I am a language enthusiast mainly blogging about my experiences of learning Mandarin Chinese. Previously a journalist, I have written about social issues for the Guardian, the Independent, New Internationalist, Huffington Post, Equal Times and the Big Issue in the North, among other titles.
Homeless protesters have set up a camp in Manchester
Evicted from their protest camp outside Manchester’s town
hall, homeless residents have dug in their heels from street to street. They are facing
off with a city government thatslashed
homeless funding by £2million (US$3 million)this year despite a six-fold increase
in the number of people sleeping rough since 2010.
that number hasincreased
55 per centsince
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was first elected that year. The
figuresalso show the number
of households in temporary accommodation hasreached
65,000– the highest figure
since the financial crisis of 2008.
“Why can’t we
have a key to the front door, a key to our homes?” says Paddy Riley, one of the
camp’s most vocal members. “We’re put down as nobodies but everybody is a
somebody in the eyes of God.”
Jen Wu, an
artist and activist has been spending time with the camp for six weeks and has
chronicled her experiences on herwebsite.
“The first night I came down and just crashed in the tent and chatted with
people until around eight in the morning,” she says.
and physical health is hugely compromised by being on the street. I’ve taken
several people to hospital and I’ve had a few people stay at my flat.”
The camp has
acquired national recognition as a symbol for the plight of homeless people in
the UK, winning support from activists around the country, theirFacebook pageboasting over 3,000 likes. Trade union
representatives of UNISON – Britain’s largest trade union - visited the camp
and made a donation.
facing a homeless crisis on an unprecedented scale, with leading charities
warning that the situation is likely to deteriorate over the next few years
unless the government takes drastic steps to avoid disaster.
factors have been blamed for the rise,a
report released earlier this yearby
Crisis revealed that three-quarters of all homeless acceptances between 2010
and 2014 were attributable to evictions from the private rented sector.
Yet while the
cost of rent becomes increasingly unaffordable for millions of people the
Conservative government promised to cut billions of pounds in public spending
over the next five years.
this together with the failure to invest in social housing will only exacerbate
cause is a lack of supply of housing, both in general terms in that there isn’t
enough housing overall but also there is a lack of affordable housing,” says
Francesca Albanese, a research manager at Homeless Link, a London-based
“We’ve seen a
steady decrease in the number of affordable social homes that have been built
and there hasn’t been a sufficient response to that.”
market in London is out of the price range of quite a lot of people,” explains
Albanese, “there’s a massive gap between the housing benefit given to people in
the private rented sector and the actual price of rent.”
own report into the causes of homelessness paints a disturbing picture. Previously the
majority of homeless cases were recorded as being the result of ‘behavioural’
factors, such as relationship breakups. However, figures suggest the primary
causes of homelessness may be the result of structural factors.
biggest recorded reason for homelessness is now the loss of an assured
short-term tenancy - the type of tenancy most commonly held by private renters
– which guarantees the tenant the right to have their deposit protected and be
given notice of eviction.
This suggests an
increasing proportion of those living on the streets were made homeless due to
factors outside of their control. Meanwhile, as
homeless figures continue to rise, homelessness provisions are being cut by
Manchester and other local authorities across the country as they struggle to
cope with austerity imposed on them by central government.
many of those living on the streets have taken matters into their own hands,
organising political demonstrations and demanding that councils provide them
with permanent housing. In April,
following an anti-austerity demonstration, a group of homeless protestors
formed an Occupy style camp in one of the Manchester’s main squares outside the
legal battle with the council, the protestors were evicted from their initial
spot and subsequently moved to a nearby public street, yet the council has
renewed attempts to have them evicted.
are simple. “They want all the camp residents to be offered permanent
accommodation, not temporary hostel accommodation and they want a review of
Manchester City Council’s homeless policy,” says Ben Taylor, a solicitor
representing the protestors.
policy refers to the council’s categorisation of homeless people into two
camps: those who are unintentionally homeless and those who have chosen to live
on the streets. Under the under
the Housing Act 1996, local councils are obliged to provide accommodation to
those who are unintentionally homeless. The issue, according to Taylor, is that
councils may classify someone as intentionally homeless when a proper
assessment of their circumstances would reveal otherwise.
would be if you’ve been evicted because of rent arrears, because of the bedroom
tax, he explains, “As we know the bedroom tax was a creation of the last
government whereby housing benefits would not be paid for the whole of your
rent if you had a spare room on the basis that you get someone in to live with
you or you should downsize.
“The problem is
there is very little one-bedroom property in Manchester, yet the local
authority would conclude you’re intentionally homeless because you didn’t pay
Link launched a manifestoin
which it identified five key areas in which government policy must change in
order to meet the social challenges presented by the homelessness crisis.
stronger rights for tenants, better support for job placement, an effective
welfare safety net, and a commitment to end rough sleeping. All of which cost
Wesley, a camp
resident in Manchester, sees a vicious circle between the funding cuts and
homelessness. “The standard of support offered to homeless people by our
government is so poor that some would rather sleep in danger on the streets.”