Manchester City Council are proposing to give themselves new powers using a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), and you have until Monday 8th April to give your views.
Under the new proposed powers any “authorised person” including a council officer can issue a person suspected of breaching the PSPO with a fixed penalty notice and fine of £100. If not paid and prosecuted in court the fine can rise to £1000. Proposed breaches include “aggressive” begging and obstructing building entrances/exits, stairwells of premises or highways after being asked to move. Find out more about what the PSPO means here.
GMLC oppose the proposed PSPO because:
- It unfairly targets homeless people, not the causes of homelessness;
- There is a clear risk of abuse of power, and reduction in legal safeguards for the homeless;
- Homelessness provision is failing, so we are punishing homeless people on the streets without offering an alternative.
We strongly encourage people of Greater Manchester to respond to this consultation before the 8th April deadline: click here to respond today.
We fight for everyone’s right to a secure home.
1. Unfairly targeting homeless people, not the causes of homelessness
Psychologists for social change have published an excellent letter to Manchester City Council highlighting the flawed approach of the PSPO:
“Dear Manchester City Council
Re: Proposed Public Space Protection Order
Psychologists for Social Change are a group of mental health professionals and advocates. Our focus centers on the application of psychological knowledge to inform policy and political action. As a group we are significantly concerned with Manchester City Council’s proposal for a new Public Space Protection Order. We have outlined our concerns in this letter.
Our primary concern is that this proposal does not address the root causes of the issue it attempts to target. Legal threats will not stop people from sleeping on the streets, as rough sleeping is not a lifestyle choice. Every rough sleeper on the streets of Manchester is a product of political decision making that has targeted the most vulnerable members of our communities. Rough sleeper numbers have risen by 165% since 2010. This is a result of welfare cuts to individuals, austerity measures depleting council resources, and the rollout of Universal Credit (which has led to an increase in evictions from Council properties and reduced support for individuals at risk of losing their homes). At the point of becoming a rough sleeper, individuals have likely endured significant hardship and trauma. They are more likely to be experiencing physical health difficulties, mental health difficulties as well as depleted social and family support. Whilst it is acknowledged that rough sleepers may engage in behaviours such as substance use and crime, it is once again emphasised that such behaviours are very rarely a ‘choice’ and may be more accurately understood as a survival strategy.
Furthermore, we suggest that it is likely that the majority of individuals who are fined under this order will not have the financial resources to make the payment. We therefore question what the cost of chasing up unpaid fines would amount to, and whether channeling financial resources into prevention would be a more cost-effective and sustainable strategy. Thus, we argue that criminalising these behaviours is not a progressive way forward; it does not address the underlying causes of the problem, it merely pushes the problem out of sight and could be costly. Finally, we find this proposal contradictory to messages and values set out within Manchester City councils own homelessness strategy- which emphasises; the need to ‘address inequalities’, ‘create environments in which people can thrive’ and ensure that ‘personal circumstances are not a barrier to accessing services and opportunities’ by providing extra support to ‘those who might need it to overcome these structural issues’. It also at odds with Andy Burnham’s efforts to reduce homelessness.”
2. A clear risk of abuse of power, and reduction in legal safeguards for the homeless
With other lawyers from across Greater Manchester, we published our concerns about the PSPO and the consultation.
“People often think the courts are there to punish people who have done wrong. However the most important role of the court is to protect people and stop them being punished unfairly.
The PSPO takes out or restricts the role of the court and the safeguard it provides, because punishment can be issued without evidence or trial.
This safeguard may be an inconvenience to those who would rather be free to impose punishments as they chose, but isn’t it important for everyone, and especially those who are most vulnerable and have the least power (such as the homeless and destitute)?
Unlike many of the existing powers which are mainly in the hands of the police, PSPOs give punishment powers to council officers.
There is clearly a risk of abuse of powers when the council, who have a duty to provide accommodation for (many) of the homeless people on our streets, are given the power to punish those who they are (unlawfully) failing.
A council officer who sees a person sleeping in a doorway or a tent and has reason to believe that they may be homeless, eligible for homelessness assistance and vulnerable, has an immediate legal duty to provide suitable accommodation for that person until they make a lawful decision about their legal rights (this duty is not met by a referral to A Bed for Every Night or other charitable help).
When the overriding problem is that there isn’t enough suitable accommodation to meet the demand, what can putting the power to punish in the hands of the council hope to achieve?”
3. Homeless people are struggling to access support, so we are punishing people without offering an alternative
We act for people who have faced barriers when trying to access homelessness support.
A group of homeless people we acted for said:
“Some of us have turned down offers of accommodation due to it being for a few nights with no indication or explanation of where we will go after the few nights offered. As we hope you can appreciate, this is daunting and we are anxious and unnerved by the unknown of what will happen next.
Some of us have turned down two nights in a bed and breakfast as we were given a bus pass and a fast food voucher and sent on our own to find a bed and breakfast on the other side of Greater Manchester. Again, we were also unaware of what would happen in the nights that followed the two nights offered”
We know that these difficulties are not unique – we have seen homeless people facing similar barriers and some have been homeless or rough sleeping for months before getting the advice they need to enforce their rights to accommodation from the Council.
Everyone should have a right to a secure home. The PSPO will be used against people on Manchester’s streets.
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