Photo: Luciana Bignardi
In February, members of the Bristol branch of housing union ACORN envisioned the Bristol we want to see, kickstarting a democratic process of forming key demands for mayoral and council candidates to commit to ahead of May’s elections.
Better mental health provision, improved SEND outcomes, citizens’ assemblies, trialling a universal basic income, new green spaces… our 1,200+ members were not short of suggestions for how we could make this city work for its people and communities. In many areas, from food to buses to rents, it is simply not working now.
Members worked on articulating ideas into achievable demands backed by facts, voting for the top six to take forward. They provide candidates with clear instructions on how to align themselves with our vision.
Based on our past, successful campaigns to improve ordinary people’s lives – such as ending discriminatory mortgage practices from banks, and getting letting fees banned – we are confident we can secure commitments for these improvements. This means generating enough support from voters to get all candidates to commit – then holding election winners’ feet to the fire to ensure promises are kept.
In March we launched this campaign, taking it to City Hall and dropping a banner from a bridge over the M32. Look out for our next actions as we give these demands the push they deserve – via direct action, media exposure and other tactics – so they get onto candidates’ manifestos and stand the best chance of eventually making all our lives better.
1. End rough sleeping in Bristol by 2024
When coronavirus hit, the ‘Everyone In’ scheme saw rough sleepers granted emergency shelter. In June 2020, 35 people were found sleeping rough in Bristol, compared with 98, the official count that February. But this February numbers were back to 50.
ACORN is demanding Bristol adopt a Housing First approach. This saves money on policing, prison stays, shelters and healthcare because it gives people long-term homes from which to work on issues such as addiction, petty crime and mental illness, as opposed to the ‘staircase’ model, whereby to qualify for housing, individuals must first control such issues.
2. 1,000 council homes a year by 2025
Getting a council house in Bristol is near-impossible: even people in direst need can wait years. The mayor’s target of building 800 affordable homes a year by 2020-21 was not met. It’s time for a fresh one.
The council must increase numbers of social-rented homes. It could build, work with housing associations, and purchase already-built houses. Our target of 1,000 extra homes a year by 2025 is ambitious but not impossible.
3. Rent control
By May 2022, the council must compile a ‘Bristol Living Rent’ plan, mapping out a long-term path to reducing rents. Elected officials should lobby central government, working with other Core Cities and their respective ACORN groups, to devolve power over rent controls.
4. Retrofit Bristol’s homes
Retrofitting homes makes them more comfortable and secure, reduces fuel poverty and creates skilled jobs. Crucially, it’s also a cost-effective way of cutting UK carbon emissions, 14% of which come from homes.
In July 2019 the mayor pledged to retrofit 7,000 homes per year. This must be drastically stepped up, which is why we’re calling on candidates to commit to decisive action on retrofitting.
5. Fund good food for all
Bristol’s foodbanks have seen a 168% increase in use during lockdown. Food insecurity is growing, and has led to local groups forming, and plugging the gap by providing free food.
By the end of their first year, councillors must contact all community groups providing free food in Bristol, and offer funding and logistical support, making them sustainable. This includes setting aside funds to help interested groups set up as social enterprises, and assisting them with getting local food procurement contracts, plus continued funding as they transition to this model.
6. Universal free school meals
Many children are excluded from free school meals (FSM), including those whose parents claim disability benefits, or do not have recourse to public funds due to immigration status. There is also evidence that some eligible children do not claim FSM due to the associated stigma, resulting in poor nutrition and poorer performance at school.
The council can ensure every child has free school meals. ACORN members demand it does so.