People “are dying on our streets” and the Government should take action to end the austerity exacerbating homelessness, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said.
Burnham has made the dramatic intervention, calling for a halt to Universal Credit and cuts to public services, as Chancellor Philip Hammond prepares to deliver his Budget today.
The former health secretary has made tackling homelessness in Greater Manchester a central plank of his term in office and, in a blog for HuffPost UK, picks out the heartbreaking case of Chris Conlin, a 31-year-old man who found himself homeless after a family bereavement and died from pneumonia earlier this month.
Burnham said: “It is clear from walking around any of our large towns and cities that austerity has torn large holes in the safety net that used to be there under all people and all communities. Record numbers are falling through and ending up huddled in our doorways.”
He recalled chatting to Conlin, who lived in Burnham’s former Leigh constituency and he “knew fairly well”, before adding: “That young people to be dying on our streets in 2017 is frankly scandalous.”
The mayor has pledged to end homelessness by 2020 and set up a dedicated fund to which he has donated 15% of his own salary.
Changes to Universal Credit in the Budget are desperately needed, said Burnham, but cutting the waiting time from six weeks to four will not tackle rough sleeping.
He said: “It still leaves people without money and at risk of falling into a debt spiral. On this issue, a radical rethink is needed if Universal Credit is not to make the homelessness crisis a whole lot worse.
“Universal Credit pilots in our city-region show the damage that has been done by the current system. Figures in one area of Greater Manchester show that 25% of tenants on Universal Credit are having legal action taken against them to recover rent, as well as possession proceedings.
“Another area has tenants on Universal Credit with rent arrears of 80%, as opposed to 37% of tenants where Universal Credit is not claimed. The risk of homelessness due to Universal Credit is shockingly clear. In the face of this evidence, the Government should stop it and order a major rethink.”
The Chancellor is due to deliver his Budget at 12.30pm. The Government has already handed Greater Manchester £3m to tackle homelessness.
Burnham added: “But I’ve got news for them. You can’t just write one cheque and think you have dealt with a problem as complex as this.
“When confronted with news like the death of Chris Conlin, we all need to stop, reflect and challenge ourselves to do more.”