The impacts of the cost of living crisis will continue to be felt beyond this winter. Nationally, the latest data shows the number of households where children are experiencing food insecurity has doubled in the last year, with an additional 2 million households falling into fuel poverty over the same period.
In Bristol, the cost of living has been most intensely felt by households in deprived areas; our annual Quality of Life survey revealed that 16% of respondents from deprived areas had experienced some form of food insecurity in the last 12 months, compared with 8% across Bristol. With prices set to steadily rise throughout 2023, we’re continuing to work across the council and with partners to provide the local support that people need.
Our collective response to the cost of living – just as it was for the pandemic – has shown the best of Bristol. I’m grateful to our voluntary and community sector who we’ve worked with to establish a network of around 95 Welcoming Spaces across the city. Our One City approach to taking on the challenge has recently been highlighted by the Local Government Association. Our funding of Community Hubs and advice services has ensured that Bristolians have been connected and well informed during the winter period.
We’ve worked hard to target government supported funding and our local discretionary fund to those who would benefit the most. Since April 2022, we have supported 22,000 school children with food vouchers throughout the holidays, awarded 660 Discretionary Housing Payments and supported over 6,200 emergency payments and household goods awards through the Local Crisis Prevention Fund. We’re developing plans for the next round of the Household Support Fund with the likes of WECIL, Bristol Age UK, Feeding Bristol and the Centre for Sustainable Energy to make sure our funding goes further.
I’m proud of the way Bristol’s communities, businesses and organisations have come together to offer support to people who have reached crisis point during the last year, but it’s clear that these responses have only become necessary because of the government’s sustained underfunding of public services and lack of any long-term ambition to tackle poverty and inequality.
As the latest figures on food and fuel poverty show, the government cannot assume that the worst of the cost of living is over. We are calling on the government to use Wednesday’s Spring Budget to continue to protect those households and communities who are most impacted by increased costs. I want to publicly support the following asks of government:
- Martin Lewis’ call to continue to set the Energy Price Guarantee at £2,500 until the summer to protect a further 1.7 million people from falling into immediate fuel poverty from 1st April.
- Calls from a coalition of charities to introduce a social tariff for the energy market to ensure the lowest income households have access to affordable energy in the long-term.
- Calls to extend Free School Meals eligibility, which would be vital for the 800,000 children living in poverty who are not currently eligible.
- Calls by the Children’s Society to make the Household Support Fund permanent and reinvest in a long-term plan for local crisis prevention.
These interventions would cost a small amount to government but would give people much needed stability and protection, and would make a long-term difference to the number of people who require more costly interventions from the NHS or homelessness services. In Bristol we will continue to build a city of hope to people who find themselves in crisis, but we’re calling on government to do more to prevent people from reaching that point in the first place.