A national cost of living crisis has struck Bristol, and once again it is our poorest communities that are facing the biggest impact.
Driven by rising prices, with high inflation at 9.4% in the year to June, the inequalities of our country are worsening. Wages are stagnating and welfare support is far behind inflation while our energy bills, petrol prices, national insurance contributions, food costs are getting steeper.
Child poverty rates are stark, our own assessment shows almost a quarter of children in some Bristol wards are living in poverty. As the world’s fifth largest economy, Britain cannot continue to accept this as reality. National government urgently needs to do more to support our most deprived communities in particular. But in Bristol we are already making plans for the immediate future.
Our challenge is tackling a complex issue exacerbated by the pandemic and compounded by rising costs of living and relative wage decreases year on year. Although the cost of living crisis is acute, many people in Bristol have already been living in a crisis for years.
The Fuel Bank Foundation predicts the energy price cap will rise to £2,800 in October 2022. This would mean that an average prepayment customer will need to top up their meter by £391 per month. We will see more people pushed into fuel poverty: similar to the increasing numbers of people using food banks, accessing Local Crisis Prevention Fund (LCPF), struggling to pay rent, and using public services to avoid using energy at home.
So we are proactively organising a city-wide network of warm places “Welcoming Spaces” for people in Bristol to keep warm over the winter. We will use community spaces, council owned buildings, and will draw on community infrastructure strengthened during the pandemic such as volunteer groups and facilities. These will offer vital warm spaces for those residents that are forced to choose between heating their homes and putting food in their cupboards.
We have other programmes aimed at the immediate crisis of holiday hunger and provide opportunities for people to enter work. We continue to support low-income families with our £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, Local Crisis Prevention Fund, and do what we can to ensure those who are entitled get access to the welfare support they need. The Community Resilience Fund sees a one-off capital funded £4 million pot shared with groups based in and working with the most deprived areas of our city.
These measures cannot be seen as long-term solutions. We strive to develop inclusive economic growth, working with community groups, businesses, universities and schools, and Government—to build a city of hope for all those who live in Bristol, including young and old, native Bristolian and newcomer, family or single living.
Making Bristol a Living Wage city is a key platform for this aim. Supported by unions we have worked with employers to ensure their staff earn a wage that meets costs and pressures they face in their everyday lives, resulting in over 40,000 workers in the city in Living Wage accredited jobs.
We know there is still more to be done. The government must provide more opportunities and solve some of the systemic problems such as inflation and low paid work so that families can escape poverty.
In its report Centre for Cities calls on government to increase benefits to bring them in line with inflation, reintroduce the £20 uplift for Universal Credit for the 5.9 million people currently on benefits, and provide those living in homes below EPC band C with a one-off payment to help face soaring energy bills.
To deal with rising fuel costs, the National Energy Action research highlights the need to switch pre-payment meters users to smart meters. The government must launch an independent review into Ofgem’s lack of regulation in the energy market and for an energy consumer duty as called for by Citizen’s Advice.
The government must invest more in our communities. They need to reverse their 12 years of national austerity, that has left our infrastructure weak and communities vulnerable. People need support now, the current situation demands immediate steps to alleviate the effects of the cost of living crisis and high inflation.