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Rough sleeping is rising in Greater Manchester again. What's driving the increase?
Plus: A disgraced housing chief is sacked, and the rest of our weekly briefing
Dear Millers — today’s briefing takes a fresh look at homelessness in Greater Manchester. Andy Burnham held a special press conference about the issue this morning and we’ve got some new data and analysis below.
At the time of writing this briefing, there are 26,998 Millers on our email list! We started the year on 16,000, so new readers are joining at an incredible rate. It also means that almost one in every 100 people (including children and infants) in Greater Manchester is on our list. We would love your help getting to 30,000 soon, so please do share this edition with friends.
And something new: If you use the “Share” button (below and at the bottom of every email), we can now track how many friends each Miller has signed up, and we will soon announce a great reward for the five readers who sign up the most people by Christmas. Since we started tracking it at the start of November, the Miller with the most referrals to his name is Eoin, who has signed up 12 people. Sadly we can’t track it when you sign people up by forwarding an email, but the share button allows us to see because it generates a unique code — it works for sharing on social media, WhatsApp or anywhere else you want to send a Mill link. Thanks for your help!
Do we have a national media? Or just a London-based media that calls itself national? Joshi’s piece on that topic for UnHerd, which was prompted by the comically London-centric press coverage about the English National Opera’s potential move up North, has taken off on Twitter. Welcome to our new members who joined after reading the piece. “Absolutely brilliant article which I encourage everyone to read — even more powerful for being written by a ‘southerner turned northerner’” tweeted one person. Joshi appeared on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show to talk about the opera story last week — you can hear him jousting with the ENO’s chief executive on BBC Sounds here if you skip to 37 minutes in.
Over the weekend, we published a beautifully-written story about an Iranian girl named Zhino, who made a new life in Manchester. Over the summer, she returned to her home country for a visit, but when she got to the airport, she found it a struggle to leave. “How long is this going to take? We have tickets booked to go back to the UK,” she asked a government official. “You shouldn’t have booked tickets,” he responded. You can read that piece here.
We published some great cultural writing for paying members last week, including Sophie Atkinson’s review of a HOME adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which she didn’t love. We also featured an update from restaurant owner Eunji Noh, who told us a weight was lifted from her after she was quoted in our recent story about Manchester Confidential. If you’re not a member yet and you want to read those stories and access all our journalism, join us as a member by clicking the button below. We now have 1,623 members on board.
🌧 This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “seasonably chilly and autumnal this week, although it will turn a little milder by the weekend.”
Tuesday 🌥 Mostly dry with occasional bright spells. Feeling cold. Max 8°c.
Wednesday 🌧 Blustery with heavy rain through the morning followed by an afternoon of sunshine and showers. Max 8°c.
Thursday 🌦 Windy with sunshine and scattered showers. A touch milder. Max 10°c.
Friday 🌦 Breezy with bright spells but also a few isolated showers. Max 11°c.
Weekend🌦 Relatively mild but conditions will remain unsettled.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: What’s driving a rise in homelessness?
Top line: Mayor Andy Burnham says the number of rough sleepers is rising again in Greater Manchester and has warned about a difficult winter ahead.
In a major update to the press this morning, Burnham appeared alongside the council leaders of Manchester and Salford to announce more funding for his A Bed Every Night programme, and said: “We’re heading into a winter that will be more challenging than one we’ve known for some time.”
The numbers: A count last month identified 90 people sleeping rough across GM. That’s one higher than last November’s 89, although we will have to wait to get the official annual count, which is always done in November. It may show the first year of rising rough sleeping since 2017, although the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt because many experts don’t think they reflect the full picture.
Context: Burnham was elected on a platform of ending rough sleeping in Greater Manchester but after significant decreases in the past five years, the progress has ground to a halt. The mayor suggested in today’s press conference that there are some rough sleepers who choose not to take the support offered by the local authorities. “The commitment is to end rough sleeping — I want to state that again,” he added.
New funding: Burnham is allocating £460,000 of mayoral funding to expand A Bed Every Night (ABEN) over the winter, which will create 86 more places. 732 people are currently being accommodated by ABEN, 520 of whom are funded by Burnham’s combined authority.
How you can help:
Members of the public can use the Streetlink app or site to refer people to ABEN.
The mayor’s charity is raising money to help the cause — you can donate here. Superintendent Ian Jones from Greater Manchester Police said today that it’s better to donate to the charity than to give cash to people on the streets.
What’s driving homelessness? Millers who read our long-read investigation into this area are pretty well briefed on the drivers. Today, local leaders put a particular emphasis on the freezing of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which determines how much housing benefit people can claim and is supposed to be pegged to local housing costs so that recipients can afford to rent the 30% cheapest homes.
The LHA has been frozen again (having been unfrozen by the government during the pandemic) while rents are rising, meaning that families claiming housing benefit can afford fewer and fewer properties in the city.
Burnham says the LHA freeze is putting “unfunded pressure” on councils, pushing the cost down from the national level to the local level, at a time when councils are having to find massive savings already.
Salford’s mayor Paul Dennett says he wants to be able to cap rents. “We do need a rent cap in the private rented sector, because if those rents continue to skyrocket, it just makes the demand for temporary accommodation even worse.”
Cost of living: Another big factor, of course, is the squeeze on family finances caused by inflation and energy prices. A recent analysis by Manchester City Council found many local people have little or no financial buffer. After accounting for the average costs of rent, gas and electricity, and an average food shop at Aldi or Lidl, 46% of households in the city are estimated to have less than £124 a month left after paying for those three basic bills.
No buffer: Manchester’s council leader Bev Craig said today: “A broken boiler or a broken washing machine or Christmas” can “tip families over the edge”.
Begging issue: “It’s a fact that not everyone who appears homeless is in fact homeless,” Burnham told the media. “And there have been examples of what you might call persistent or problematic begging in the city centre."
Superintendent Jones from GMP added: “We do have a lot of beggars in the city centre who are not homeless, who have got an income, who are collecting benefits.”
The police’s approach to those people is “all enforcement” whereas rough sleepers who engage with officers are offered support, he said.
A wider problem: One of the reasons we focused so much reporting time on this story earlier this year is that the crisis was very likely to get much worse when the winter hit. Most of our attention during that six-month investigation was not on rough sleeping, which has received enormous coverage since Burnham’s election, but on the thousands of homeless families living in so-called “temporary accommodation” or TA (the average stay in Manchester’s TA was 441 days when we last checked). After all, there are at least 50 times more homeless people living in TA in Greater Manchester (more than 5,000 individuals) than there are sleeping rough and the numbers have risen stratospherically in recent years, mostly in Manchester itself.
Bottom line: At today’s press conference, the overwhelming focus once again was on rough sleeping — the most visible form of homelessness but in reality a tiny subset of the overall problem. We asked Burnham, Craig and Dennett if they are giving enough attention to the people in TA — many of whom live in substandard housing for month after month, with little hope of finding longer-term accommodation. “Temporary accommodation and people living in temporary accommodation occupy vast amounts of our thinking time within the city council,” Craig told us. Burnham admitted: “We are much better today than we were five years ago, but we’re not perfect”.
Your Mill briefing
Train cancellations have hit their highest level on record, according to analysis from the Guardian. 314,000 trains across Great Britain were partly or fully cancelled in a year, with train services in the North by far the most affected. Three quarters of Avanti West Coast’s cancellations were due to train faults or other problems falling under the company’s remit, rather than issues to do with infrastructure or Network Rail. Avanti has been given until April to make improvements or be stripped of its contract by the government. An Avanti spokesperson apologised, but added that cancellations had dropped from nearly 25% at the end of July to 3% in the first week of November.
Gareth Swarbrick, the boss of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) has been sacked over the death of Awaab Ishak, who died aged two from prolonged exposure to mould in his flat. The inquest into Awaab’s death found that his father had repeatedly raised the issue with RBH over three years, but was ignored. After the inquest, Swarbrick apologised for the association’s response but refused to quit, saying he had the board’s “full backing”. In a statement yesterday, the board of RBH said: “Our original instincts were for Gareth to stay on to see the organisation through this difficult period and to make the necessary changes, but we all recognise that this is no longer tenable.”
There are four thousand more students in Manchester than there are rooms available, according to data from property experts StuRents, who have analysed a dramatic undersupply of halls of residence, shared houses and purpose-built student accommodation. 37% of properties are considered out of reach for the average student, when you compare annual rent with the average student maintenance loan.
Home of the week
This idyllic canalside property in Rochdale has three bedrooms, a wood burning stove and a small garden at the front. It’s on the market for £270,000.
Our favourite reads
The media’s Manchester snobbery — UnHerd
“What’s annoying isn’t that the London media exists and argues eloquently for the protection and extension of London’s privileges — it’s that it does those things while pretending to be the national media,” writes Joshi about the media’s London-centricity and the reactions to ENO moving North.
Tom Heyes, a drill and dance artist who records under the name Blackhaine, discusses Manchester’s experimental music scene in this profile. Drill music is “a reaction to the deprivation of British society”, the story says, “if Ian Curtis was writing drill bars in 2022 it might read a bit like this. Which is to say they are about internal violence, concerned as much with the things we do to ourselves as that which gets done to others, and the relationship between the two.”
Steven Bartlett, the young millionaire who dropped out of Manchester Metropolitan University after one lecture, when he realised everyone was hungover and no one was interested in business, discusses his complex relationship with success. Bartlett made his money through founding the Social Chain, a social media agency based in Manchester, but the shine of his new life wore off quickly.
When does science go too far? — The New York Times
Matthew Cobbs, a biology professor at the University of Manchester and longtime Miller, considers some of science’s philosophical questions in his book AS GODS: A Moral History of the Genetic Age, and how the romance of progress can get in the way of ethical concerns: “despite their concerns, those in this research community tend to prioritize the potential of their work to make the world better or smarter. They may privately worry that the same work simultaneously renders it more hazardous — but at the end of the day, they don’t want to impede scientific progress.”
Our to do list
🎭 We start the week at Contact Theatre, where Half Moon Productions are bringing the story of ‘90s British South Asian rave culture to the stage in what promises to be an exploration of multi-cultural identity and teenage rebellion. Tickets here.
🎸 The Australian indie-electronic band Miami Horror, whose style is inspired by French house and synth rock, are playing at Night and Day at 8pm. We recommend queuing for an Espresso Martini first. Tickets here.
🎬 The UK Jewish Film Festival continue their screenings of the best of European and Israeli cinema with Where Life Begins, a French-Italian language romance set on a lemon farm in the south Italian countryside. It’s showing at HOME, 6pm. Book here.
🤣 Weekly comedy nights at Freight Island are not to be missed. Sit in the plant room, recline on the wooden benches with a beer and prepare to be dazzled. More here.
TVAM, a psychedelic space rock group with techno influences, are playing at the White Hotel in Salford. Bring ear protectors — it’ll be a loud night. Tickets here.
🍷 South African winemakers Nouveau are hosting a tasting session at Kerb, the natural wine bar in Ancoats. Pop in anytime before 10.30pm. More here.
For our glitteringly well-informed weekend to do list — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.