Friday, 25 January 2013

Bristol City Council motion to end destitution

I received this message via Mike Kaye: through the mailing list of QARN (Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network) (

It concerns a motion passed by Bristol Council.  Maybe we could encourage Sheffield Council to do a similar thing?
Tim Neal

On 15 January 2013, Bristol City Council passed Cllr. Ron Stones motion to end destitution at their full council meeting. The motion includes many specific action, such as the Council becoming a member of Still Human Still Here and practical steps to support asylum seekers. The full text is attached below. The motion was approved by 80% of the councillors and had support from the Labour, Lib Dem and Green Party groups. It was also supported by the Lord Mayor and the new City Mayor, George Ferguson, who said "We should not tolerate destitution in our city for any reason".  Bristol City of Sanctuary worked together with other local organisations to mobilise support for this motion. 

This follows the Glasgow motion passed on 18 June 2012.  Hopefully we can get other local council's to follow in their footsteps.


Motion to End Destitution:
Bristol A City Of Sanctuary????

Bristol formally declared itself a City Of Sanctuary in June 2011. By so doing, the city council committed itself to recognise the plight of asylum seekers forced to flee their home countries for expressing views or holding opinions that ruling regimes disagreed with or found to be confrontational.

In exercising their human right of free speech in their own countries, many have received death threats, suffered beatings and threats to their family members, forcing them to abandon their homes, their country and all their possessions. Here in Britain, if their asylum cases are refused by the Home Office, they lose all financial support and accommodation. Current laws also prevent them from working.

This leaves them in a cycle of deprivation and poverty that is currently impossible to break. Many are forced into homelessness on the street.

Council welcomes the Glasgow City Council initiative in passing a motion, highlighting the concerns for refused asylum seekers and the lack of support and facilities UK wide.

Council asserts that if our proud declaration stating that Bristol is a City of Sanctuary is to be meaningful and worthy of its fine words, we must act to improve this situation with the following actions:

1. The Mayor writes on behalf of the city council to the Minister of State deploring the government policy that forces refused asylum seekers into destitution while they continue to fight for a safe haven from persecution.

2. The Mayor writes to the UK government seeking a change of policy to allow local authorities to assist refused asylum seekers in danger of destitution and provide equal emergency provision to refused asylum seekers as they would to any other homeless person.

3. The Mayor calls on all Bristol MPs to support the content of this motion and to raise the matter in the House of Commons, and support a change in current laws regarding asylum applications by removing restrictions on local authorities in the support they can provide to destitute asylum seekers.

4. The council agrees to produce a report highlighting all existing support available in Bristol including housing, training, education, and legal advice open to vulnerable asylum applicants.

5. The city council should work closely with the voluntary sector through a designated officer to provide help, support and advice to applicants and enable a coordinated response to be easily available to those in need at this vulnerable time of their lives.

6. The council should join the national campaign Still Human, Still here(a coalition of 29 organisations, including the Church of England and Catholic Archbishop Conferences, Amnesty International and the Red Cross, who are proposing practical solutions to ending the destitution of refused asylum seekers in the UK.)

7. The council agrees to seek further support for this motion and actions via the Local Government Association and encouraging other councils in the UK to follow Bristol’s lead.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Towards a Low Carbon Community

The Meeting House 'edible roof garden'
Last year, at our national decision-making forum in Canterbury, British Quakers made a collective commitment to become a 'sustainable, low carbon community'. This presents an exciting opportunity to model how a national religious body might respond to the challenge of transition throughout its structures, practices and culture. It also highlights some very challenging questions.

Sheffield Central Meeting initially responded enthusiastically to the Canterbury Commitment, carrying out a carbon footprinting exercise to establish a baseline for the future, and replanting our small Meeting House rooftop space as an 'edible roof garden'. A project group was appointed to oversee energy efficiency improvements to the Meeting House, and to act as a support group for members undertaking any sustainability-related actions. A programme of monthly events was started, including low-carbon lunches, and workshops on recycling, energy efficiency etc.

Since that initial burst of enthusiasm though, it has proved unexpectedly difficult to maintain momentum. Our carbon footprint results are sitting on a shelf somewhere, and no-one seems quite clear what to do next. One of the obstacles seems to be that once the project group was appointed, initiatives on sustainability began to be seen as solely their responsibility, and from there it is just a short step to becoming an 'interest group', rather than a commitment of the whole community.
Having only recently recognised this, our response has been to take this dilemma back to the whole Meeting, to ask our regular business meeting to discuss 'how can we ensure that fulfilling our commitment to become a sustainable, low-carbon community becomes the responsibility of all of our members, in all of our groups, activities and processes?'

 We don't yet have the answers to this question, but at least we have worked out what we are working towards. We are aiming to be a community where every activity, from social events to political campaigning and spiritual practice will embody our commitment to sustaining life and building community resilience. Our challenge is to keep finding ways of 'mainstreaming' the Canterbury commitment, so that it becomes a part of the everyday culture of Quakers, both in our personal and family lives and in all the activities that we do together.

 This parallels the kind of changes that are needed throughout UK society, where a commitment to sustainability is also often regarded as the concern of a 'special interest group', rather than a truly shared responsibility. Within Quaker communities we at least have the advantage of proven practices for collective decision-making and conflict resolution, and some well-tried structures for avoiding both authoritarianism and the 'tyranny of structurelessness'.

Quakers have played a significant role in major social changes in the past, including the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and more recently championing the right to same-sex marriage. Part of the power of these campaigns has come from taking collective action within our own community first, before calling on other people to change their behaviour. It took American Quakers a hundred years to free themselves of the corrupting influence of slave owning. Once they no longer relied on exploitation for their own livelihoods, they became one of the most powerful and effective campaigning movements for the abolition of slavery throughout the world. We don't have a century to free ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels, but if we can act much more quickly, perhaps Quakers can contribute to a wider process of transition to a life-sustaining civilisation.

A brief report on Quakers' progress nationally towards becoming a low-carbon community is available here

This is an edited version of an article for the UK Transition Network here.