Bristol’s advice services are playing a pivotal role in our city’s response to the national cost of living crisis. Providing people with advice on welfare benefits, housing, employment, money, and immigration is just the start and they’ve, understandably, seen a significant increase in the number of residents they’ve been helping, and will continue to help.
The sector has an enormous impact in our city. In 2021/22, the Bristol Advice Partnership (BAP) gave help to over 8,000 residents. They secured additional benefits payments for citizens amounting to nearly £9 million, helped people manage debt worth over £12.5 million, negotiated manageable payment arrangements for over £900,000 of council tax that would otherwise have gone unpaid, and gave out over 3,000 foodbank vouchers.
Since April 2019 we have provided an annual grant to the BAP, which is made up of seven advice providers in our city, enabling them to provide vital support to those who need it. Our Cabinet has just extended the grant for two more years, until 31 March 2026, worth £1.12 million.
The extension comes at a time of increased demand and will give stability to the sector, allowing agencies to focus their resources on addressing the immediate national cost of living crisis rather than being concerned about future funding or new grant processes.
We’ve assessed the impact the national cost of living crisis is having on Bristol and found that one in four households across Bristol will have been spending around 20% of their budgets, after housing, on energy bills in 2022/23. These households are also home to one third of all children in Bristol. The sector continues to report an increase in demand on services for welfare and benefit support, while the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) has reported an increase in people claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to meet their living costs.
During Debt Awareness Week a few weeks ago, we heard from Citizens Advice Bristol about the increasing number of people they have been helping with crisis support – currently more than two people every minute.
Our city’s advice agencies have worked tirelessly over the past few months, as have so many other local organisations providing support, but clearly, while we are now in spring, people still need the support of advice agencies. This crisis is not going anywhere. Once again, we have to look to national government for the lack of funding that has been provided to support our most vulnerable communities.
Since last summer, we have been taking a One City approach in our response to the national cost of living crisis, successfully bringing together key organisations and partners and recruiting volunteers to help reduce cost of living pressures in our communities. As key partners in the response, and as part of the advice grant, we’d like to see the advice agencies taking the same approach with the production of a development plan for a ‘one front door’ approach to advice provision in our city.
Giving the advice sector the resources they need to support people will help us see benefits in the long term for Bristol and its residents as well. It means they can continue helping some of our city’s poorest and most excluded individuals and families to maintain their finances and maximise their income, in turn reducing financial, food and fuel poverty.
For a full list of local organisations in Bristol available to provide support on a range of topics, from benefits and financial advice to mental health and emotional wellbeing support, visit the council’s cost of living support webpage or call 0800 694 0184 for free between 8.30am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.