum

Start date:  Monday 17 August 2020

Deadline for applications:  5pm on Friday 24 July 2020

Date of interviews:  Thursday 30 July 2020 (either online or social distancing, to be confirmed)

Key responsibilities:

·         Responding to constituency casework. This involves handling enquiries from constituents (usually by phone or e-mail) and taking the appropriate action quickly and efficiently.

·         Managing a varied caseload effectively, researching and drafting correspondence as required.

·         Contacting government departments, local authority departments, public sector and private sector organisations.

·         Accurate record keeping, retaining and processing information sensitively, confidentially and in line with the Data Protection Act 2005 and GDPR 2018.

·         Attending surgeries and other meetings as appropriate.

·         Liaising with community groups and local organisations.

·         Supporting colleagues within the constituency team as needed.

Essential skills / experience

·         Previous experience of customer service / casework / complaints handling by telephone.

·         Able to respond compassionately and respectfully to sensitive issues on behalf of constituents.

·         Strong organisation and time management skills, with the ability to prioritise and work under pressure.

·         Able to work as part of a team as well as on your own initiative with the ability to manage your own caseload.

·         A professional, polite and confident telephone manner.

·         Excellent written communication skills.

·         Accuracy and attention to detail.

·         Strong IT skills, and experience of using Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook.

·         In sympathy with the aims and values of the Labour Party.

Desirable skills / experience

·         Experience of responding to people with stressful problems

·         Experience of using a case management system or database.

·         A full UK driving licence.

·         Good local knowledge of the Bristol South area and the issues faced by constituents in Bristol South.

·         An interest in politics or experience of working in a political environment, public or third sector.

Application Details

To apply, please send your CV and a covering letter (outlining how you meet each of the requirements of the post) to Karin Smyth at karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk

Karin Smyth MP on the role of schools and nurseries during the Coronavirus crisis

When the Government first introduced restrictions designed to restrict the spread of Coronavirus in March, most schools and nurseries across Bristol South remained open for vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers, with all other children remaining home to stop the virus passing from one family to another.  

Since then, the government has revised the guidance, saying schools can open to certain year groups. The announcement in May for a June opening, left little time for schools to prepare for this and left staff, pupils and parents feeling very anxious.

This has not been helped by the fact that government guidance from schools has been updated almost 50 times already – sometimes amended on a Friday or Sunday for the following week without the key changes being flagged. I know how frustrating this has been for school leadership teams and staff and it’s remarkable how they keep going, supporting our children throughout. I applaud them for that.

We all want to see schools and nurseries fully open again, but parents understandably want to know that their children are safe at school. The lack of clear, consistent Government strategy for re-opening schools offers no reassurance of this. 

I’ve previously written about the importance of local testing and tracing to help authorities manage further outbreaks effectively (see previous article) and I’m pleased to see this now starting to take shape following pressure from myself and the Labour Party.

We do need to get society moving again – experts have said that the social and economic harms from the response to the virus now pose as great a risk of illness and premature death as the virus itself.

Schools and nurseries are more than childcare and learning providers, they’re a vital safety net for children – feeding those who need it, providing resources to those who can’t afford it, identifying victims of abuse or neglect and helping those parents who need support with their son or daughter who has Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND).

I’m in touch with South Bristol Youth, which works with schools and families across the constituency to support young people with learning but engagement rates are low – especially among some of the most at-risk children.

Access to technology is a big issue for some families – especially those with more than 1 or 2 school-aged children. There are some pots of money for this, but we know that lots of children in Bristol South still don’t have the technology they need.

Education has a huge role to play in tackling inequality and enabling social mobility. I know that a lot of schools have put great effort into providing learning guidance and resources – online and which physical learning packs – but we know that some children will continue learning at home with their parents, while others will not.

The gaps that already exist – particularly here in Bristol South (see previous article) – will likely widen and we will be living with the impact of this long after we are free of the virus itself.

Karin Smyth MP on supporting local media through the Coronavirus crisis

Some of you may have read some of the regular columns I write for local newspapers – from the South Bristol Voice and The Pigeon to the Bristol Post. I’m also a regular reader of these publications – along with other local papers such as The Bristol Cable and Bristol 24/7 – and I know just how important they are for local people, especially those not as digitally dependent as others.

I’ve been in touch with these publishers as well as the local representative from the National Union of Journalists and I’ve heard from the Independent Community News Network to try and understand the challenges they face. The smaller publications have stopped the presses for the time being, with some taking advantage of the government-funded furlough option to help balance out the sharp drop in revenue from advertisers – and others moving their content online.

The Coronavirus crisis is acting as a catalyst for many trends – from those such as more working from home and active travel to much more negative outcomes, such as the crippling challenges faced by our nurseries, small businesses and local print media.

The Bristol Cable recently made a submission to the House of Lords Committee on the future of journalism which stated: “The damage wrought by the pandemic on the industry is particularly painful, but it also exposes and amplifies pre-existing vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. We would do well to remember that the ‘normal’ state of journalism before the coronavirus was of crisis, and is not something we merely want to return to.” You can read the full submission here.

In recent years we’ve seen circulation plummet for most printed newspapers, with reduced print runs and some publications closing altogether. Interestingly, we’ve also seen the emergence of new hyperlocal publications such as the Local Voice series – showing that there is still an appetite and a need for the printed press. Interestingly, Bristol Live (the online version of The Post) told me they’ve seen a huge increase in audience numbers since the Coronavirus crisis hit the UK and the South Bristol Voice is logging record levels of readership and engagement.

These publications – and the journalists and staff who work for them – play a number of important roles in our communities. They celebrate success, they shine a light on injustices, they share information and entertain. They also give a platform to local businesses to reach wider audiences through advertising and editorial. For me, they give me a chance to share regular updates with people who may not be visiting my website or following my social media channels (see some of my previous columns here). And they also challenge local elected leaders – like myself – a crucial part of democracy and ensuring accountability.

Communication is so important at the moment. It’s through clear and comprehensive communication that the government can share vital messages around the Coronavirus crisis response. There has been much confusion around the restrictions in recent weeks and while a big part of that is down to the government’s lack of clear strategy, some is down to lack of clear communication. You cannot reach everyone with a TV broadcast, national newspapers and a social media campaign. It’s not practical to send letters to every household in the UK every time the guidance changes, but using these hyperlocal publications which are delivered door-to-door and other local media which has strong links with the community, could not only help get the message out but prove a lifeline for them in the form of advertising revenue.

Of course, that’s not going to single-handedly solve the challenges that local media is facing, but it could help them through this challenging time. I’ve raised this with Bristol City Council as well to see if there’s anything that can be done locally. I’m also planning on writing to the Chancellor to see if business rates relief may be extended to include local newspapers – along with the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

As we start to come through the Coronavirus crisis and look to the society we want on the other side, and a decent local media should absolutely feature in that.

Support for Businesses in Bristol South during the Coronavirus crisis

I have been having weekly calls with local leaders and all of the Bristol MPs to ensure we are doing all we can as a city to get the help to those who need it during this crisis, including the many businesses that make up our local economy. I know this is a very uncertain and challenging time for everyone – particularly businesses and sole traders.

I’ve been in touch with a lot of local business owners about the impact of Coronavirus on their businesses. And I recently joined an online meeting hosted by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) to hear from Bristol South business owners on the issues they continue to face so that I can raise these in Parliament if needed.

The Government has announced various support packages available to businesses, which I’ve been helping people to make sense of and access. There are many gaps in the support available and I have been working with frontbench colleagues since the start of this crisis, to raise these with the Chancellor (see earlier letter here); from not being able to get Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans to a lack of support for self-employed people.

In some cases, the Chancellor has listened and extended schemes and introduced additional financial support. There are still many unresolved issues, including grant eligibility for businesses that do not qualify for business rates relief, for company directors who pay themselves through dividends, and for the many self-employed who do not qualify for Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

There are also challenges that are sector specific, for example those businesses which hire apprentices (see earlier article here), veterinary and dentistry practices who fail to qualify for grants, for pub landlords who continue to pay rent to their pub companies whilst being closed, and many more. I continue to work with local businesses to push on these issues.

As always, please do let me know if you encounter a specific problem that you need help with. You can reach me via karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk

If you run a business in Bristol South or are a self-employed, you may find these resources helpful…

The Government has asked that most customer-facing businesses close to further restrict the spread of Coronavirus. A full list of which businesses are required to close can be found here.

The Government is looking to ease some of the initial measures to enable some businesses to re-open and employees to return to work. It has guidance on how to make the workplace safe while Coronavirus remains present in the community. See here.

For those businesses still operational, the government has created guidance on how to operate while observing social distancing – here.

For the full Government business support hub, see here, with specific guidance for businesses, here.

The West of England Growth Hub advice is available here.

It has also launched Trading Better Online, which is designed to help small businesses enhance their web presence by adopting new technology or new digital practices.

The Confederation of British Industry advice is available, here.

For employers and employees, see Acas advice here.

FSB members can access further support here.

The Business Support Helpline is for advice on a range of business issues: 0300 456 3565. Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. Email enquiries@businesssupporthelpline.org

People or businesses which need urgent help should talk to their local authorities, as they can provide direct support quickly through their assistance schemes.

Bristol City Council business support pages can be found here: This includes a list of additional funding support schemes, many are sector specific.

Government support packages include:

The Coronavirus Business Job Retention Scheme. This will see HMRC pay 80% of ‘furloughed’ workers’ wages up to a £2,500 per month cap until the end of August; 70% in September; and 60% in October. The scheme closes at the end of October 2020. Employers will have the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part time from 1 July 2020. Check your eligibility here

The direct grant scheme for the self-employed. The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will pay self-employed individuals up to 80% of their profits, up to a £2,500 per month cap until the end of July. There will be a second and final grant in August worth 70% of average monthly trading profits capped at £6,570. Check your eligibility here

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will see banks offer loans of up to £5m to support SMEs, delivered by the British Business Bank. Check your eligibility here.

Government-backed Bounce Back Loans may be available for small and medium businesses – they are 12 months interest free loans of between £2,000 and £50,000, Details here.

Business Rate Relief for all businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure and nursery business in England for 12 months in 2020-21. Eligible pubs will also be entitled to a business rate discount of £5,000. See here for details.

Cash grants of £25,000 are being given out by the local council to the smallest businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector. You can apply via the council website here. With £10,000 grants for all business in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief. If a business is eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, it will be contacted by the relevant local authority.

Applications are now open for the Small Business Discretionary Grant. Eligible Bristol businesses – such as market traders, B&Bs and similar which are not able to claim other forms of support – can apply for up to £5,000. Deadline Mon 8 Jun 2020. See here.

HMRC ‘Time To Pay’ service allows businesses and the self-employed to defer tax payments over an agreed period of time. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. HMRC have also launched a helpline to help businesses concerned about paying their tax due to Coronavirus: 0800 015 9559. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm.

HMRC is also offering tax deferments on both self-assessment tax returns and the quarterly tax return for 20 March-30 June. This is also an automatic offer with no applications required.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) costs for businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be met by the Government in full for up to 14 days per employee. Further guidance here.

Further advice for businesses which have apprentices is available here.

Karin Smyth MP urges Government to step up support for apprentices during Coronavirus crisis

Bristol South is one of the areas of the UK in which the lowest percentage of 18-year-olds go to university – less than 1 in 5 (see earlier article). Quality apprenticeships offer a route to degree-level qualifications and decent career prospects for those who don’t take the university route. It creates options, where there otherwise would not be many. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been championing apprenticeships since I was elected to Bristol South in 2015.

My annual apprenticeships fair with City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions  shining  a light on this important route to a quality career  and links people up with these opportunities.   

People have been contacting me concerned about the impact of workplace and school and college closures since the very beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak. Apprenticeships straddle these two elements and I was immediately concerned about what this might mean for apprentices in Bristol South and  beyond.

I’ve spoken with the Principal at City of Bristol College about the challenges they face, as well as the  Apprenticeships lead at Bristol City Council.  Both  raised concerns about  the sector’s ability to continue with the progress that has been made in this area in recent years without further targeted support.

As well as the college and the council,  I’m in touch with local businesses who employ apprentices  and  independent training providers – many of whom attend  my annual apprenticeships fair in Hengrove.  Government support announced so far does not help many of them.

Disappointingly, but perhaps predictably, new start figures for apprentices have dropped dramatically since the start of the year as many employers focus on the short-term survival of their business.  A recent survey by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) found around 60 per cent of employers had stopped recruiting apprentices altogether as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic;  with it also having a significant impact on the numbers of apprentices who will  successfully  complete their apprenticeship.

Current apprentices face an uncertain future - when will they be assessed? Will there be a job for them at the end of their furlough? Can they finish their apprenticeship?  These are all questions that, for many, remain unanswered.  Furthermore, it is not clear  if, and when, employers will take on  any  new apprentices.

At the start of the outbreak in the UK,  I asked the  Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson  what support the Government planned to provide businesses and the education sector to maintain apprenticeships during this time (see earlier article).

As Chair of the Apprenticeships All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), I have also written to Apprenticeships Minister  Gillian Keegan  highlighting the challenges and to ask for further government support.  We  want to see greater flexibility in the Apprenticeship Levy and have asked that the deadline to spend this money be extended. Another issue of concern is that currently providers are given a 12-week period in which to find an apprentice another employer if they are made redundant. This is clearly unrealistic in the current climate and we have asked for this window to be extended.  We also asked that the government extend the financial guarantees given to colleges for A level provision, to be extended to apprenticeships – I believe deeply in parity of opportunity.

Working with employers, training providers, local authorities and  Labour  colleagues, we’ve  spent  many  years trying to support more people through  decent apprenticeships and we have some good examples of this here in Bristol. 

As we come through this crisis and begin to think about recovery and  creating a workforce for the  future, apprenticeships  have an ever-important role to play.  Many will lose their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. It will also have an impact on pupil’s educational attainment. Apprenticeships are one significant way that we can help people back into work while filling existing and new skills gaps.

The Minister  has since recognised  this, saying: ‘Apprenticeships will play a vital role in securing our economic recovery, post Coronavirus.”   The government now needs to step up its  support  for  apprentices, employers and training providers  to ensure that the groundwork that has been done in this area is not lost.

Karin Smyth MP on the importance of Coronavirus testing and contact tracing

There has been much confusion around the latest announcement from the government on changes to the lockdown restrictions. The Labour Party, under the leadership of Keir Starmer, has been pushing the government for more details on the plan going forward as there are many questions left unanswered (see an example of this here). 

The virus remains active in our communties and, in order to help restrict its spread and prevent further large outbreaks, we must have extensive local testing and tracing measures in place. This will help us to isolate and control any new outbreaks quickly and efficiently. 

The focus to-date has been centred around testing an app on the Isle of Wight, but we cannot rely on an app alone. Contact tracing is a skill that requires community knowledge. Despite having more than 20 years’ experience working in NHS planning, I have found it difficult to follow how the Government intends testing and tracing to work once scaled up.

The Government is not currently choosing not to use local expertise to test, trace and track the virus. It is not even sharing existing test result data with local authorities and healthcare providers to enable them to better respond to localised outbreaks of the virus.  The test, trace and isolate strategy will not work unless ministers ensure that local public health planners have the tools and resources they need to make it function efficiently (see video here).

Speaking in The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee this week (see video here) , I raised my concern that the centralised national approach to this means that we aren’t in a position to undertake the necessary level of testing and tracing to successfully isolate new outbreaks in schools, let alone cities the size of Bristol.

I asked the UK’s National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond, how we get from where we are now to where we need to be – following the example of countries such as South Korea, which has used testing and tracing to avoid a lockdown, control the virus and protect its citizens. Sir Diamond agreed that we do need to work on this and pointed to the new creation of a Joint Biosecurity Centre, which he said would play an important role in harnessing a huge amount of data in a way that we haven’t done so far. But this centre is in its infancy, the crisis is now. 

People are now being told to take risks as part of the changes to the lockdown restrictions – to return to work, to prepare to send their children back to school or nursery and, for those without cars, to use public transport in order to do so.  Without significant localised testing and contact tracing which identifies those who need to self-isolate, this leaves us with very limited protection against this highly contagious disease. 

Almost every country that has managed to get to the next stage has had significant testing and tracing as part of the strategy. The UK needs to do that too and I, and the Labour Party, will continue to push the Government on this.

Karin Smyth MP speaks remotely in Domestic Abuse Bill

Last week, I spoke via video link in an important parliamentary debate on domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill brings in some key changes to existing law – including strengthening support for victims and provisions prohibiting cross-examination in the courts. Another welcome change to the rules means that those fleeing domestic abuse and facing homelessness as a result will be automatically prioritised for social housing.  

The coronavirus emergency has shone a light on the inadequate protection and support for survivors of domestic abuse, and we cannot wait until this crisis is over to address this.  

While Avon and Somerset Police has not yet seen the sharp rise in domestic violence incidents it expected, we do know that a lot of domestic abuse goes unreported. And that calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline have risen by around 50 per cent since the social distancing measures were introduced. There were also 16 deaths reported of women and children linked to domestic abuse in the UK during the first two weeks of the lockdown – almost three times higher than the same period the previous year.  

Since becoming the MP for Bristol South in 2015, the impact of domestic violence has been one of the most heartbreaking and dominant parts of my casework.    

Statistics show that Hartcliffe, Filwood and Bishopsworth have significantly higher rates of domestic abuse than elsewhere in the city. The last Bristol Women’s Health report showed women in Hartcliffe were much more likely to be victims of domestic violence – at a rate of double the national average – with almost 600 incidents recorded in a year, the highest figure in the city.   

The figures also show that more people in the south of the constituency view domestic abuse as a ‘private matter’ – up to 14% of people in Filwood compared with less than 6% in most areas of the city. And it is important to remember that, particularly in light of this attitude to domestic violence, an estimated 1 in 5 cases go unreported.    

That said, my surgeries have been filled with women, mainly in their 20s, with children, who have been desperate to remain part of their community and have had family support but who have been seeking refuge from their perpetrator.  More often than not, it is they who have to leave their homes and their communities.  

Earlier this year, I held a surgery especially for women who had come through domestic violence—they were largely on the other side—and I asked them what services they would like to see changed. I am very grateful to them for sharing their experiences with me.     

Many of their suggestions centred on the justice system, others related to mental health support once people have managed to flee their abuse, because the trauma does not end when someone leaves.   

I heard examples of how the abuser can use the system to manipulate the victim from a distance; for example, childcare arrangements and child maintenance payments can all add to the psychological trauma once someone has left.   

We need to provide ongoing support to these families once they have escaped their abuser: help with furniture and white goods, financial and legal support and counselling.   

Ten years of austerity has had a terrible impact on the ability of local authorities to fund the specialist services for survivors of domestic abuse.  With the government now placing a statutory duty onto local authorities to provide much of this support, there must be adequate, long-term funding, that reaches diverse specialist services.    

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens has been doing a lot of work locally around tackling domestic abuse, including commissioning a new victim support service. She recently wrote about her work in this area and urged victims to come forward – a plea I would echo. 

But the local authorities could not do such work without our excellent voluntary sector’s work with victims. I pay tribute to all those working with victims of domestic violence and abuse; organisations such as Next Link and Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) – which recently highlighted the importing issue around the ‘hidden’ sexual violence against older women.    

The sector is coming particularly to the fore at this time, doing tremendous work to support women locally. If the Government is really serious about making an impact, it should provide funding for this work.    

I was pleased to see the Government followed Labour’s suggestion to dedicate £76 mililon from the £750 million charity support fund to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery; and I hope that they also fast-track this to get the funding where it’s needed immediately.  

The impact is wide, and when in recent discussions with headteachers and local police we have been trying to address behavioural problems locally, we have often come back to a background of young men experiencing violence at home and then repeating it. We have to also consider the role of perpetrator programmes in putting the onus onto men to take responsibility for their actions. We can, and must, break this cycle.

***

Support for victims of domestic abuse

Victims of domestic abuse are not subject to the stay at home restrictions and can go out. They will be able to access safe spaces at Boots pharmacy consultation rooms across the country. More info, here.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is then you can call the National helpline on 0808 2000247. In an immediate emergency, please call 999. If it is not possibly to speak the operator can guide you through some other response methods.

Bristol charity Next Link also runs a telephone helpline 10am-4pm Mon-Fri 0117 925 0680 for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse and their website has more guidance too.

The Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Assault Support (SARSAS) helpline is open Mon 11am-2pm, Tue, Wed & Thu 12-2pm and 6-8pm and Fri 11am-2pm. Call: 0808 801 0456 or 0808 801 0464. Or see website, here.

***

Karin Smyth MP on the community response to the Cornavirus crisis

In times of crisis, as the famous quote goes, look for the helpers.   

And in Bristol South, they’re everywhere. Bristol City Council is doing a great job of co-ordinating this effort – establishing need, working with charity partners to put systems in place to help people through this. Much of this has been about building on what’s has already been developed by local people over many years – particularly here in Bristol South.  

As it is home to some of the most deprived areas in the city, Bristol South already has some incredibly innovative, agile community organisations which have been running crucial services to support local people, organisations such as Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership. These foundations have put us in a strong position to be able to get help where it’s needed during this Coronavirus crisis.

Working with the Labour-run council, local ‘community anchors’ such as Knowle West AllianceBS3 Community and Heart of BS13 (formerly Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group) are stepping up their responses with pop-up food banks and a growing network of volunteers to support people with shopping, collecting prescriptions and other tasks – things which those being shielded are unable to do themselves at the moment.   

As well as new food banks run by existing organisations – such as Square Food‘s Square Meals campaign and BS3 Community Larder – we’re also seeing new entrepreneurial initiatives reaching into Bristol South. From hyper local mutual aid groups to The National Food Service, which was set up in Bristol just six months ago and is now delivering meals to over 200 people across Bristol South every week. Unlike most food banks, it’s not means tested and you don’t need a referral to use it. Anyone who needs food for whatever reason – say you can’t get to the shops or book an online delivery slot – can self-refer. See my webpage for details of this and all the other support available.

But I know that these voluntary organisations, while responsive and effective, are currently facing many challenges. While businesses are able to access government support to cover most of the wages of furloughed staff via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, those involved in responding to the pandemic must continue to pay staff or rely on volunteers with no extra financial support; this is on top of a huge reduction in income as they cannot fundraise or generate income in the usual ways. The Quartet Foundation is doing what it can to help with emergency grants, and is particularly keen to support more South Bristol organisations, but it can only do so much.

I know that many local community organisations, who are essentially providing a public services and a social safety net, are desperately worried about their future. It is for this reason that I have been calling on the Government for some time to provide them with greater financial support. The current offer falls far short of filling the financial black hole that many charities are facing.  

And as new Shadow Charities Minister Rachael Maskell MP recently said, we need to make sure that there is not only funding to see us through the next few months, but also to ensure there will be grants available to rebuild.  

That said, we have a system where charities rely on grants and volunteers to deliver vital local services which, should this funding or volunteer effort subside, would disappear. It’s not sustainable. It’s essential that the Government and other statutory bodies recognise and respond to this. The work many of these highly efficient organisations do isn’t an optional extra, it’s essential to help ensure that people have the food, healthcare, guidance and support they need.  

Bristol is fortunate enough to have an umbrella organisation, Voscur, which supports the city’s voluntary sector. They’re currently helping to share funding sources, provide safeguarding training and distribute other vital information to the wealth of city’s charities and volunteers which have come together to help people through this.  

This is particularly important considering the issue of burnout among those working hard for their communities. I know that some of the women heading up operations for the community anchors in Bristol South are working 10-12 hour days, often seven days a week to oversee the local response. The calls they’re receiving are increasingly complex, with people starting to feel the mental strain of the crisis. We must support voluntary sector workers with their mental health and wellbeing throughout this, while also equipping them to support others.  

The Government is not recognising the public service role provided by these organisations. It is vital that the Government looks at what additional measures and financial support it can make available to this sector. It must also ensure that new funding gets to them as quickly as possible to prevent further damage being done. I will continue to press the Government on this as a key demand in tackling the Coronavirus emergency.  

As we recover from this crisis, we must create a more equal sustainable and supportive society in which these community organisations are supported to have a leading role. 

Karin Smyth MP and Labour Party seeking answers from Government on issues with Coronavirus support

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth is working closely with her colleagues in parliament to seek clarification on some of the support available, challenge any issues that arise from this and hold the government to account over its decisions and approach.

Karin has been contacted by constituents who have questions and concerns around the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, support for self-employed people and small businesses and Universal Credit. She has raised these with fellow members of the Shadow Cabinet, pushing the government for answers and action.

Below is a follow up letter, which Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this month…

When we receive answers or further information, Karin will update constituents who have been in touch.

If you live in Bristol South and need support from your MP during this difficult time, please email: karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk – Karin and her team continue to work remotely throughout.

You may also find this Coronavirus resource page useful: karinsmyth.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/

Karin Smyth MP on supporting constituents during the Coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is shaking our society to its core. It’s an extremely worrying time for everyone – with so much uncertainty and no real indication of when it might end; but we will get through this together. 

My team and I are working remotely to support constituents through this – listening to concerns, signposting to vital services and helping people to navigate the system, while working with my colleagues in Parliament to raise issues and resolve problems in a bid to ensure the help gets where it’s needed most.   

Here in Bristol South, I’ve heard from lots of people who are – understandably – very concerned about their health, their jobs and their businesses, and myself and my team are doing everything we can to help you through this. I’m helping people across the constituency every day with information and advice and making calls to local authority and government departments to try to get things moving. 

For some people, this is the first time they’ve had to access government support – but for many, it’s not. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is having to process a huge number of new claims with a limited number of staff (remembering that anyone in the high risk category and anyone showing symptoms, or living with someone showing symptoms, must self-isolate at home – this includes DWP staff). The government announced a package of emergency support – such as funding for furlough – but there are many processes that businesses must go through to access this, and it will not help everyone.  

You may have seen my Coronavirus information article on my website, which is regularly updated with the latest guidance and links. It includes the brilliant We Are Bristol Coronavirus hotline – where the council is linking people in need with volunteers and agencies ready to help. We’re adding to this list all the time, so please do keep checking back there if you have any questions. I’ve also been sharing regular posts on my social media channels to help ensure the relevant information reaches the people who need it. And I’m pointing people in the direction of these resources, if appropriate, when they contact me. 

Too many people are struggling to access the support they need. From people in self-isolation unable to get delivery slots with their local supermarket or collect their prescriptions to people on zero hours contracts finding themselves with no income to cover their rent and bills; and families struggling to juggle childcare and work to businesses without the financial means to pay their staff, suppliers, rent and bills. 

As before, a lot of the help on the ground will come from the voluntary sector – as well as from those key workers essential to keeping us safe: NHS staff, emergency services and other health and social care workers. From local charities, community groups and the thousands of people who have signed up as volunteers for the NHS and with Bristol City Council’s COVID-19 response force are all working to get us through this crisis.   

I am in touch with local healthcare providers, the council and local councillors, police, schools and nurseries, small businesses and charity and community organisations across Bristol South to see how I can support them in this huge task. I’m listening to their concerns, finding out what they need and am feeding this back to the relevant government departments.    

I know there are still issues outstanding on furloughing, on access to the self-employment income support scheme, on businesses being able to access government backed loans; as well as a lack of support for the charity and third sector. I, along with my opposition colleagues under the new leadership of Keir Starmer, are raising these with the government. While Parliament is not currently sitting, my Parliamentary colleagues and I are working on ways to govern while complying with the important government guidance around social distancing.  

More issues will arise in the coming weeks and I’m keen to understand these fully and push for action on these. As Keir has said, Labour will be constructive in its response, supportive of the government where it is right to do so but will ask the difficult questions. Our purpose when we do that is to save lives and protect our country.  

I am keen to make sure that you have enough support to get you through the next few weeks and beyond. As your MP, I care deeply about what you’re going through and will do everything I can to help you. If you need my support during this time, please email me: karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk