Benefit cap will 'suck money out of Bristol's economy'
REFORMS to benefits will suck £125 million out of Bristol's economy, council bosses have warned.
Controversial changes including a cap on housing benefit and the scaling back of support for council tax payers.
Experts said the overhaul could lead to an increase in crime, family breakdown and mental illness.
And Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, pictured, warned residents would be made homeless and unable to pay their bills.
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But her Lib Dem rival, Stephen Williams, said "remarkably few" of his constituents had raised concerns.
The £125 million estimate, which has been based on Bristol's share of the UK's population, represents the total cuts to benefit pay outs in the city.
These include restrictions on housing benefit – single people aged up to 35 will have to live in shared accommodation, and the so-called "spare room tax" would penalise tenants who are deemed to have more rooms than they need.
One of the headline measures, a £26,000 cap on total benefit payments, is estimated to affect 500 households in Bristol.
Cash for council tax benefit is also being reduced. The government is handing councils control of running the scheme – and has demanded ten per cent savings. In Bristol's case, this is likely to take £7.5 million from the budget. Ministers have insisted pensioners be protected from any cuts, leaving the 31,000 working-age claimants in Bristol in the firing line for reductions of up to 20 per cent.
Bristol City Council insisted it had not made its own judge ments about the cuts, but had looked at the studies by organisations including children's charities and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
A spokesman said: "The possible outcomes suggested by some of these groups include an increase in child poverty, an increase in debt, a rise in homelessness, a rise in crime and disorder, some people having to move to other, cheaper areas of the city with the consequent impact on services in those areas, a rise in domestic violence, increased family breakdown and an increase in physical and mental illness and less social cohesion."
The council has set up two task forces to deal with the changes. One will look at the impact on the council's finances and the other will examine the impact of the changes across the city.
Ms McCarthy said: "This is going to have a huge impact on people's lives. People are already being hit by rising cost of living, and food prices are going up. People are going suffer real hardship as a result."
But Mr Williams hit back.
He said: "Bristol is one of the most prosperous parts of the country, with relatively low unemployment. And while there may be some parts of the country where what she is saying would have some validity, it wouldn't appear to apply in Bristol. I have lived in a bedsit, and a one-bedroom flat – it's what people have to do."