Bristol is a divided city

This is an article written for the Bristol Evening Post and was published by them earlier this week:

Bristol is a divided city.  I’m not talking about north and south of the river, or Stoke Bishop and Southmead.

It’s more about health and education than how much money we’ve got.  People in some parts of Bristol will live a decade more than others.  For many Bristolians the place where they grow up will decide how well they do in school and whether they go on to university.  We’re actually one of the richest, healthiest and best educated cities in the country.  But the opportunities to be healthy and successful are not evenly shared.

As the MP for the most diverse seat in the South West I see one of my key roles as trying to bridge these divides.  After 25 years in Bristol politics my two consistent areas of interest are public health and education.

Last week I visited a great company based in St Werburghs.  It’s called GASP and it sells its goods all over Britain and the world.  Stopping people from wheezing and gasping is its mission.  Cutting smoking saves lives.  Smoking is the main cause of premature death in Britain.  GASP distributes a huge range of posters and props to help teachers and health professionals show the true effects of smoking.  My favourite prop is a glass jar full of some brown gloop.  Not marmite but the tar that clogs up your lungs from a year’s worth of smoking.

Smoking rates vary enormously in Bristol.  It comes as no surprise that some parts of Hartcliffe and Bedminster have high smoking rates.  I can thank the Wills family for endowing the university that brought me to the city.  But their health legacy is not as great as their educational achievement.

I chair Parliament’s group on smoking and health.  We work to influence the government to keep up the pressure needed to drive down smoking rates.  Can anyone now imagine going back to the times when someone at the next table in a café could blow smoke in your face?  Now we’re looking at covering up cigarette displays in shops and having plain packets.

In education we’re also divided.  My seat of Bristol West sends many young people to university.  But Bristol South is in the bottom three Commons seats in the country.  Achievement at school is the main barrier and this is massively dependent on the area and circumstances into which you’re born.  The Coalition Government’s major school reform, the Lib Dem policy of a pupil premium is designed to end this disadvantage.  Schools across Bristol will get extra money for each child on free school meals to help keep them on track with learning.

I will not rest until these health and education gaps are bridged and we can have a more united city.

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