Special Investigation: After six months of reporting, we tell the story of the city's most pressing social problem - and how the authorities are flailing in response
Even with a number of mates currently and formerly in B&B and as a recent ex social resident myself, I never knew any of this! Fantastic piece of journalism - well done you lot!
This is indeed a long article, with lots to take in, and will take a few reads I think before a lot of it sinks in and is absorbed. A lack of social housing is clearly a huge problem, and with so many Housing Associations in and around Manchester it’s hard to believe they aren’t working harder to resolve this. Let’s hope the Gray Report can be circulated properly and actions identified so improvements can be prioritised and completed. Whatever happens, it’s a great piece of work, so congratulations to all those involved.
Thank you for this long read. The problems seem insurmountable and complex in the extreme. I fear it will get worse before it can get any better. I hope people working in this area get to read this.
Re: "the government still places more people in Manchester while they're awaiting a decision [on asylum] than they do in the entirety of London and the South East."
Do the places come with any additional funding or is the council expected to look after them from current budgets? Just curious. Thank you for a really detailed and well researched piece.
Outstanding investigative journalism. Thank you.
As a disabled adult who's been in social housing in Manchester for nearly 15 years, I have to say that the changes I can pinpoint as being where everything started to get more difficult for me and for other people I know in various levels of poverty around me, were the introduction of the "bedroom tax" and the change in housing benefit that meant it would no longer fund more than the average rate for a shared room in an HMO for people between 25 and 35.
Before those two cuts hit, Manchester had a (I believe semi-formal) policy of trying to get single adults into 1-bedroom properties rather than bedsits and HMOs wherever possible, because they recognised, rightly, that it was better for our mental health not to be crammed into the tiniest possible space and likely sharing with total strangers. The bedroom tax dealt a heavy blow to that idea.
Here in West Gorton, we were in the midst of a regenerative project. Not only were the old tower blocks at the end of Wenlock Way demolished, and the ICI building too, several unused or underused sites were cleared for new 4-storey social housing blocks built there.
Tenants in sub- or barely-standard housing in West Gorton, most of whom had been told their homes were to be demolished as a part of that regenerative process, were given priority for those new flats and the houses and bungalows yet to be built. The plan was that the longest-term tenants should get first crack at new housing in the size suited to their households, and anybody else would have to wait until it was all done and live elsewhere in the meantime. Basically, they built several blocks of 2-bedroom flats to start with, then a group of bigger houses for the larger families who had mostly lived in the maisonettes surrounding the tower blocks, and after that they had to be able to demolish before building more, so some people were moved to other areas of the city "temporarily".
Unfortunately, they didn't expect the bedroom tax when all this began, so they didn't create any new single-bedroom properties, only 2br and larger, though all of the single-level properties, bungalows and flats, had a certain level of basic adaptation for wheelchair users. Those of us who had been in 2br, 1br and bedsit accommodation in the area were given priority for the various 2br blocks, and the people who either didn't have enough priority to get a home in the first wave or just needed bigger homes, were assured they could move back easily when the new housing had been built.
I was lucky enough to be one of the handful of tenants who just squeaked into the flats, on time as a tenant and my disability priority.
Then the massive cuts from Whitehall hit MCC, and hit them hard, in the middle of that project.
What they ended up doing, was building loads of private housing for sale where they had promised those other tenants their new homes would be, which meant that they were basically taking a big chunk of planned social housing out of the loop, just when they were about to need more single-bedroom social housing.
With the bedroom tax and housing benefit cuts hitting soon after that, many people found themselves in 2br accommodation but no longer able to afford it, even on social housing rates, and in need of downsizing rapidly, even when it would have made things worse for them.
People from larger homes had to downsize to some of those 2br flats, because their housing benefit had been cut, so now we also have some households that would be overcrowded if they added one more member, and some, like mine, where the only way I was able to stay in the home I have now, which has multiple adaptations made specifically to meet my needs, was to apply for and receive years on end of the top-up payment offered by MCC when all this happened.
Overall, though, it does mean we have fewer affordable homes in the city and suburbs for smaller households, and the ABED priority system is making that an even tighter squeeze. This was a perfect storm, I believe, and I think if it hadn't been for the bedroom tax and HB cuts combined with our existing - more generous than many - local policies, it wouldn't have grown so much more difficult at such a rapid pace.
(Sorry about the edit. No idea why Substack posted my comment in the middle of a paragraph.)
Marvellous, thought provoking piece about a very important topic. Lots to chew on.