Turning politics on it’s head
Pilton Community Health Project holds Upside Down hustings
On 23rd November 2016 over 30 residents of north Edinburgh attended an event at Royston Wardieburn Community Centre to start a discussion with candidates for the election to the City of Edinburgh Council (writes PCHP’s Anita Aggarwal).
Pilton Community Health Project organised the event to give residents the opportunity share and discuss the issues that are important to them, so candidates could include these issues in manifesto pledges.
Staff from Community Action North and Royston Wardieburn Community Centre supported the event.
5 residents gave short presentation about issues that have been identified as key in the area. Following these presentations, there were round the table discussions with other residents and candidates for election.
Andrew Patterson, from Community Health Exchange started by explaining what impact the introduction of the Community Empowerment Act might have and giving us some examples of where local authorities are working well with communities.
Mhairi Curran, community activist, spoke about local services and how communities can influence them. She told us that the existing structures are not working and that elected representatives need to be in the community and at events to hear about residents’ concerns.
Sandra Marshall, community activist, spoke about the pressures on mental health services. Again she highlighted the need for services providers and those who commission services to listen the voices of those who experience mental health difficulties (below).
Roy Douglas, representative of North Edinburgh Housing Action Group spoke about housing issues. Residents think that even the ‘affordable’ housing in the new schemes is beyond their means, and that more needs to be done to maintain the existing housing stock.
Sara Martin, founder member of Parklife, talked about the local environment. She used the successful partnerships that have supported the ongoing maintenance and improvement of West Pilton Park as an example of good practice. She also talked about how residents are taking action to tackle some of the issues caused by deteriorating Council services e.g. picking litter.
Yvonne Thomson, community activist, talked about how a lack of affordable childcare in the area is impacting on her life and life chances.
Below is a summary of the 4 discussions that took place – these have been collated under themes.
Local services and how we influence them
Problems with services
Residents said that even basic services like refuse collection were not being carried out satisfactorily. One resident gave an example of complaining that the bins had not been emptied and staff being extremely uncooperative. Others are now organising litter picks and ‘clean ups’ to supplement the services that the Council provides.
There was concern over services moved away from the local office making them less accessible. A free phone point at the North Edinburgh Local Office would help. The ‘menus’ when making phone calls were not well liked.
It was felt that accessing Council services was over complicated.
Fear over shrinking budgets for Local Authority services
There is concern over the future of local community centres. What happens if staff are moved? How will services in the Centres be provided if there are fewer staff.
Could a tourist tax be introduced to support Council and other services?
There is a lack of interpreters and translation for those who need it and this is a barrier to them accessing services and taking part in community life.
How can residents get more involved or have more influence
There was a lot of discussion about residents can organise themselves to engage with the Council and other services providers. The area has a great tradition of activism that has resulted in many positive improvements in the area. Local people are keen to be involved.
There seems to be a lack of support for activists who want to connect to others in the community with similar issues and a real concern from the community that as the number of Community Learning and Development staff reduces so will support for activists. Better communication between groups would allow for events and fundraising to be collaborative.
Local groups have highlighted that it would be good to be able to book rooms without charges – or with only low charges to enable them to meet and organise.
People don’t know about Community Councils or how to get involved with them and there is little promotion of them. Similarly, many don’t know who their Councillor is or how to get in contact with them. Residents would like their Councillors to be more accessible and in the area in order to find out more about what their concerns and aspirations are. There was discussion about political accountability and how to replace a Councillor who was not felt to be doing a good job. There were questions about how much power a Councillor has and how transparent that is.
People expressed that they didn’t feel heard or cared for by the Council. This reflected wider discussion about how people felt following the outcomes of the recent referendum.
The Council undertakes many consultations but these are felt to be tokenistic. There were also concerns that these consultations were asking the community to decide how cuts to services should be made.
There was wide and varied discussion about how public money should be spent. The outcome appeared to be that residents wanted political representatives that would fight for more resources for the area, rather that manage the cuts to services.
There was concern about the cuts to youth provision in the area potentially causing serious social problems.
Young people are disengaged, they need to be approached specifically if you want their opinions.
There is a lack of jobs and options for young people are even more limited. There is a lack of progression from training to jobs and the loss of college funding has further limited opportunities.
The cost of applying for work; phoning, online access etc. is an issue.
Young people are anxious and worry if they have to apply for benefits. The process is lengthy, complicated and not joined up.
There is concern over the lack of care of the local environment e.g. no rubbish bins on West Pilton Park, the roads and pavements, bins not being emptied, windows and stair security systems not being repaired. It was said that outdoor public space was not being maintained.
Local people are making real efforts to improve public spaces e.g. Parklife. How can politicians support this?
The community demand more social and affordable housing. There needs to be more Council housing as much of its housing stock has been sold on under the right to buy. Its felt that the new housing being built in the area is not affordable. There is a lack of supporting infrastructure for the new housing. Housing benefit levels are limiting access to property.
Low incomes and poor housing stock are meaning that fuel poverty is an issue and people are having to make the choice between heating and eating. Council stock ‘is impossible to heat’. There is frustration about the repairs and upgrades that have been promised but not delivered.
People reported difficulties relating to private landlords. There were suggestions that private landlords need to be regulated. Private rents are too high.
Problems were also reported in mixed tenure blocks when owners or private landlords could not or would not pay for common repairs, meaning they were not carried out.
Mixed tenure has some positive impact, but it was thought that more support was needed to create social networks in order to bring these into fruition.
There was concern about the sale of Council land/housing which allowed developers to make a profit from house building but was not providing enough affordable housing in the area.
A pack for all new tenants (available in easy read and/or community languages) would help new residents settle in and find out about local services.
Lack of affordable childcare
Lack of affordable and flexible childcare continues to be a problem in the area. Local projects and activists are working to find solutions. The lack of childcare creates a barrier for parents who want to access services, social activities, training and other opportunities that would benefits their well-bring, and that of their children.
Residents are already providing support to their friends and neighbours who are experiencing mental health issues through groups and activities that they are involved in. There needs to be more recognition and support from Councillors and the Council for this informal support that happens in communities through these activities and groups. ‘The third sector, family and friends are providing the safety net’. Good social networks help people stay emotionally well. These groups also help people avoid being socially isolated which is common for those with physical disabilities or ill health as well as those with mental health issues.
There needs to be more in place to intervene when mental health difficulties are at a ‘low level’ rather than individuals having to wait until more serious issues have arisen.
Residents wanted better recognition that solutions may not lie with pharmaceuticals and that ‘one size does not fit all’. Better links between health and social care would also help individuals get the support they need when they need it. There needs to be more services for those experiencing mental health issues.
It was also felt that education about mental health should be introduced to children at school and more support should be available for children and young people with mental health issues.
Care packages are being reassessed and people are losing out—threshold is being raised.
PCHP will be holding a planning meeting on 18 January to discuss a March hustings event. The local government elections take place on 4 May.