Simple and effective science communication, good work.
Visited Manchester Art gallery on Saturday and was rewarded with some excellent exhibits. The Matthew Darbyshire exhibition ‘An Exhibition for Modern Living’ finishes today so here is a chance to catch some of his work if you didn’t get a chance to see it.
Also included are some of my favourite pieces from the Modern Japanese Design, House Proud and Fine Art collections.
MatThew Darbyshire: An Exhibition for Modern Living
Modern Japanese Design
Fine Art Collection
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?
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
Keep up the good work Charlotte.
Hi sorry its been a while but I have been busy. I suffered a bereavement and it hit me for six. Hopefully I will be back to normal soon. This has not however prevented me from attending our weekly demonstrations Im glad to say.
Today was a particularly miserable day, and for more than one reason. The weather was very dull and miserable and the rain didn’t help. And it was also a bad day for claimants.. well even worse than normal if that is possible.
Its never a good day at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre. The claimants have suffered more than others, and have been some of the first victims of the governments evil regime. You can feel the suffering in the air. People are either close to loosing it, or becoming ill as result, or they become aggressive. We saw quite a bit of that today. People storming…
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The junior doctors have recently voted for strike action by a staggering 98%. In my opinion this is a pivotal struggle that will determine the future of the NHS. It is imperative that the public are seen to be supporting this action in overwhelming numbers to oppose the bad press which will be generated by this strike, by the likes of Murdoch’s media monopoly.
This is a drastic action that the junior doctors have been forced to adopt, and lives may be put at risk. But that risk is miniscule when compared to the future good health of our nation that is threatened by government plans for the NHS.
The longer this struggle continues the less likely it is to succeed. Thats why I think we should all support this strike action by showing up at the picket lines on the days of action and show our support. If this action fails there will be no stopping the further privatisation of the NHS, this is the moment to act!
The days of action will be on the 1st, 8th and 16th of December, I will be there in Manchester supporting the Junior Doctors. If you are able, I urge you to do the same.
And here is Jim Naughtie’s pronunciation of Hunt, as unforgettably uttered on Radio 4’s Today program. It cracks me up every time I hear it 😉
Went over to Hydra early in October, and no I do not mean we joined up with the arch enemy of Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Hydra I mean is a beautiful Mediterranean Island which is a member of the Saronic Islands of Greece. One of the things that drew us to this Island is the fact that motor vehicles are prohibited, and so everything is transported round by donkeys.
I have stayed in Lindos (also no traffic) on Rhodes before, but I have never been to a whole Island without motor vehicles. I love everything about Greece and this latest visit has strengthened that emotion. Hydra is a supremely chilled out destination for a holiday and I highly reccomend it.
Poetry and science are two things generally not associated with each other, in fact if you joined the two in a word association test you would be one step closer to a chemical cosh and your very own padded cell. However the audience attending the Science Slam at the packed out Nexus Art Cafe Thursday night will never again doubt the validity of the two pursuits being combined; though I can’t rule out they may end up bouncing of the walls of a padded cell at some time in the future.
The Science Slam was one of many events on the first day of the Manchester Science Festival, which runs until the 1st of November at venues across Greater Manchester. The experimental collaboration was thought up by Dr Sam Illingworth and Mr Dan Simpson who also performed at and hosted the event on the night.
Video highlights of the Science Slam
Simpson, the poet of the duo who also writes about science, described how he and Illingworth had thought up the event:
“Originally it was going to be what a slam is, which is poets and scientists doing three minutes of material, having scores at the end and the highest score wins. But as we chatted more we realised that wasn’t the best way to do it, putting science and poetry against each other, so we decided to get them to collaborate.”
This resulted in the evenings format of 5 local poets teamed up with a scientist each to create and perform 5 unique pieces on the night.
- Adrian Davison (scientist) & Lenni Sanders (poet)
- Rebecca Docherty (scientist) & Dominic Berry (poet)
- Ben Spencer (scientist) & Rebecca Audra Smith (poet)
- Jo Browse (scientist) & Louise Fazackerley (poet)
- Tim Walton (scientist) & Kieren King (poet)
Illingworth, a Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University was extremely pleased with how the show had been created, performed and received. “It wasn’t the poetry of science, it wasn’t the science of poetry, it was genuinely something interdisciplinary and it was amazing. I loved it, the audience loved it, and I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with such an incredible group of people.”
First published in the Manchester Mule, 25th October 2015
Manchester Science Festival – http://www.manchestersciencefestival.com
Dan Simpson – https://dansimpsonpoet.wordpress.com
Dr Sam Illingworth – http://thepoetryofscience.scienceblog.com/author/thepoetryofscience
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:
“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.”
First published in the Manchester MULE, October 21st 2015
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Previously published in the Manchester Mule, 16th of October 2015
Hundreds of junior doctors protest against “unfair and unsafe” new junior doctor contracts imposed on them by Jeremy Hunt. Emma Runswick, from Save Our NHS, speaks out about why they are demonstrating and what they hope to achieve.