Housing Crisis Boogie


Video illustrating the housing crisis in Manchester and Greater Manchester. With backing music from the ultimate bluesman John Lee Hooker.  Includes links to a petition asking Manchester City Council  to alleviate the housing crisis (previously reported on here). Please sign & share the petition.

Manchester City Council: Act to Alleviate the Housing Crisis

PETITION – PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE – THANK YOU!  Help the homeless and the ever increasing number living in fear of homelessness.

We the people of Manchester ask our representatives, Manchester City Council (MCC), to take the following measures with the aim of alleviating the housing crisis in Manchester and the Greater Manchester region:

1. Reverse the 2015 funding cuts, totalling £2,013,188, to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant in Manchester.

2. Allocate Fifty percent of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) £300 million housing fund, and its investment returns for the building of social rented housing, either by the council or housing associations. If this is beyond the power of MCC, then as a member of the GMCA they must lobby central government to devolve said power to the GMCA.

3. Implement rent controls to prevent exorbitant rent rises in the private rented sector. If this is beyond the power of MCC, then as a member of the GMCA they must lobby central government to devolve said power to the GMCA.


Why is this important?

1. Homelessness

Housing Related Support (HRS) is used to prevent a crisis such as homelessness occurring. It provides advice to people on how to manage money and pay bills, and how to adhere to tenancy agreements. HRS covers permanent accommodation based services and floating support services that are utilised when needed. During a MCC executive council meeting on the 13th of February 2015 it was agreed to reduce Housing Related Support by £1,814,000 from an initial amount of £5,722,000.

During the same meeting it was decided the Homelessness Prevention Grant would be reduced by £199,188, from an initial amount of £729,188. This vital fund prevents people from becoming homeless by providing services such as debt advice, landlord mediation and help with finding a home.

The latest count of rough sleepers in Manchester City centre in 2015 was 70, which is a 63% rise on the 47 counted in 2014. The actual figures are likely to be much worse than this as the way the count is carried out (on one night of the year with in specific city centre locations) is generally regarded to under count the problem. The size of the discrepancy is indicated in a statement by Jenny Osborne  Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester. “Last year the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

Across England homelessness is increasing due to the incompetent housing policies and austerity agenda of the current Tory government. In 2014/15 there were 102,200 decisions taken by local authorities declaring households as being Statutory Homeless, a 10% increase from 2010/11. In the second quarter of 2015 the number of households in temporary accommodation was 66,980, a 33% increase on the second quarter of 2010. When levels of homelessness are increasing it is unacceptable to cut services aimed at preventing homelessness.


2. Social rented housing

The devolution deal has given the Greater Manchester Combined Authority control of a £300 million housing fund to promote house building. A large proportion of the housing fund has already been loaned to private property developers to build private housing with no provision for social rented housing. There is a severe shortage of social rented housing (council or housing association properties) in England. The total number of social rented properties built in England stands at 9,590 in 2014/15, which is a 75% drop from the figure of 38,950 built in 2010/11. The loss of social rented housing has resulted in huge waiting lists where people have little hope of receiving an offer of accommodation in a reasonable time. At least 50% of the housing fund should be allocated to housing associations or local authorities to allow building of much needed social rented housing.

3. Private rented housing

Tenants in the UK not only pay the highest average monthly rents in Europe (902 Euro/month), we also pay the largest percentage of our income (39.1%) to pay the rent. Between 2008-09 and 2012-13 average weekly rents in the private rented sector increased by 7% from £153 to £163, according to the English Housing Survey. The MEN reported in October 2015 that the average rental price of private properties in Greater Manchester has increased by 22.4% over 12 months. The increase in rents is compounded by a drop in real wages of almost 10% for the typical UK worker since 2008.

Manchester City Council must take action to alleviate the suffering caused by the housing crisis in Manchester and the wider Greater Manchester Region. This petition offers MCC the opportunity to tackle the housing crisis in the three major areas of homelessness, social rented housing provision and control of private rents; we sincerely hope that upon receiving this petition MCC will seriously consider implementing all proposals suggested.


Conrad Bower (38 Degrees Manchester & Unite the Union Grt. Man. Community Branch)
John Clegg (Branch Secretary, Unite the Union Grt. Man. Community Branch)

‘Manchester City Council: Act to Alleviate the Housing Crisis’ petition sponsored by:
Unite the Union Greater Manchester Community Branch

38 Degrees Manchester

Manchester & Salford Housing Action – next event Friends Meeting House 25/01/15

Equality Northwest


A battle won for the homeless campaigners in Manchester?

The “juggernaut” of Manchester City Council appears to have changed course recently announcing new initiatives to reduce homelessness in Manchester. What has been the role of homeless protest camps and campaigns in bringing about this change?

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Recent statements by Manchester City Council relating to the opening of new hostels for the homeless, investigating the implementation of a Housing First policy and coming up with a new homelessness strategy indicate a new-found energy within the council towards tackling homelessness and rough sleeping within the city. Is this a battle won for the homeless people and their supporters who have been campaigning for the rights of homeless people since a protest camp was set up in Albert Square in April 2015? Councillors responsible for homelessness services indicate that the protestors have had nothing to do with progress made by the council in improving services to the homeless.

If you are a resident of Manchester you will probably be familiar with the homeless protest camps that have been situated at various points around the city, either by walking past them or hearing about them in the news. The council, desperate to end the bad publicity, chased the occupants of these homeless protest camps through the courts, forcing the camp to move to different locations and increasing the amount of bad publicity, both locally and nationally, the council was subject to.

In the Court of Appeal on 14 May Judge Allan Gore QC rejected an appeal against a possession order served on the protest camps, but admonished “the juggernaut” of Manchester City Council, saying: “In a democratic society of the 21st century it is an affront that vulnerable people should be left homeless.” Mentioning the increasing scale of the problem and the loss of rights homeless people suffer from, Gore concluded: “Street homelessness is a problem for all of us.”

Sign displayed at the St Ann's homeless protest camp.

Sign displayed at the St Ann’s homeless protest camp.

In an attempt to end the homeless protests MCC changed its strategy and attempted to get an injunction against protest camps within the city centre. Initially MCC and its legal team sought to acquire what was described in court as “an injunction against the whole world” by solicitor Ben Taylor, who was working pro bono representing the homeless defendants due to a number of requests for legal aid being refused. The injunction eventually awarded to MCC was a much watered down version of what they wanted: it was only serviceable against people “erecting and/or occupying tents or other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the Claimant’s [Manchester City Council’s] homeless policy on land”. A full report on this court case and the resulting injunction can be read here.

At the time many people supporting the campaign believed that this sort of injunction would be unenforceable due to the difficulties proving that someone was actually protesting against MCC’s homeless policy. The once-again evicted homeless protest camp took this latest development on board and set up a street/refuge for the homeless called the Ark under the Mancunian way on Oxford Rd, specifically stating it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark saying it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark, Oxford Rd, saying it was not a protest camp. Photo: Manchester Evening News

However for some unknown reason MCC seemed to believe they could make this injunction stick in court and during the eviction proceedings of the Ark, seven people were charged with breaking the injunction, potentially facing up to two years in prison or a £5000 fine. But during the court hearing on the 30th of September “Manchester City Council was almost laughed out of court” according to a report in the Salford Star. Circuit Judge Gore on the day was particularly damning of the case presented by the council, criticising the lack of dates and descriptions of behaviours breaching the injunction. The Salford Star reported Gore describing the case presented as:

“A fundamentally misconceived and inappropriate way to advance criminal proceedings, where the party [Manchester City Council] seeks that the court orders to commit people to prison”.

The judge refused the council’s case to have the defendants committed due to breaches of the injunction, and also dismissed a possession order on the Ark camp citing serious procedural failures in the case presented by MCC.

Ben Taylor, representing the defendants, said of the case in the MEN. ”The degree of incompetence in making this application by Manchester council’s legal team is breathtaking, it beggars belief. My clients were petrified that they could be going to jail simply for living in a tent. I would have expected Manchester council to have done have done their job properly. The application was so fundamentally flawed it didn’t even get off the ground.“

Improved services for the homeless

Perhaps all this negative press and admonishments by the judiciary has had an effect? Recent statements by MCC suggest they are beginning to change their strategy when dealing with homelessness within the city. During a Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27th October 2015, a report on MCC’s Homelessness Strategy was discussed, which included a number of positive steps including the following:

  • An empty buildings survey in progress, refurbishment of 18 empty properties to house the homeless, and new homeless shared housing bed spaces reopened.
  • A draft code of conduct and standards for residential Bed and Breakfasts used to temporarily house homeless people, with the aim to have agencies only using accommodation signed up to the code.
  • Implement a Housing First model in Manchester, which will be evaluated by York University, work to commence in April 2016.
  • Evidence-based report on the effects of government policy on the housing situation in Manchester. It will cover changes to welfare and benefits payments, Universal Credit for housing paid directly to landlords and the use of benefit sanctions. The report will be sent to national government seeking to influence policy.

In a statement published by MCC on the 16th November it was announced that two unused buildings – the former Beech Mount Children’s Home in Harpurhey and the old Hulme Library – would be opened up to be used by rough sleepers, and also mentioned plans for other temporary accommodation for rough sleepers to be made available. In the statement, MCC’s executive member for adult health and well being, Councillor Paul Andrews said:

“We’ve spent months working on plans to open up empty buildings across the city to make sure nobody has to sleep rough on the streets this winter… we’re now continuing to carry out inspections so we can open more empty buildings in other parts of the city. As well as this, we’ve also reopened some buildings as shared houses, while faith groups are opening up other centres, meaning there will be a much wider range of bed spaces available across the city.”

Andrews went on to say that although this was a good start more work was needed by MCC homelessness services and its partners in the voluntary sector to: “…make sure the right help and support is available to rough sleepers so we can help them make the first steps towards getting off the streets for good.” In a later statement released on the 6th of December the council reported that 165 new bed spaces would be available in Manchester for rough sleepers this winter.

Councillors dismiss homeless protests as a distraction

During the scrutiny committee meeting, scathing remarks were aimed at the role of activists/protestors in the homelessness issues in Manchester. Councillor Andrews had this to say about rough sleepers and homeless within Manchester:

“A lot of them are not Manchester residents, a lot of the people you see on the streets at the moment especially in tents are not even homeless, they are actually professional protestors. There has been lots of stuff going on in the media to actually deal with that. Despite all that going on our homelessness teams and our officers are out every day trying to identify people who are actually homeless , to actually deal with them and get them off the streets as quick as they possibly can. That is impinged somewhat by the protestors and trying to get through the crap that’s going on with the protestors”.

These views were echoed by Councillor Hazel Summers, “I am probably not allowed to say this but I will: the protestors are actually distracting us from our job.”

Understandably the protests have been very trying for the homelessness services team, but that is the job of a protestor: to make the person responsible for dealing with the situation as uncomfortable as possible. Polite letters from the public and campaigns by homeless charities have had very little effect on changing things. The protest camps raised the profile of this issue locally, nationally and finally internationally with the involvement of Gary Neville. I don’t expect the homelessness services in Manchester to be singing the praises of the protestors, but they should recognise that the protests and the surrounding publicity have provided an extra impetus, enabling them to introduce new initiatives and speed up the provision of services already in the pipeline.

Andrews also tries to undermine the legitimacy of the initial protest camps by saying the majority of the people in the tents on the streets of our city are not even homeless and calling them professional protestors. This sort of line has been uttered by council officials before, which I described in a previous article in Contributoria. I have also heard, from a Manchester councillor, that this belief in professional protestors is prevalent in the upper echelons of MCC. So I will reiterate what I have said previously of my experience of the protest camps in Albert Square, St Peters Square and St Anns Square: activists have been an important part of this campaign, but they have always been in a minority compared to campaigning members of the homeless community.

Homeless support/campaigns post injunction

The failed attempt by MCC to enforce the injunction and eviction order on the Ark was eventually followed by a successful eviction order on the 20th of October 2015. The protest that gained the most press coverage for the plight of the homeless in Manchester was the squatting of the Stock Exchange building on Norfolk St in Manchester city centre by the Manchester Angels. The building is owned by footballing superstars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, who instead of dragging the squatters through the courts said the building could be used to shelter the homeless until February 2016, when building work was due to start. Another group called the Creative Hub have been squatting buildings in Manchester and offering shelter to the homeless as well as art, yoga, and education courses. The Creative Hub were evicted from their last property on Houndsworth St, along with 27 Homeless people, on the 17th of December, but according to their Facebook page they already have another squat set up.

A growing problem

The latest figures on rough sleeping in Manchester produced by MCC indicate the growing nature of the problem (see graph below), with the 2015 count of 70 being a 63% rise from the year before. And the actual figures are likely to be much worse than this as the way the count is carried out (on one night of the year with in specific city centre locations) is generally regarded to under count the problem. Councillor Summers indicated this at the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting: “The headcount is set up in a ways to undercount the problem, as a snapshot of one particular night”.

Rough Sleepers Headcount for Manchester 2010-15

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Jenny Osborne , Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester, spoke at the same meeting. “Hazel [Summers] asked me to pick up a piece of work about 5 months ago to accelerate the strategic response to the growing problem of rough sleeping we have in the city.” Osborne went on to describe how inaccurate the rough sleepers headcount was likely to be by comparing it to data gathered from the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, where the council has an obligation to house rough sleepers in very cold/bad weather:

“Last year the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

The coming storm

The council initiatives are very welcome news to the homeless community in Manchester and their supporters. But will these latest efforts be enough to circumvent the perfect storm of poverty approaching due to the governments austerity agenda?

The funding cuts imposed by central government have forced MCC to make funding cuts, to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant, totalling £2,013,188 in 2015. And the funding cut of 56% to the central grant given to local authorities announced by George Osborne in the autumn statement has yet to bite. The amount of social housing is set to fall with the extending of the Right to Buy to housing association properties, with vague promises to replace those sold under this scheme but no actual plans on how this will be done; similar promises have been made before and not kept. The government has got rid of the obligation for private building firms to provide social housing in their developments. The 1% rent cut every year for the next four years that Housing Associations have to make is predicted to force housing associations to abandon plans to build 27,000 new homes, according to the National Housing Federation.

Supporters outside court after first court appearance for eviction from St Ann's Square

Supporters outside court after first appearance for eviction from St Ann’s Square

Every cut the government makes to public spending is set to increase poverty and homelessness within the UK: social security, social care, mental health and drug/alcohol services have all been savaged by cuts, with more to follow.

The struggle continues

I believe this is a battle won for the homeless campaigns, and everyone who has supported them, in Manchester this year. The progress made by MCC Homelessness Services also deserves praise, but council members would do well to avoid churlish remarks aimed at the campaigners. There is a lot of bad blood between the two groups, who should try to remember that they are both ultimately on the same side in the continuing war against homelessness.

Currently the job of council members involved with Homelessness Services must be an exceedingly difficult one. Being faced every day with increasing levels of homelessness and having to deal with that problem with dwindling resources, must be at at times both heart breaking and soul destroying.

Councillor Fran Shone spoke powerfully at the Neighbourhoud Scrutiny Committee meeting in October of how the increasing levels of homelessness had affected her:

“The position we are in in Manchester is absolutely shameful, its awful. I can’t believe It when I walk round the city centre actually. It makes me cringe to be a councillor and to be involved with Manchester… I know lots of people are working extremely hard, but I think we have been very slow in responding to this … These people [homeless] aren’t the problem, they are vulnerable people who we have a responsibility for, and are just failing catastrophically, every day, its awful. And its something I think we as a council have been very, very weak on recently. We have to find some way to solve it whether or not we are responsible for it.”

I am confident that with the right planning and adequate resources the council could make big progress in tackling homelessness. The current council plans look promising, particularly the Housing First initiative; similar Housing First programs in the USA and Canada have provided outstanding results in reducing homelessness in a cost-effective way.

But the best laid plans will amount to very little if sufficient resources are not in place. The council needs to seriously consider whether it can reverse some of the funding cuts to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The plan to present an evidence based report on housing/homelessness to central government is a good one, the power of which could be increased by collaborating with other councils, thus increasing the leverage power of the combined reports and improving the chance of extra funds from central government to deal with housing issues.

The chair of the Scrutiny Committee meeting, Councillor Daniel Gillard, was in no doubt as to who was responsible for the increasing levels of homelessness within Manchester:

“The ultimate blame, the ultimate moral responsibility, lies for the last 5 years, with the Tory/Liberal and now Tory government, they are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves. I would love to meet any one of those ministers in a one to one debate, and walk them round this city and shame them personally; they ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Conrad Bower  – First published in 38 Degrees Manchester on 21st Dec 2015

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/conrad.bower
Twitter –  @ConradBower1
LinkedIn – uk.linkedin.com/in/ConradBower

Seeds of resistance sown at housing crisis event in Salford

A Manchester Housing Action event took place in Salford on Sunday, aiming to bring together local people and groups working to find solutions to the housing crisis. The free public event included contributions from Generation Rent, The Radical Housing Network and Focus E15.

Speakers from Focus E15 shared their victories in preventing evictions and disrupting housing conferences in London, offering advice on how similar victories could be attained in Greater Manchester.

The housing crisis is showing no signs of abating. In Greater Manchester, 3,971 tenants were evicted for rent arrears (Apr 2013 to Mar 2015), the highest two year level recorded over the last ten years, according to a report in the Manchester Evening News.

Manchester City Council’s annual count of rough sleepers in Manchester during a night in November 2014 came to 43; it was 7 in 2010. Local charities estimate that the real number is double that of the annual official count.

The event at Islington Mill in Salford was well attended by residents of Salford and Manchester, who had much to contribute during the discussion sessions. Steve North, a Unison Union member spoke of his experience of private renting. He had been in 13 properties in 13 years and now fears he will never get a permanent home for his family.

“Our rights are non-existent,” said North, who expressed that he did not feel able to challenge housing issues as he would issues at work.

Along with North, John Clegg from Unite in the Community Greater Manchester Branch also pledged union support for campaigns fighting for tenants rights.

Members of Focus E15, a London based grass roots campaign for decent housing for all, travelled to Salford to speak at the event. Emer Mary Morris has been a Focus E15 member since 2014, when the group occupied flats on the Carpenter Council Estate in East London, which had been left boarded up and empty for years. Morris also spoke of Focus E15 actions in disrupting the MIPIM UK international property fair last year:

Emer Mary Morris of Focus E15

Emer Mary Morris of Focus E15

“We dressed up as delegates going to the conference and actually rushed the doors and got the conference closed down for a couple of hours, while Boris Johnson was meant to be the next speaker.

“It was a really playful celebratory attitude that particularly Focus E15 bring to the protest. It’s not about being violent or anything, we are actually being very celebratory.”

This year’s MIPIM conference, which began yesterday, is taking place at Olympia in London. Both Salford City Council and Manchester City Council will have stands there, with the cost of the stands being up to £505 per square metre according to a report in the Salford Star, which describes the conference as ‘the largest property orgy in the country’.

Pollyanna Steiner is a community organiser for Generation Rent, a national campaign for tenants rights, and one of the organisers for the event along with Kate Hardy and Tom Gillespie. Steiner was happy with progress made during the meeting.

“It was a forum for freedom of expression about housing issues people are experiencing, and a safe place for sharing that. It was a space for progressing and exchanging ideas about how to organise against the kind of issues we are seeing in the housing crisis; for example, resistance to eviction and how to collaborate and share resources when you have so much taken away at a community level.”

Kate Hardy, a member of Feminist Fightback, was involved with the Focus E15 campaign in London. When she met Pollyanna they had the idea of inviting Focus E15 members up to talk about their work in London. Hardy said:

“There is a serious housing crisis in Manchester, which I think has been relatively hidden up to now.

“You can obviously see that there is the Ark and there is visible street homelessness, but what hasn’t been quite talked about is the kind of things we heard today, about tenants having their leases changed, very poor conditions and lots of attacks on people with disabilities. It has really made visible all the different strands of the housing crisis that are happening in Manchester.”

When asked what advice she would give to the people of Greater Manchester struggling with housing issues, Morris answered simply: “talk to each other.”

“The strongest power they have against us is that they isolate us and try to make people feel alone. The more that you talk to each other, the more you realise other people are going through exactly the same thing that you are. The more you gather together and start organising and talking, the more you can build a consistent movement and fight back.”

Conrad Bower

First published in the Manchester MULE, October 21st 2015

Further Information:
Generation Rent – http://www.generationrent.org
Focus E15 – http://focuse15.org
The Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org
The campaign established as a result of the event is, Manchester & Salford Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/1mcrsalfordhousingaction?fref=ts

Housing crisis: when does a crisis become a disaster?

Greater Manchester is being hard hit by the housing crisis just like the rest of the country. Tory incompetence in housing policy is pushing many people to the brink of homelessness, while more fall over that precipice every day.

The housing crisis is nothing new, there has been an awareness of the growing problem ever since the Right to Buy policy was introduced in 1980 by the Thatcher led Tory government. The policy gave 5 million council house tenants the right to buy their home from the local council at discount prices, due to the lack of new council houses being built this led to a severe depletion in council housing stock. The decrease in housing stock was exacerbated by the fall in council house building, by local authorities, to insignificant levels by 1996. The graph below also illustrates that the loss of a large proportion of new build houses that were council houses pre 1980 has not been filled by the efforts of Housing Associations and private enterprise.

Source – Dept for Communities and Local Government, via BBC News

Source – Dept for Communities and Local Government, via BBC News

Lack of new social housing

In an attempt to increase the amount of affordable housing the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (section 106) was introduced. This required a new housing development, of over 15 dwellings, to provide a set proportion of affordable housing, that proportion being 20% in Manchester. The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a fixed rate tax on new developments, was also introduced in 2010 with the intention of it funding infrastructure projects to support the local area.

In 2013, Financial Viability Assessments (FVA) was introduced to the Section 106 affordable housing requirements. This meant that property developers could appeal against their obligations to provide affordable housing if they could show, by a viability appraisal, that doing so would reduce their profit margin too much, making the development non-viable. The problem with these viability appraisals is that they are presented by expensive property consultancies in a complex and impenetrable manner. ‘Councils just don’t have the expertise to challenge viability reports… We can’t argue back’, a senior planning officer was reported to say in the Guardian.

A major problem with FVAs is their lack of transparency as they are not subject to scrutiny. In a freedom of information request to Manchester City Council, it was revealed that MCCs financial viability assessment plan is not available to: the public, local councillors, local authority planning committee’s or local authority scrutiny committees. MCC also admitted that they did not get independent validation of FVAs using the Government District Valuer Service.

The Salford Star reported how in twelve months developers managed to dodge planning fees of over £19 million and avoided paying for over 800 affordable homes by submitting FVAs that showed they would not make sufficient profit. Yet those same property developers were still making up to £24 million in profit on each contract.

Devo Manc

The Devo Manc deal incorporates a £300 million housing fund, to build 10,000 – 15,000 homes over ten years, that is under the control of the newly appointed interim Greater Manchester (GM) Mayor Tony Lloyd. You may have hoped that this fund would be used to address the severe shortage of affordable housing; sadly that is not the case.

Another report from the Salford Star showed that £42.6 million of the GM housing fund has already been loaned to property developers to build on sites including Trinity Way in Salford and the contentious Pomona site in Trafford. Salford City Council failed to collect £1.28 million CIL for the Trinity way site, and lost the opportunity to build 76 affordable homes due to the developers FVA.

Gerald Kaufman pointed out at a recent public meeting on Devo Manc that £300 million was just ‘a drop in the ocean’ towards Greater Manchester’s housing needs, and that over ten years it amounts to only £3 million per borough per year.

Housing bubble

The shortage of housing is one of the major factors resulting in the rocketing price of housing. After the economic crash in 2007/8 the housing market was the first thing to recover as the rest of the economy struggled; despite the fact that an inflated housing market in the USA was one of the major factors in precipitating the economic crash. In July 2015 the Office for National Statistics stated the average price of a house in the UK was £282,000. The average wage in the UK is £24,648 gross, which only enables that person to take out a mortgage on a house worth £110,000.

In the Guardian, Owen Jones pointed out the hypocrisy of a Tory party calling itself the party of home ownership. ‘There are almost 250,000 fewer English and Welsh homeowners since David Cameron became prime minister. Even more staggeringly, the number of homeowners aged below 34 has plummeted by 50%’. He went on to describe how home ownership had dropped to its lowest level in three decades, and how the Tory ‘Help to Buy‘ scheme was inflating house prices.

Private rented sector

An inevitable outcome of the factors mentioned is that the private rented sector is booming, where people pay substantially higher rents for lower quality accommodation when compared to social housing. Private landlords now own one in five homes, and 4 out of 10 council houses sold with the Right to Buy scheme are also owned by private landlords. Private renters also have to deal with the insecurity of short term contracts and the ill health that often accompanies poor housing conditions. In 2010 the Building Research Establishment estimated it costs the NHS £600 million a year to deal with ill health caused by poor housing, another avoidable burden on our overstretched health system.

Generation Rent is an organisation fighting for change in the private rented sector. Their website states that private renting has doubled in the last decade, and that around a third of renters have had to cut back on food and heating. They campaign for improvements in: affordability, professional management (i.e. a national register of landlords), security of tenure and living conditions; and encourage people to lobby their local MP to improve private renting.

Source: National Housing Federation, via The Guardian

Source: National Housing Federation, via The Guardian

Tenants in the UK not only pay the highest average rents in Europe, they also pay the largest percentage of their income to pay the rent (see graph above). Along with house prices, rents have also risen. Between 2008-09 and 2012-13 average weekly rents increased in the private rented sector by 7% from £153 to £163, according to the English Housing Survey.

The problem of the 7% rise in rents is compounded by the drop in real wages. The International Labour Organisation reported in 2013 that the average real wage in the UK had fallen by 7.1%, relative to the average wage in 2007.


Insecure short term private rental contracts and shortage of social housing combined with cuts to social security and housing benefits, has seen a steady rise in homelessness in Greater Manchester and across the UK.

According to government figures, in the first quarter of 2014 the number of households accepted as statutorily homeless was 12,540; this had risen to 13,650 by the last quarter, a rise of 8.9 %. The number of English households in temporary accommodation rose from 58,440 to 61,970 between 31st March and 31st December 2014, a rise of 6%. Manchester City Councils annual count of rough sleepers in Manchester on one night last November came to 43, it was 7 in 2010; local charities estimate that the real number is double that of the annual official count.

Homelessness can only get worse with the cuts, £46 billion over 5 years, to social security announced by George Osborne. The removal of housing benefit entitlement from 18 to 21 year olds threatens a group who are already suffering rates of unemployment 3 times that of the general population. According to information published by Shelter the removal of housing benefit from 18 to 21 year olds will affect 19,894 people in the UK. Not all of these will have the option of living with family members as 62% of young people become homeless because friends and relatives will no longer accommodate them, often due to relationship breakdown. Housing benefit also pays for temporary and emergency accommodations such as hostels and domestic violence refuges. Cutting this benefit can only result in more young people, our future, sleeping rough.

A report by Crisis called ‘At what cost’ provides a compelling argument of the economic folly that allowing homelessness to persist and rise engenders. It estimates the cost to the taxpayer, over a year, of preventing a person becoming homeless or letting that person become homeless. In the examples presented (based on real costs and experiences of the homeless) it estimates the extra cost to the taxpayer of not preventing homelessness ranges between £3,000 and £19,000 per person.

Government Policy

So what is the current Tory government doing about tackling this crisis started by a previous Tory government in the 80s? Every policy this government pursues appears to make the problem worse. Along with the mentioned Right to Buy, Help to Buy, social security cuts and removing housing benefit from under twenty one year olds the following policies also exacerbate the housing crisis:

  • extending the ‘Right to Buy’ to housing association properties
  • forcing councils/ housing associations to sell their most expensive properties
  • bedroom tax
  • abolishing demands that developers provide a certain amount of affordable housing to rent in new developments
  • cuts to local authority Homelessness Services

Although the Tories are primarily to blame for this crisis, the previous Labour government and current Labour councils have done nothing to address the problem. Our political system has become so short sighted that it struggles to see beyond its own nose. Having only knee jerk reactions to whatever the mainstream media deems an important issue at the time, resulting in incoherent, disjointed and more importantly ineffective strategies to deal with problems like housing.

When does a crisis become a disaster? The answer is it already has, for the ever increasing number of homeless people on our streets; every day there are more living on the brink of disaster due to the austerity measures pursued by this government. The Tory agenda is to provide more security for those who already have it and less security for those who most need it, a cynical ploy to secure support amongst their voters. Everyone needs to stand up, be counted and become active if we are to oppose these Tory designs to take our society back to the Dark Ages.

Conrad Bower

Previously published in the Manchester Mule, 16th of October 2015

Live: Scuffles break out as homeless evicted from The Ark camp in city centre – Manchester Evening News


Scuffles broke out as rough sleepers were evicted from their camp under the Mancunian Way.

The homeless clashed with university security guards as they were being removed from a ‘self-serving community’ – known as The Ark – on Friday morning.

The Ark was created for people sleeping rough in the city but Manchester Metropolitan University own the site and their staff began removing the vagrants at around 7am.

Officers from Greater Manchester Police were also at the scene.

via Live: Scuffles break out as homeless evicted from The Ark camp in city centre – Manchester Evening News.

Again they try to brush the problem under the carpet rather than coming up with a solution. There are many alternative solutions to dealing with homelessness, its about time Manchester City Council started trying some of them.

This is the fourth eviction this year for homeless camps in Manchester. Albert Einstein is often attributed to saying this quote “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” It is time to end this insanity and come up with a solution to the increasing levels of homelessness within Manchester  and the UK.




Homeless people living in The Ark camp on Oxford Road were refused an adjournment to appeal for legal aid today, as a judge at Manchester Civil Justice Centre granted Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester City Council a possession order over the occupied land.

The judge also refused an appeal against his decision but granted a six day stay of execution while an appeal application is made to a higher circuit judge. Later, top poet Lemn Sissay, Chancellor of Manchester University, visited the camp to show support.


The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

Homeless camp in court facing 4th eviction this year

The residents of the homeless camp once again appeared at the Civil Justice Courts on Monday facing eviction from the camps now situated on Oxford Road and King Street. The eviction order for the Oxford Rd site was sought by Manchester City Council (MCC) and Manchester Metropolitan University. Jen Wu a supporter of the camp in Oxford Rd, also called the Ark, spoke in defence of the homeless camp in court saying that “They have been refused the right to exist on private land or public highways, where does that leave them?”. She told the court that she believed the homeless people of Manchester were being denied their human rights.

The Ark has been established on unused land under the Mancunian Way on Oxford Rd by homeless people with public support. According to a change.org petition in support of the camp, that has achieved over 1800 signatures, the camp “provides a safe and caring refuge — protecting the city’s most vulnerable and unprotected from violence, danger and abuse“. Signs up at the Ark site say that the site is their to “provide homes and a shelter and that it is not a protest” to avoid falling foul of the recently authorised city wide injunction against homeless people demonstrating against MCCs homelessness policy in Manchester.

Due to the case being against “persons unknown” the supporters speaking in defence of the homeless did not have any legal aid, which led to a disorderly hearing and unfair one according to Wesley Hall who was speaking for the King St camp “ We have no legal representation, it is unfair. There are seven of them against two of us”. Both Hall and Wu said in court that they considered the two days notice given to them to prepare for the case was unfair. Passions flared and emotions overflowed in court leading to the Judge clearing the court till everyone had calmed down.

Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all

During the break Liz, from Whalley Range, spoke of her support for the homeless people in the camp and the growing nature of the problem due to the sanctions and cuts enforced due to the austerity policies of government. Liz was not happy about the legal aid situation “The council have their barristers and everything, and then you have the people who are living on the streets, their lives are in chaos, you don’t know whether they have slept the night before, whether they have been attacked the night before, they are meant to represent themselves in court, how is that fair? Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all.”

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

After the court reconvened the Judge adjourned the hearing till Thursday 10th June, and indicated that if one of the supporters of the camps added their name to the proceedings they could then apply for legal aid. The judge also recommended that any further documents in support of the homeless camps case should be submitted before 4pm on Wednesday. The brief for MCC objected to the case for both camps being adjourned, but the judge was adamant that the fate of both camps would be determined on Thursday.

Outside the court a drained and despondent Wu described how shocked she was by the lack of compassion shown by the court, and MCC, to the homeless people in the camp, and described the hearing as “completely unjust”. Wu had hoped to communicate her arguments to the court more effectively but felt thwarted by the Judge repeatedly brushing her arguments aside, “they wouldn’t even let me read my statement to refute the reasons for calling the possession order. I was crossing them all of the list [the judge said} ‘I don’t have time’ well you know lives are at stake here”

On the 30th September Wu is again in court accused of breaching the city wide injunction and could face a fine of up to five thousand pounds or a sentence of up to two years in prison. This is in spite of the fact that Wu told the authorities that the Ark camp was not a demonstration. Ben Taylor, the solicitor who represented the homeless (pro bono) in the injunction case, raised concerns about the limits of the injunction and asked whether the injunction would be used against other camps that were not involved with the homeless protest camps in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield. It appears that Manchester City Council have now answered that question.

Article originally published in Manchester Mule, Sept 9th, 2015

Conrad Bower