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The imposition of austerity measures as a neoliberal response to the crisis of 2008 has had multiple effects, not least upon the industrial north, which was already reeling from the effects of Thatcherism, in particular due to the loss of its industrial base.
A particular effect of this has been the rise in homelessness in Manchester, which has gone up 41 per cent since 2016, though experts estimate that official figures are approximately half of the actual total of rough sleepers.
Since 2010/11 the city council’s budget has been cut by nearly a third, with an attendant cut of just over a third of its workforce. As well as cuts limiting the amount of services it can provide, just under 3,000 people have been made increasingly vulnerable due to these job losses.
Budget cuts have been felt in a number of areas — for example, a 45 per cent cut in library funding, plus the council had to appeal for £214 million extra to meet the city’s social care needs up to and including 2020/21.
Housing continues to be a problem. The city has seen a boom in private housing development since 1996, but this has failed to do anything to reduce the number of people waiting for social housing — as of September this year, Greater Manchester has 80,000 people on its waiting lists.
Despite this, plans are afoot to build 50,000 new, private homes in and around the city centre by 2040. As happened with the boom at the end of the 1990s, many of these will be bought by investors looking to turn a quick profit.
As a recent report suggests, there is every possibility that this will involve some form of social cleansing, as working class people are driven out of central areas due to the lack of affordable housing. This will undoubtedly increase homelessness, as wealth will not trickle down, but cuts and unaffordable housing will disproportionately affect those with least the most.
At national level, cuts in NHS funding are also felt locally. For example, there have been cuts to addiction services across the North West of 30-40 per cent over the last five years. By definition, there is a direct link between funding, mental health, addiction and homelessness, with many rough sleepers having problems with substance abuse.
Since the ban on Spice and other legal highs came into force in 2016, Manchester has been hit by stronger strains of the drug, leading to the sight of people swaying and collapsing all over the city’s streets. The drug had been used by some of the city’s homeless people as a way to get to sleep, but its current versions are having appalling effects, with an increase in fits being reported, placing a further strain on Manchester’s ambulance service and hospitals.
Manchester is not unique in its problems and this is only a brief glimpse into the problems brought about by government policy since 2010. As the Tories once again lie about the end of austerity, they are only set to increase.
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