More than 900 of the poorest families in Bristol will be hit by the government’s extended benefit cap, which comes into force across the country today.
This marks a steep increase in the number of Bristolians affected, with six times as many seeing benefits cut under the new reduced cap compared to 2013. Families in the most deprived areas of Bristol – Lawrence Hill, Filwood and Hartcliffe – will bear the brunt of the impact.
Figures from the government’s Department of Work and Pensions show that 3,226 of Bristol’s children live in households that will be affected by this policy. These households will see a significant drop in income as a result, putting them at risk of greater of poverty and debt. The DWP figures show that the average family affected in Bristol will lose £60 per week. For some, the financial impact will be greater, as 119 Bristol families will lose more than £100 per week.
The DWP’s figures tell a clear story about the Bristolians who will be hit by this policy; single parents with large families and low incomes, living in social housing in the most deprived areas of the city. More than half of the families whose benefits will be cut this time round currently receive income support, a means-tested benefit for those who don’t have enough money to live on. The majority of those affected live in social housing. More than 90 percent of households that will see their benefits cut as a result of today’s changes have three or more children, explaining the large number of Bristol’s children who will be hit by this government policy. And three quarters of those affected are lone parent households.
The impact of the benefit cap
The benefit cap was introduced in April 2013, to set a maximum amount on the benefits that most working-age households receive, by reducing their housing benefit or universal credit to meet the cap. Then Prime Minister, David Cameron, defended his government’s flagship welfare policy as an incentive to encourage more people into work. The evidence is mixed on whether this has been the case.
A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said that since 2013, whilst some of those affected locally have ‘moved into employment or been able to claim benefits that would exempt them from the cap’ there has also been ‘an increase in rent arrears for many households’. This means increased levels of debt for those unable to pay their rent. For those in private rentals, who were the majority of those affected in 2013, it also meant a greater risk of eviction for unpaid rent.
Hitting the poorest and most deprived families in Bristol
This week’s changes will cut the cap substantially. Kate Smith, senior welfare expert at Citizens Advice said ‘The lowering of the benefit cap will have a big impact in some areas of the country, particularly in places outside London with high housing costs, where the cap for couples and families with children is going down to £20,000.’
In Bristol, the benefit cap has been reduced from £26,000 to £20,000 a year for couples and single parents with children at home, and from £18,200 to £13,400 a year for single households without children. The lower threshold means that more of Bristol’s families will feel the impact, with 6 times as many affected by today’s changes as in 2013, and that this policy will hit the poorest and most vulnerable households harder than the previous cap.
Like the unprecedented cuts to local services facing Bristol City Council, the reduced benefit cap is a government policy imposed on Bristol, that will hit the poorest families hardest. There will be a disproportionate impact on the most deprived areas of the city, with almost one third of the families affected living in Lawrence Hill, Filwood and Hartcliffe, three of the four most deprived wards in Bristol.
Whilst Bristol City Council and local Housing Associations tell The Bristol Cable that they are working hard to support all tenants who will be affected by today’s policy change, the impact could be very serious for the families who will see their pockets hit overnight.