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This week in Bristol: Benefits falling behind spiralling rents

Image of terraced homes in Redfield, Bristol
This Week in Bristol

In the news this week, we revealed how benefits aren’t keeping up with spiralling rents in the city.

“I feel I’ve got no security at all – it leaves you with a sense of dread, because on paper I’m just a single mum on benefits.” This is what we were told by Sarah, who works in childrens’ services, but has to claim benefits to afford to rent in Kingswood with her two girls.

She claims local housing allowance, which was originally introduced to help cover the cost of the cheapest 50% of housing for rent. But new research has revealed that those receiving the benefit could afford just one out of 363 two-bed properties advertised in Bristol in a whole month.

This is because the cost of renting has spiralled and the benefit has not kept pace. This week we spoke to single parents, who are most affected by this problem, about their struggles to afford anywhere to live in the city and how it destabilised their lives.

Read our in-depth report as part of a national investigation with Bureau Local.

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✂️ Workers in Bristol are set to lose £1,200 in real wages this year due to inflation, according to analysis by the TUC. Union leaders are publishing these findings ahead of a rally and policy campaign in Bristol in November, in which they will demand a £15 minimum wage and a real pay rise for all public sector workers.

?️ The council has approved the development of a new sporting quarter and nearby housing development on green space near Ashton Gate arena. A sports and conference centre, with a wide range of neighbouring facilities such as offices, a car park and a hotel, will be built alongside 510 homes. The mayor supported the plans, and councillors voted to approve it, despite campaigners’ complaints that profit was being prioritised over environmental concerns in neighbouring Ashton Vale.

 ?️ The number of homeless people requiring housing in temporary accommodation, which is hugely expensive for the council to rent, has risen by 40% since before the pandemic. The council hopes to save £1.5 million per year via ‘innovative solutions’, but didn’t say what they are. There are now nearly 1,200 households living in temporary accommodation. 

New flood defences for the River Avon are being planned to protect the city from rising sea levels, which the council says will require £81 million more than is currently budgeted. A major flood event could see 1,300 homes and businesses in the city damaged, and current housing projects in St Philips Marsh and the Western Harbour would expand that number significantly.

?️ The council are making “radical changes” to their Home Choice website, which allows people to apply for social housing in the city, the waiting list for which currently consists of 18,000 households. They claim that the changes will make it easier to apply, and will also prioritise care leavers and people wanting to downsize, freeing up larger houses for families in need. But there are also reports that one of the potential options on the table is limiting the criteria for applicants, meaning fewer people will be eligible to apply for social housing overall.

Significant increases to parking charges in council-owned car parks and on-street spaces in Bristol have been approved, with prices doubling in some circumstances. Councillors say the hike in 2023 is necessary to encourage less driving, and more walking and cycling in the city centre, but a report suggested that only one in 10 drivers’ behaviour was likely to change as a result of the hikes.

A Knowle care home, and its former manager, have pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to ensure the safety of employees and residents. 18-year-old Melissa Mathieson was strangled by a fellow resident, who was subsequently jailed, at Alexandra House in 2014.

✊ The fifth of five Bristol residents arrested for a peaceful Just Stop Oil sit-in at Kingsbury Oil Terminal to demand an end to new oil and gas licences has been released. Retired nurse Sheila Shatford was held on remand for 13 days, and now has a two-year suspended sentence and a fine for breaking the injunction. She said she was risking “financial security, freedom and emotional and mental well being” as well as “hate and vilification”, but needed to be able to “look her grandchildren in the eye”.

Bristol Radical Film Festival returns for its 10th year from Oct 21-23. The politically-committed festival will be screening politically and aesthetically progressive films such as Battle of Trafalgar, a documentary on the successful Anti-Poll Tax protests under Thatcher’s government, and Betrayal at Attica, which investigates the five-day prison occupation outside New York in 1971, ending with the massacre of 29 prisoners and 10 hostages.

Solutions and Successes 

A Cost of Living Social Action Grant offered by the council, in partnership with the Quartet Foundation, is now open to applications. Grants between £500-£5,000 are available to support communities to manage impacts of the cost of living crisis. The final deadline is 24 Nov.

?️ The bust of Alfred Fagon, a playwright, poet and actor who emigrated from Jamaica to Bristol, has been given Grade-II listed status. The bust, located in St Pauls Grosvenor Road Triangle, is the only statue of a Black man in Bristol.

Young people interested in climate activism are being encouraged to apply for grants from the Fi Radford Memorial Fund, an endowment left by a late climate activist from Bristol. Fi Radford campaigned against the expansion of Bristol Airport, and founded Bristol Environmental Activists Together (BEAT). Young people in the Bristol area between the ages of 11 and 24 are eligible for grants of up to £250, to support campaigning or education in environmental work. The deadline for grant applications is 14 Nov.

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