Labour backs social cleansing in Manchester

In 18 months, 796 rough sleepers have died on the streets of Britain, 15 of them in Manchester. Since 2010 rough sleeping has risen by 169% nationally. In Manchester, the Labour council’s response has been to propose a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) based on section 59 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, an act used specifically to shut down protest, regulate behaviour and restrict access to public spaces.

Manchester proposes a three-year order covering the whole of the city centre. This follows neighbouring Salford’s Labour council, which has six PSPOs in place already, including a ludicrous ban on swearing around the luxury developments of Salford Quays. Manchester argues that its proposals, which include criminalising ‘aggressive or intimidating begging’, failure to move from a building entrance when asked to do and erecting a tent, are ‘necessary and proportionate’.

These broad powers are particularly targeted at rough sleepers and beggars. Manchester city centre includes places where many homeless people can sit during the day or sleep at night, a situation created by the housing crisis. Under the new proposal, council officials or police officers would be able to deny them access to these spaces.

Manchester has an official homeless total of 5,564 people and the highest death toll of rough sleepers of any local authority. Manchester city council, while now presiding over zero levels of ‘affordable’ or council housing, targets those who are forced into rough sleeping and/or begging, seeing them merely as a ‘nuisance’ and ‘annoyance’.

Manchester has a track record for stealing homeless people’s belongings and forcibly evicting them from land near luxury developments. Now people who do not – or cannot – obey police or council officers’ demands to leave the city centre will face a £100 fixed penalty notice. In the likely case that they cannot pay, the council will be able to prosecute for a fine of up to £1,000.

This new proposal is not an isolated attack. The council’s language and attitude that is in line with Labour council leader Richard Leese’s long-held ideology of demonising homeless people. Leese uses his official council blog to accuse the homeless of ‘preying’ on ‘Manchester people’. He sets out to sow division among working class communities already under attack by his council’s actions.

The crocodile tears of the Labour-supporting ‘left’

Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA) appealed for people to oppose the plans through public consultation, and the local Momentum group issued a statement of ‘anger and disbelief’ at the very councillors they had canvassed Manchester to vote for. These groups were motivated not by concern for the homeless but by the need to protect the council because the PSPO, as GMHA put it, ‘undermined its reputation’.

These groups think the electoral prospects of a Labour council that supports social cleansing are more important than challenging it over the city’s housing crisis. Their position covers up for the council’s willing implementation of austerity measures – which have been consistently challenged by Manchester RCG.

The proposed PSPO cannot be taken out of the context of the Labour council’s destruction of social housing and its attacks on grassroots organising in the city.           

Fight social cleansing!

Nathan Williams

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019


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