320,000 people homeless in Britain: Number of homelessness doubled under Conservative Government

 

December is starting to get cold; it’s dark in the morning when I leave for work and often dark the evening. That darkness is now a constant in my life but so to also is Wayne, the homeless man who sits outside the Tesco I pass on my way to work. He’s not from Manchester originally and has been living rough in the city for the last year. Wayne is one of about 20 people gathered around the Northern Quarter area of Manchester; scattered outside Greggs or Spar, in doorways and alleys, sometimes sleeping and sometimes high but always looking up at the people passing by. Statistics, numbers, hard data, these are solid things that people use to find meaning and make sense of this world. Much of the basis of modern society is built around numbers and our use of them. But to tell you that up until this year the National Office of Statistics didn’t record the annual deaths of homeless people in this country is a damning shame. Indeed it took an investigation by the Manchester Evening News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to force the agency into finally recording these deaths. Later this month those statistics will be published in full but so far because of the independent investigations, we know that in the last 12 months 449 people have died on the streets of England. Of those, 14 of died on the streets of Manchester and those are the ones who have been counted. We know that members of the homeless community who die in hospitals or in temporary accommodation aren’t listed in these figures.

To hit you with a couple more stats, as of this moment there are currently 320,000 people homeless in this country, this figure rises by the month and has doubled in the last 5 years (Tory coincidence I think not). Of those 120,000 are children, a generation growing up in unstable housing and poverty. We know that now 1 in every 200 people in Britain is homeless or stuck in temporary accommodation. Manchester is not even close to being the worst municipality in the country for homelessness but it is number 1 in the North of England. In Manchester, we currently have 4,000 people homeless and around 100 or so sleeping rough in the city centre any given night. This works out to another lovely statistic of 1 in every 135 Mancunians being homeless. Newham in east London is currently the worst borough in the country with 1 in every 24 in housing insecurity and 75 sleeping rough. For me the reality of this problem is startling, I moved away in 2014 to live and work Canada and upon moving back last year what I saw on the streets of Britain reminded me more of the tent cities that were prevalent across North America. It feels like it has happened so quickly but we all saw this coming. In a perfect storm scenario, years of successive squeezes on vital support services and endless cuts have exposed the vulnerable in our society and many are simply being forgotten about. A person dies every month on the streets in Manchester and while expensive flats and condos are being put up by the day, many more lie destitute in unsafe temporary housing and hostels. Needless to say, little help has been forthcoming from the Government. It was announced this week that life expectancy for the poorest in our country is dropping and we haven’t even seen the full rollout of Universal Credit and the £5bn more in cuts to the welfare state, austerity is over in all but name.

The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham has been particularly vocal in his pledges to end homelessness and he seems to be doing all that he can. He currently donates a cut of his wage every month and has set up the Bed Every Night initiative. This scheme aims to provide a bed, a hot meal and support for anyone sleeping rough on the streets of Greater Manchester between November 2018 and March 2019.  It is a scheme that should be rolled out all over the country, one that will definitely help those currently on the streets and stop a great number dying of exposure this winter. However it does have its caveats, it is only open to those from Greater Manchester, which is understandable from a funding perspective, as you don’t want to attract other cities homeless. However, a number of the homeless community on our streets are from elsewhere in the country and therefore aren’t eligible. My friend Wayne is one of those and while he spoke positively of the Mayor and all he is doing for the community he hasn’t seen many changes in the last few months that directly benefit him but he is hopeful for the New Year. The council is certainly in a tough position trying to figure out how it helps keep those who aren’t eligible safe this winter.

 

What do we need? We need more shelters for those who are currently sleeping rough, especially emergency shelters for the nights that are particularly cold. We need more social housing and better temporary housing, not rat infested dirty flats that are packed full to bursting. Social housing also needs to be a percentage of every flat building in the city and I would push for an overall cap on rents. People who are getting back into society need to feel a part of it, not away from everyone in a decaying old building with others also struggling. We need an end to Universal Credit and a reversal of every cut to major frontline services with proper investment being put into social care and the police force. We need to end the culture of demonising those of us who have fallen on hard times and those who end up on the streets. We need to change our attitude as a society, to become open and warm again and not push to the fringes, those among us that need the most help. Finally, we need to all do better, to remind our friends of poverty and let those in power know how unhappy we are.

Most of us are one paycheque away from being in a similar position to those that died on our streets this past year. It could happen to anyone and the only way to solve this crisis is to demand that the Government and local council leaders do more to help those most vulnerable in our communities.

Homelessness won’t go away, it is a national crisis that needs our full attention.

Macron cancels fuel tax over riots but what will this mean for carbon culling legislation?

Climate change is a lot like Christmas. You know it’s coming, in July when you can feel the distant rumblings of Jingle Bells as a friend tells you that there are only X days to go! It’s always there and while some of us make slow and steady plans for it throughout the year, the majority wait until the week before and go crazy trying to get everything done.

Humans in this metaphor are not the people making slow and steady plans for climate change; we know what it is, when it will arrive and what it will look like when it does but we are choosing to wait until the last moment, in the hope that we can pull it out of our collective arses, one last time. It’s been another big week for the global issue, with the schizophrenic US Government rebuking itself for releasing a report on the future economic effects of climate change and major riots in France about rising fuel prices.

But therein lies the headache with climate change legislation, how do you do it effectively but without being too drastic? We’ve seen in this last week the riots in France over diesel prices, which have risen around 23% over the past 12 months to €1.51 a litre. Prices have risen due to Macron’s administration raising the hydrocarbon tax by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, in a bid to encourage consumers and businesses to use cleaner cars and fuel.

The move is a good one, in theory. In order to reduce carbon emissions, we all need to drastically change the way we travel and consume. Most economists/commentators argue that as consumers we are at the forefront of any action that needs to be taken against stopping climate change. That with our collective spending power we should be able to force governments into subsidizing, and corporations into producing, goods that are recyclable, carbon neutral and not as damaging to our planet and our health. This tax does just that, it is a calculated push onto the citizens of France to use public transport or buy a hybrid or electric car rather than relying on diesel cars that over-pollute. Macron’s policy is a policy that is necessary, taxing polluting fuels can be an effective way to reduce emissions but the policy is poorly executed. The tax burden will fall mainly on the poorest, who are also the least likely to be able to make changes to their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.

But if you’re going to tax people more you need to find money to give back to them to balance the whole thing out. Tax diesel and petrol cars? Great, now electric and hybrid vehicles are heavily subsidized and you get a tax break for buying them, oh, and also public transport is now free in big cities. This policy, like most climate-based policy, seems to be aimed at how the individual consumer can reduce their waste, I.e. the plastic bag tax in the UK and does nothing to target big corporations and those who pollute the most in our society.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of people protesting are doing so because they are currently struggling to make ends meet. Increasing fuel prices does nothing to alleviate that struggle. Most of the protestors in Paris appear to be those who have travelled in from the countryside, those who often have no public transport option and cannot afford that fancy new, green car. The middle class around the world is at its closest to breaking point for a generation and the idea that blue- and white-collar workers alike can change their spending habits in order to put pressure on polluting industries is a fallacy. People don’t have enough money or ‘’disposable income’’ to completely overhaul the way they have lived for their whole lives, on the basis that the planet will become uninhabitable for future generations.

And that’s just it, that’s the sticking point with any climate policy. In order for humanity to survive the next 100 or so years we all need to drastically change the way we do everything, right now, not tomorrow or in 10 years time. But in order to facilitate that kind of change you have to go after the industries that currently do the most damage and those are the guys that currently keep our lights on and boy, are they pushing back against taxes and greater regulation.

That’s why we currently live in this backward world of politicians meeting every 4 years to get all worked up about emissions goals and setting big, ambitious global targets but then continuing to subsidise fossil fuel companies and in this country, allowing fracking to go ahead despite the constant protests against.

The average worker cannot bear the brunt of this change individually and that is why the question of climate policy often goes hand in hand with that of wealth distribution. The top 1% of citizens worldwide largely represent the corporations and industries that pollute the most and it is those individuals who do not want to see global change that will affect their bottom line. Governments need to be strong enough to push back against powerful industries and lobbyists, whilst also developing policies that help the average worker make sustainable and green choices that don’t cripple them financially. All of the interviews I’ve read with protestors in France speak of how they feel that the government does not listen to them or their concerns, that they pay already high rates of tax but from one politician to another nothing changes. It is this push back against the ‘’elites’’ that landed us with Brexit and Trump, as the voting public desperately tried to find a change from within the system. I believe that the only way to have true change is an aggressive policy of wealth re-distribution and a removal of outside money and influence from politics. Only then will people be free to implement the radical changes to our global economy and way of thinking, that is needed if we are to survive the next 100 years.