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PRIVATISATION OF HOMELESS SERVICES IN MANCHESTER

A Manchester    UNISON member


 

The drive towards the privatisation of social housing, introduced by Thatcher and continued by New Labour, is having devastating effects on families who are homeless. Manchester Council's Housing Department, previously known as Manchester Housing and now known as Housing Services, had in the past prided itself on having a progressive attitude towards social housing and the plight of the homeless, both single and families. This was only true in relation to other authorities who offered very poor services, but from a socialist perspective, Manchester services left a lot to be desired. Such attitudes clearly laid the foundations for the possibility of fully embracing the philosophy of "private" and "individual" that has become the hallmark of current decision-making within public sector housing.

 

Bed and breakfast

In Manchester over the last four years, increasing numbers of homeless families have been placed in bed/breakfast accommodation, something not done for over 20 years. The reason for this is that temporary accommodation for such families is very limited, and always full, and therefore completely inadequate in satisfying the needs of families who find themselves in these dire circumstances.

Researchers say there has not been an increase in the number of families presenting as homeless, but if thatís the case, why is bed/breakfast accommodation needed now when it hadnít been needed in the past. Ten or twelve years ago there were often vacancies in temporary accommodation, so the families must be coming from somewhere.

What is happening is that with growing problems within society, people find themselves homeless on more than one occasion, people with serious social problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, living in poverty and without much support are unable to sustain a viable home.

 

Hostel to close

As a result of the Right to Buy there are thousands fewer houses available at affordable rents. This of course has hit the most vulnerable in our society. Yet there are even more attacks planned. If current decisions are implemented, available council run temporary accommodation will be cut by a third before the end of the year in Manchester, when one hostel will be closed down and ultimately razed to the ground. The prime land on which it presently sits will be in the hands of a housing association, who, with a grant of about £2 million from the Housing Corporation, will build a new facility for homeless families. In the meantime many families who are homeless now and some who will be in the next few months will be paid for by the council to be accommodated in properties owned by a private company, so that public money will become private money. As if that wasnít bad enough, the support such families get will be very minimal indeed.

There is also no guarantee, when the new facility is built, that it will be staffed by council employees; the best trained and experienced for the job may find that their jobs have also gone private.

If this becomes the scenario, it will only be a matter of time before the remaining council-run accommodation for homeless families follows suit, removing services to this very vulnerable client group, away from the public and accountable sector to one where profit is the name of the game.

A so-called Labour council (not socialist) has fully endorsed the capitalist system without so much as a whimper and unfortunately the union's voice, as an organisation, has been so quiet as not to be heard hardly at all.

Some union activists have been fighting long and hard to reverse the situation, their organisation must be supported and strengthened, if we are to make it :People not Profit, not the other way round.

 

 

June 2005

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