As Manchester experiences temperatures below freezing, the latest figures released on rough sleeping show an increasing amount of unfortunate and vulnerable people having to endure these severe conditions. The data records an 11% increase of rough sleepers in Manchester in the Autumn of 2016, compared to the previous autumn. Manchester also came fourth highest in the top ten local authority rough sleeping counts outside London.
The figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) record 78 rough sleepers in Manchester in 2016, increasing from the 70 recorded in 2015. The data is gathered annually, either by a count on one night in November or by an estimate given by the local authority. People sleeping, about to bed down or bedded down on the street or other structures not meant for permanent habitation, such as tents or bus shelters, are recorded by the count. Manchester was one of the 47 councils to carry out a count in 2016; the other 279 relied on estimates.
Many involved in combatting homelessness believe the official figures underestimate the problem. The UK Statistics Authority ruled that the rough sleeping statistics were vulnerable to political manipulation, lacked trustworthiness and stated that they “do not fully comply with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics”.
The total number of rough sleepers, from counts and estimates, across England came to 4,134 in 2016, a 16% increase from 2015. Homelessness charity Shelter recently released new research giving an estimate of 255,000 homeless people in England, which also identified Manchester as a homelessness hotspot. Shelter stated that this was a conservative estimate as it did not include the hidden homeless.
“Tip of the iceberg”
Councillor Paul Andrews, Executive Member for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council, said:
“Sleeping rough is the visible sign of homelessness, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, as there is also an increase in the hidden homeless across the city who live in insecure temporary accommodation, bed and breakfast accommodation, sofa surf, or rely on the kindness of family and friends.”
The latest rise of 11% in Manchester is lower than the average rise of 21% for rough sleepers in the rest of England (excluding London), but continues the rising trend in rough sleeping recorded over the last six years in Manchester. Across Greater Manchester, Rochdale, Salford, Tameside and Wigan also exhibit a worrying rise in rough sleeping, although all these figures were derived from a local council estimate rather than a count.
When the figures are looked at according to the number of rough sleepers per 1000 households, the average for Manchester is 0.35, which is higher than the average for England (including London) of 0.18. The figure for London of 0.27 rough sleepers per 1000 households is also lower than Manchester’s.
Labour’s housing spokesman, John Healey, is critical of the Conservative government’s role in the rising figures, saying in The Guardian:
“The number of people sleeping rough fell under Labour but has more than doubled since 2010, and has risen every year under the Conservatives.
“This is a direct result of decisions made by Conservative Ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters”.
Reduced funding for homelessness services is also relevant to Manchester, where just over £2m was cut from the combined budgets for the Homelessness Prevention Grant and Housing Related Support. The council appears to have realised that this may have been a cut too far as they are, “planning to invest £1.5m to help address pressure on services for the homeless in 2017/18,” Andrews says:
“We have put in place a range of positive measures to tackle rough sleeping, including an expanded dedicated rough sleeper team to work with people and help them access the right accommodation and ongoing support to address the issues that put them on the streets in the first instance; an increase in the number of available bed spaces for people in need across the city, as well as working closely with all our partners to help the most entrenched rough sleepers.”
Manchester Homelessness Charter
To tackle the increase in homelessness, MCC is pledging their support to the Manchester Homelessness Partnership. This is the organisation behind the Manchester Homelessness Charter, which aims to produce a more co-ordinated response from public and private organisations involved in combatting homelessness, and also includes 7 people who have lived experience of homelessness on the partnerships board.
Andrews suggests that anyone who wants to help the homeless should consider supporting the Big Change. This is an alternative to giving cash to homeless people on the street. Instead the money is collected into a central fund that can accessed by the homeless to purchase items to help them build new lives off the streets.
There is hope on the horizon for both monetary and legislative support in reducing homelessness across England. A spokesperson for the DCLG said the government was investing £550m to 2020 to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness. While the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which was passed in the Commons yesterday but has still to make its way through the Lords, will mean local authorities are obliged to take greater measures to prevent households becoming homeless.
However the £48m pledged by government to local authorities to help implement the bill has been widely criticised as inadequate. Only time will tell whether either of these initiatives provides help to the growing number of people suffering on the streets of Manchester.
– If you would like to donate resources or your time to the Big Change – click here.
– If you would like to support the life-saving work Shelter is doing on homelessness and other housing issues – click here.
– You can support the equally important work of Crisis – helping single homeless people who are generally ignored by the authorities – by clicking here
Featured image: Barbara Anne Cook