Homelessness in Manchester at peak levels, says bishop

04 January 2019

Spiralling rents and welfare cuts were two of the causes that he cited

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STREET homelessness in Manchester is at a level “unparalleled in my lifetime,” the Bishop, Dr David Walker, has said. Spiralling rents and welfare cuts were two of the causes that he cited.

In a Christmas interview with the Manchester Evening News, Dr Walker said: “I think visible street homelessness is at a level unparalleled in my lifetime — and I’m 61 now. As a teenager, I crossed the centre of Manchester every morning on my way to and from school, and I did not see the scenes I’m seeing now.

“By the mid-’70s, Manchester was economically poorer than it is now, and yet there was not the visible homelessness. There were a lot of people who were homeless then, but there was basic funding for hostels. They weren’t great, but they were better than nothing at all.”

Dr Walker, who chairs Manchester’s homelessness partnership, went on: “Until this year, if you’d asked me what the main causes were, I’d say relationship breakdown — which could be domestic violence, or a break-up, or a young person kicked out by a step-parent.

“And then number two would have been mental-health issues, where someone’s mental health takes a turn and every aspect of their life can be badly damaged. Then, often as a consequence of that, someone ends up with a dependency on drugs or alcohol.

“What’s become clear in the last year or two is the number of people where it’s simply poverty. The number of people I’ve met in recent times in night shelters who have actually got a job — yet end up for at least a period of time with nowhere to sleep.”

“Rents have been going well ahead of inflation and certainly well ahead of the local housing allowance,” he said.

“It’s just torn holes in the safety net and too many people are falling through.

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“We have over 1000 families in some kind of the temporary accommodation at the moment and lots of people visibly sleeping rough on our streets — and these numbers have continued to grow.”

Dr Walker said that the two-child benefit limit was also a cause of homelessness. “If you reduce welfare payments for families, you‘re going to increase child poverty. It would be bizarre if you imagined otherwise.”

Previously, Dr Walker has blamed the lack of affordable housing for the rise in homelessness (News, 17 August 2018).

Shortly before Christmas, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that it estimated that 597 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2017: a rise of 24 per cent since 2013, when it estimated that 482 died.

More than half the deaths were due to drug poisoning, liver disease, or suicide; and 84 per cent of those who died were men.

The head of health analysis at the ONS, Ben Humberstone, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population: 55 per cent of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide, or alcohol — also known as the diseases of despair — compared to just three per cent of deaths from these causes among the general population.”

The Guardian reported last week that thousands of homeless people had been given one-way tickets by councils to make them leave the area: a policy that has been described by some rough-sleepers as “street cleansing”.

The Guardian also published analysis in partnership with the housing charity Shelter that said that councils in England had spent £997 million on temporary accommodation in 2017-18: a 71-per-cent increase since five years ago.

More than 2000 churches ran or supported night shelters for homeless people over Christmas (News, 14 December 2018).

The chief executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, said that the Government should address the causes of homelessness, “like building the number of social homes we need, and making sure our welfare system is there to support people when they fall on hard times”.

The Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, said last month that Conservative policies might be to blame for the rise in homelessness, and that Conservatives needed to ask themselves “some very hard questions”. He told the website Politico that “changes to policy” were needed.

The campaign director of Shelter, Greg Beales, said: “Long queues of homeless families pleading with councils for help, and a billion pounds spent on temporary accommodation, are just some of the unwanted consequences of welfare cuts, rising rents, and a failure to build social homes.”

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