By Charlie Winstanley
The recent article by Jen Williams investigating the conditions faced by homeless children in Manchester was truly shocking. It threw a light on the appalling conditions faced by families in temporary accommodation - rat infested properties shared with people that are putting children in danger. While the piece focused on Manchester, similar issues are found throughout the system in Greater Manchester (and one would presume, the entire country).
At the heart of the issue is a lack of council housing. Once, “temporary accommodation” would have been a redundant concept as suitable council accommodation would have been available within the system to permanently house those in need. After decades of government policy - Right to Buy and funding squeezes making it nearly impossible for Local Authorities to build Council Housing - our stock of social housing is so low that there are thousands queuing for every property.
But let's be honest - there are plenty of Local Authorities that actually drank the Thatcherite Kool Aid on 'ambition' and 'home-ownership' too. Even in Labour authorities, not enough has been done to preserve diminishing stock levels and prioritise building where it is possible. Selling off stock, transferring it through PFIs and building more luxury homes to attract higher local rates (to compensate for the losses to their budget through austerity) has been the name of the game for too long.
The results, as we can see, are horrifying. Today we are seeing a glimpse of what life was like before we had any social/council housing - rat and flea infested hovels populated by those who fall through the gaping cracks in our welfare system and (under)employment market.
But in Greater Manchester there is a sea change afoot. Politicians and citizens are starting to stand up and demand a change in policy, recognising the vital role that council and social housing plays in our housing system. The GM Housing Strategy to be launched early next year will begin to address some of the chronic and underlying issues presenting themselves in this article.
But all this is too late to stop the disaster that is currently unfolding before our eyes. It is a national disgrace that children, through their formative years, are experiencing such hopeless destitution in the 5th richest economy on earth. We will never be able to take this experience away from them - we can only ensure it doesn't claim more.
Charlie Winstanley is on the committee of Manchester Momentum
12 December 2018