Karin Smyth MP helps inform UN Special Rapporteur into extreme poverty and human rights in the UK

You may have seen earlier this year that I wrote a letter to help inform the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in the UK. The full report, compiled by Professor Philip Alston, was released this week and it makes for some very difficult but important reading. (You can read the full report here).

I was the only individual MP to make a submission to the report, with Prof. Alston speaking to a broad range of frontline organisations and experts, as well as individuals living in or affected by poverty.

As MP for Bristol South, I’ve seen first-hand just how damaging government cuts and ill-advised decisions are for people living in poverty.

Like the country, Bristol is divided. There are areas of great wealth in some parts of the city, and there are areas where people are struggling to get by with stagnant wages and rising living costs.

As I wrote in my letter to Prof. Alston, Bristol South has the highest number of social security claimants in the city, the poorest health outcomes – including lower life expectancy – and the lowest educational attainment. The southern part of the constituency has poor transport links and higher crime rates. All of this has a direct and unmistakable link with poverty.

My role as MP is to be a strong voice for Bristol South and I felt I should share the impact government cuts were having on my constituents as part of this report.

The comprehensive report goes as far as to suggest that the government is in violation of its human rights obligations due to its ideological and systematic dismantling of the social safety net.

“Given the significant resources available in the country, the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have caused so much pain and misery, amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations,” writes Prof. Alston. “It is hard to imagine a recipe better designed to exacerbate inequality and poverty and to undermine the life prospects of many millions.”

The government has tried to dismiss this report as ‘barely believable’. This response shows just how out of touch they are. The report, while certainly very damning for the government, paints an accurate picture of what a lot of my constituents are dealing with.

It looks at the impact of government cuts and changes to benefits on particular groups, including women, single parents and disabled people. It’s clear, as it has been to me since Universal Credit was first rolled out in Bristol South, that these groups – which already face ongoing challenges – are being hit particularly hard.

The report reads: “Given the structural disadvantages faced by women, it is particularly disturbing that so many policy changes since 2010 have taken a greater toll on them.”

It goes on to say that benefits changes have had a ‘stark impact’ on single parents, who are twice as likely to experience persistent poverty, with half of all children living in single parent families living in poverty. One in four children now live in poverty in Bristol and figures suggest that is set to rise significantly over the next few years, with Brexit making things worse for the most vulnerable people.

Prof. Alston recognised that the tired old ‘record levels of employment’ response from the government is particularly unhelpful. Besides, poverty is not confined to unemployed families. I’ve spoken before about underemployment – where people are working but are still struggling to afford the basics. The report suggests that families where two adults earn the minimum wage are still falling 11% short of the adequate income needed to raise a child.

The report flags another worrying statistic: “Nearly half of those in poverty – 6.9 million people – are from families in which someone has a disability – they have also been some of the hardest hit by austerity measures.”

Crucially, this report doesn’t just outline the current situation – but it has some clear recommendations for the government to take steps to address this. Some of these echo things I’ve been pressing the government to do, such as delaying the rollout of Universal Credit and restoring funding to local government.

Prof. Alston concludes: “The situation demands a new vision that embodies British compassion and places social rights and economic security front and centre.” I couldn’t agree more.

New trailer safety group launches in Parliament thanks to campaign by Bristol South MP and local family

Karin Smyth MP at the 2018 trailer summit in Bristol – part of an ongoing campaign

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth is pleased to be chairing the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Trailer and Towing Safety in Westminster on Tuesday 30 April 2019. 

The creation of this cross-party group is a significant step forward in the campaign to improve trailer safety. As part of the meeting, The National Towing Working Group, chaired by Highways England, will be launching their first ever Safety Framework, with the aim of reducing towing-related incidents, both business and leisure related, across the GB road network. 

It follows two Trailer Safety Summits, which Karin hosted in her Bristol South constituency in 2017 and 2018, an amendment to the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act requiring the government to collect data on trailer related incidents and ongoing talks with the government’s Road Safety Minister Jesse Norman MP over further potential changes to legislation. 

Karin first spoke about the issue in Parliament in 2016 after meeting with constituents Donna and Scott Hussey – who lost their 3-year-old son Freddie when he was hit by a trailer that had come loose from a vehicle in Bedminster in 2014.  

Thanks to Karin’s work with the Hussey family, the DVSA went on to release new guidelines for towing safety and launched the #TowSafe4Freddie campaign to help raise awareness among drivers. Karin has since teamed up with the National Trailer and Towing Association (NTTA) to promote free roadside safety checks for trailers, but believes more is needed to protect road users and pedestrians – which is why she has launched the new APPG. 

The APPG brings together MPs from the main political parties, industry representatives and consumer groups to explore the issue of trailer and towing safety. The group, for which the National Caravan Council (NCC) is the secretariat, will discuss a programme of work for the future and will, this summer, discuss the Department for Transport’s Trailer Safety Report, which will be published in July as a result of Karin’s intervention last year (2018). 

Karin said: “Working with the Hussey family, I’ve been able to bring this important issue to Westminster. We’ve come a long way since I first spoke about the issue in Parliament and, with the launch of the APPG, I’m pleased to see the concerns we have getting the attention they need. It paves the way for the changes needed in the area of towing safety over the coming months and years.  

“These incidents are far too common and what has become clear during this ongoing campaign is that drivers are often unaware just how dangerous towing without the correct safety measures can be. That needs to change and thanks to our ongoing campaign and work with the likes of the NCC and NTTA, it will. I don’t want to see other families suffer in the way that young Freddie’s family has.”  

Freddie’s mum Donna said: “While it has always been difficult for us to comprehend what happened to Freddie, we made a promise to each other and to Freddie that we would do all we could to make sure this issue is given the serious consideration it deserves.  

“I did not realise it was an issue before it happened, but afterwards I started to look into it and saw that there were 2-3 incidents a week. We realised then that it was a real problem. In our case, if that trailer had been serviced they would’ve known that the hitch was not secured correctly. Had the driver realised there was a problem, he might not have gone out that day. People need to know that going out without the correct safety checks, you’re taking a big risk. 

“We are really pleased that Karin has supported us and, thanks to her efforts, all parties are now working together to make the necessary changes happen and hopefully prevent similar tragedies. We couldn’t have done it without her. If our hard work saves one life, then it is worth it. No family should go through what we have been through. We are determined to see this through in memory of Freddie.”  

“We are really pleased that Karin has supported us and, thanks to her efforts, all parties are now working together to make the necessary changes happen and hopefully prevent similar tragedies. We couldn’t have done it without her. If our hard work saves one life, then it is worth it. No family should go through what we have been through. We are determined to see this through in memory of Freddie.” 

Alicia Dunne of the NCC said they were pleased to be taking a key role in this new APPG, adding: “The NCC has consistently been an advocate of trailer safety education and awareness, and we look forward to helping Karin and the group develop practical, proportionate and effective measures aimed at improving trailer and towing safety for all UK road users.” 

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth opposes plans for new Whitchurch link road

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth was last week asked to support the regional Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) Bid, which is seeking £250 million of Government funding for infrastructure improvements to sustain the building of more homes in the region. “There are some great transport initiatives in there to boost the number of passengers using Bristol Temple Meads railway station and improved pedestrian and cycle routes, which I fully support,” said Karin. “But the proposals also include a new road from the A37 to Whitchurch Lane, which I and local residents oppose. “

Karin requested clarification around possible alternatives to this road, plans to reduce car use in the city – not plan for more, but received no further details of these ahead of submission of the final bid this week.  She says: “The draft application suggests this new road could see 20,000 vehicles a day on Whitchurch Lane – driving past homes and a primary school. Thousands of local people have told me they are worried about pollution, road safety and the impact on wildlife and I share these concerns.”

Almost 1,000 letters of opposition to the new road proposal were delivered to The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) just last week, as the consultation for the Joint Local Transport Plan closed. Karin said: “It is premature to include such a widely-opposed new road in this bid without taking stock of these views and the wider picture.

“There are growing concerns over air quality in Bristol, with 300 deaths a year linked to emissions. Air pollution has been shown to contribute to a range of health problems, including impaired lung development in babies and young children, asthma and lung cancer with newer research indicating a link to diabetes, heart disease and dementia. We know that the main cause of air pollution in Bristol is traffic. Bristol South already suffers from some of the highest levels of ill-health in the city and this new road, and the thousands of polluting vehicles coming into the area, would exacerbate that. Health and housing are both very important and one should not come at the expense of the other.”

Both Bristol City Council and Bath & North East Somerset Council recently declared a Climate Emergency, with the Labour Party urging the government to recognise a national Climate Emergency in Parliament this week. Both councils are looking at introducing Clean Air Zones in the city centres to address poor air quality. Bristol City Council is this week writing to the government about its overdue Air Quality Plan, the full detail of which is yet to be made public. “Pressing ahead with this ill-conceived road plan and inviting 20,000 cars into Bristol South goes against the city’s obligation to improve air quality,” said Karin. “For these reasons, I will not support plans for this road and cannot support this bid in its current guise.”

Karin has spoken to the Minister responsible for Housing and Planning and plans to meet with him next week to discuss this further. She added: “I will continue to press for the homes and infrastructure we need here in Bristol South. This new road is not the answer.”

Record number of jobseekers attend South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair 2019

Hundreds of jobseekers met with employers and training providers at the South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair 2019, which has been dubbed the ‘best one yet’. 

The fair, which took place at the City of Bristol College’s South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove, was organised by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth in partnership with the college, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Appealing not only to school leavers, but also adults looking to upskill or re-enter the workplace, the event gave people the chance to meet some of the city’s biggest employers, including Computershare, Babcock International and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, and even apply for jobs and apprenticeships on the day. 

Many businesses were represented by young apprentices themselves, including Jeff Way Group, Bristol Port Company and Burges Salmon, where 19-year-old Gareth Parfitt talked to would be apprentices about his legal apprenticeship. 

He said: “For me, university was a really expensive option, and I’d had enough of reading from a textbook day-in, day-out; I wanted something that was a lot more practical so I decided that an apprenticeship would work better for me. The practical side of it, coupled with the studies works really well – I go to university on a Monday and on a Tuesday, what I’ve learnt, I put straight into practice. If I pass all my exams, I should come out as a qualified solicitor without going into any debt at university and earning while I go.” 

Organiser Karin Smyth, who has been MP for Bristol South since 2015, said: ”I started doing this because I was aware that, while a lot of things happen to support young people in apprenticeships and jobs around Bristol, most are located in North Bristol and South Gloucestershire. That’s important, but there wasn’t enough of a focus here in South Bristol. We know that we don’t send as many youngsters as we should do into higher education, we know that youngsters aren’t getting onto the apprenticeships that we know are there and we know there are good jobs to be had.  

“We saw a lot of youngsters on their own and a lot coming in with their parents trying to make sense of the different opportunities that are around. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to start doing this because I think it’s a really confusing set of choices now for young people. You’ve got to put a lot of things together and we wanted to try and locate that in Bristol South and make sure that information is all available in one place.“ 

City of Bristol’s Principal Lee Probert said: “One of the most common themes is the extent to which people need really good quality advice to make the choice about what sort of apprenticeship that they undertake. We can make sure that, having had the excitement of being attracted to the health sector or engineering or whatever, we can then get them alongside someone who can find the right course and the package of support they need – including access to funding –and make it happen.  

“We’ve had the largest number of employers ever for this event – around 100 – and we’ve seen in excess of a thousand people come through the doors this year. Employers have been capturing a list of individuals who are likely to be suitable to go into their work force. It doesn’t have the same pressure around having to prepare for a job interview, you can have a speculative interest in more than one sector, you can find out about a sector that you may not know about. Events such as this are critical in taking those barriers away.” 

Bristol City Counci’s Employment Account Officer Chris Mitchell echoed this, saying: “These events are really good because they’re an informal way of deciding if you want to work for a particular employer and having done that, you can then work your way through their particular application process and then you find that you’ve already broken the ice with them.” 

This is the third event of its kind in as many years and coincides with National Apprenticeship Week 2019. It is part of Karin Smyth’s ongoing focus on apprenticeships as a route to a quality career for people in Bristol South. 

Joanna Dunlop, Apprenticeship Co-ordinator at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, had a stand at the event with members of various teams within the Trust. They took along their current job vacancy list and had an interview room where they conducted interviews with potential employees. She said: “I’ve done all 3 and this one has been the best yet. Really good breakdown of both college students pupils and a lot more walk in visitors – adults looking for jobs. Events such as these are a very important part of our recruitment and this is the only one which has this catchment in South Bristol, long may it last because it’s been brilliant.” 

Mr Probert added: “This is a really important partnership event, it’s not the college’s or an employer’s, it’s spearheaded by Karin Smyth, who’s the MP for Bristol South, working with the city council, with the DWP and Job Centre Plus and without that sense of collaboration, we can’t penetrate communities in the way that we have today.” 

Bristol apprentices speak about their journeys ahead of South Bristol Apprenticeships Fair

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has organised another apprenticeships fair. In partnership with City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions, the South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair 2019 will take place from 11am – 3pm on Thursday 28 February at the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove.

The event is free to attend and you’ll be able to find out more about the apprenticeships on offer in Bristol and beyond, support and training available and be able to chat to apprentices themselves. Here, we speak with Bristol apprentices about their apprenticeship stories…

‘A boy from Bristol with a dream’ 

Carl Bembridge, 25, from Speedwell, Bristol, celebrity hair stylist and wig-maker 

After leaving school, Carl started a hair styling apprenticeship at City of Bristol College – working in Cohesion salon in St George with a day a week at college. He now divides his time between the Bristol salon and celebrity events and shoots across the world, including Love Island stars. 

Carl, who describes himself as ‘a boy from Bristol with a dream’, says: “I always knew I wanted to work with hair. I loved hair from a young age, especially long hair. I didn’t know how to get there but after doing work experience at Cohesion I learned about apprenticeships and then I found out more at college events (like the apprenticeships fair). 

“I chose the apprenticeship because there was more practical and actual salon time, so I learnt a lot more about the environment. I looked forward to college and seeing my friends once a week – it wasn’t too much and it was never going to get boring; and I was earning money, which was new to me and a change from school. 

“Secondary school was hard. I was picked on for wanting to do hair. When I chose Cohesion for my work experience other boy students found out and called me names, but I’m so glad I carried on. Since I finished my apprenticeship, I went on to win numerous competitions – including Hairdresser of the Year 2015. I now work with celebrities, travelling all over the world to style hair for photoshoots for magazines like Hello and events such as London Fashion Week.  

“Becoming a celebrity hairstylist known for my hair skills is amazing. I’ve got to work with TV stars from Keeping Up With The Kardashians and was taught how to make my famous wigs by Kylie Jenner’s wigmaker Tokyo Stylez. I’m going to keep setting myself goals to become more well-known and to become my own brand. There are no limits. 

“I was always driven and knew what I wanted to do but I’m really glad I did the apprenticeship because it was one day at college and the rest of the week was working life, like real-life working earning money and building my clients. In my industry, apprenticeships are great for building yourself as the stylist you want to be. I’d definitely recommend apprenticeships.” 

‘Apprenticeships – not just for school leavers’ 

Jacob Kulig, 32, from Henleazean apprentice with a Bristol global logistics and freight company 

When university graduate Jacob was looking for a meaningful career, he turned his attention to apprenticeships. 

The 32-year-old joined Expeditors International shipping and logistics company in Avonmouth as an Apprentice Air Export Agent in 2015. 

 His Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Level 2 apprenticeship has seen him progress from working on operations into finance and accounting, covering areas such as billing, invoicing, quoting and pricing. This is the direction he hopes to follow in his newly-forged career. 

“Returning to college gives me good boost of confidence,” explains Jacob, who graduated from Jagiellonian University in his home country of Poland in 2011. “That constant development is necessary for everyone. There are so many skills that may become helpful in a future career, and in life generally.  

“I am a university graduate, but some university programs are very generic or too abstract to provide a good start; whereas attending a professional course can equip you with the exact knowledge and skills which are essential for undertaking a specific job. 

“Combining work and studying is already a part of success. I am glad that I am passing exams and developing knowledge that matches with the matters dealt with at my workplace. 

“An apprenticeship will help you move from a standstill position. Even if you are already in a profession, an apprenticeship will set up you new insights and a different perspective and you will see that it was definitely worth it.”

‘No deal’ Brexit is not an option, says Bristol South MP Karin Smyth

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth says:

“Brexit remains a cause of much frustration, uncertainty and concern. 

“This is being felt here in Bristol South and throughout the UK. 

“I was in Dublin earlier this week, in my role as Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland alongside colleagues Keir Starmer and Tony Lloyd. We met with government and opposition, business leaders and trade unions who are, understandably, anxious about a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

“The UK government remains in chaos. The important vote on 14 February, once again showed that the Prime Minister does not have the full support of her own party, let alone Parliament. Parliament does not support the Government’s approach to Brexit negotiations – their deal, or no deal.

“With just weeks to go until we’re due to leave the EU, Parliament will continue to do its job in holding the government to account, clarifying and working through options on our future relationship with the EU.

“‘No deal’ Brexit is not an option.”

Invitation: South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair 2019

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has teamed up with City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department of Work and Pensions for another Jobs and Apprenticeships fair.

The event, which takes place from 11am-3pm on Thursday 28 February at the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove, will feature some of Bristol’s biggest employers looking to recruit apprentices and new staff – including some key south Bristol employers such as Babcock International and Robbins Timber.

“Post-16 options can be confusing and I wanted to help students and their parents to navigate this,” said Karin Smyth, who organised similar events in both 2018 and 2017. “Quality apprenticeships have such an important role to play in helping young people have decent careers without getting tens of thousands of pounds into debt in the process.

“Many of the stalls at the fair are run by apprentices themselves, so it’s a great opportunity to hear what it’s like from the people who know.”

Speaking at last year’s apprenticeships fair, Hargreaves Lansdown cyber security apprentice Amanda Rogers said: “I applied for apprenticeships in IT via the government website and was lucky enough to get this one. It’s really good, you learn and get a wage which is really beneficial. I’ll get a degree and there will be no debt. Hargreaves Lansdown are really supportive – if you need time off to do the work, they’ll allow you that. There are also so many opportunities for progression.”

Lee Probert, Principal and Chief Executive at City of Bristol College, said: “Apprenticeships are an excellent way to earn a wage whilst gaining the skills and experience needed for many careers. They are available at various levels including degree, offering first-hand experience and an alternative route to learning.”

The fair takes place ahead of National Apprenticeships Week (4-8 March 2019). The annual week-long celebration of apprenticeships celebrates the impact of apprenticeships on individuals, employers and the economy.

Alongside Karin Smyth and City of Bristol College, this year’s apprenticeships fair is being organised with Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Mr Probert said: “We are pleased to be working in collaboration with Karin Smyth MP, Bristol City Council, the Department for Work and Pensions and other city partners to host this event and help our local communities to connect with a large number of employers with job vacancies, as well as to access many skills development routes available through college training and qualifications.”

The fair announcement comes as the latest UCAS figures show a further drop in the percentage of school leavers in Bristol South – from 16.2 percent in 2017 to 15.9 percent in 2018, compared to 31.4 percent nationally. In all other areas of Bristol the figure is significantly higher.

Karin said: “I’m working with schools and colleges to ensure that more young people in Bristol South have the opportunity to go to university; but I recognise that university isn’t the only route to a decent career which is why I’ll continue to focus on quality apprenticeships.”

Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills at Bristol City Council, added: “Apprenticeships are for anyone, not just for those at the start of their careers, and can be an excellent way to develop the skills and qualifications that businesses are looking for. We have some fantastic employers in the region offering high quality apprenticeships and they are encouraged to pay apprentices in line with their skills and experience, helping to make the city a fairer place to live and work.”

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth calls on the Secretary of State for Health to pause the potentially disastrous NHS commissioning plans for Bristol

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth will today (January 7th) use a House of Commons debate to call on the Secretary of State for Health to pause the potentially disastrous NHS commissioning plans for Bristol.

Karin Smyth MP said:

“The Government has today launched its 10 Year NHS Long Term Plan, committed to integrating care locally and seeking to change the disastrous NHS Reforms freeing Commissioners from the procurement rules introduced in 2012. However, tomorrow we have the local Bristol and North Somerset, South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) embarking on its own 10 year plan to tender community services.

“Before the Christmas break I wrote to the CCG asking them to hold off on a service tender ahead of the NHS Plan – and today, I am calling on the Health Secretary Matthew Hancock to intervene and pause the process.

“I am concerned to see the CCG pursuing a complex legal procurement process for just some of our community services, without a clear understanding of what is required and without any attempt at cooperation with other partners who also provide vital services.

“This approach creates potential conflict where there should be collaboration between service providers, which is not in keeping with the national direction. What is proposed is a complex set of negotiations with providers outside of the NHS, held entirely in secret. This is not how the NHS should be managed.

“Only by working together to create a joined-up approach to services can we — NHS England, the CCG, NHS staff, local authorities and the public — succeed in delivering quality health and social care for people. The NHS Plan actually offers an opportunity to create new NHS Trusts which could be used to bring together community services if that is the objective.

“We have a brilliant asset in South Bristol Community Hospital which we should be making the most of. I’m concerned that re-tendering services here may have a negative impact on the hospital and supporting services.

“We need a considered and strategic approach with increased accountability in order to ensure patients in Bristol South and beyond have the services they need and deserve.”



BNSSG CCG Governing Body Meeting

Date: Tuesday 8th January 2019

Time: 1.30pm

Location: The Weston College, Knightstone Road, Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, BS23 2AL

Agenda: https://bnssgccg.nhs.uk/library/governing-body-paper-8-january-2019-agenda/

Karin Smyth MP lays down an important amendment on air weapons during proceedings on the Offensive Weapons Bill

After it was cancelled twice previously, I was finally able to present my amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill. This new clause would require the government to publish a report on the safety of air weapons.

This is an important matter of public safety and I believe would help us move one step closer to preventing further deaths or injuries through the misuse of air weapons in the future.

Read the full debate here.


Original posted 28th November, 2018