After months of waiting for the Council’s proposals following their “consultation”, the current plans as reported in the Manchester Evening News yesterday amount to no real change.
Manchester City Council still believes that enabling council officers to issue £100 fines and issue criminal proceedings of homeless people is a lawful, morally justified and effective solution to rough sleeping in the City Centre.
Despite the headline, there has been no “back down” in response to the “fierce backlash” against the original proposals. The removal of begging from the proposals is meaningless because a person can still be fined and prosecuted for sitting or sleeping in a doorway or pavement whether begging or not. We are not sure who the Council think will be hoodwinked into thinking this PSPO no longer targets the homeless and destitute.
Council budgets have been cut to the extent that local authorities are unable to meet the accommodation and support needs of the people who have been most affected by austerity measures. We are angry and disappointed that our city is now seeking to use their stretched resources to punish the victims of austerity with demands for money they do not have.
Is it worth the Council paying thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds into this scheme which could be used to instead to provide accommodation, support services, toilets, sharps bind or even a help porta cabin based in Piccadilly Gardens? A similar experiment in Southampton, now abandoned, suggests not.
Leaving aside the many legal and moral objections we and others have raised to this PSPO, the powers are likely to do more harm than good.
Those who aren’t scared won’t care – why would you pay or give your correct name or address to a Council Officer who can’t arrest you? The PSPO will be unenforceable against them and it will have no effect.
For those who are scared, and whose accommodation and support needs cannot be met by existing services, the threat of a fine will mean they are less likely to trust the Council or other homeless services. They will be driven to the darker streets or the outer areas where they are at more risk of harm and death.
The proposed PSPO does nothing to address the real concerns Manchester residents feel about their safety in the city centre (ie. violence, threatening and abusive behaviour, drug dealing, muggings and theft). It is a sop, but with potentially counterproductive and harmful results.
Greater Manchester Law Centre, like many other homelessness frontline agencies the Council hasn’t consulted, does not receive any money from the Council. In this one instance we are willing to offer some legal advice to its elected members for free:
- Have you got any evidence that this will work?
- Was your consultation fair? Did it ask the right questions, not just about whether there was a problem, but whether additional fines, on top of all the existing powers, were an effective solution? Did it reach the right people (particularly homeless people outside your commission services)?
- Can you justify the cost/benefit?
- Have you considered your Equality Act obligations in full and how the proposals will disproportionately impact on the sections of our community who already more at risk of homelessness and substance misuse and will therefore be disproportionately affected by this PSPO?
- Have you considered your obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights to respect the private life of those, even who don’t have a home, and to protect them from inhumane and degrading or discriminatory treatment.?
If you can’t answer yes to all of the above, then enacting this PSPO will lead to a legal challenge and one that the Council is likely to lose.
This isn’t a threat, and because we care about the people of Greater Manchester, we do not want the Council to divert even more of its budget to defending unnecessary legal proceedings. We’re not hoodwinked by this token amendment to the proposed PSPO and we hope that the Councillors are not either.
The Council do not have to approve this proposal now, or at all, and could sensibly to delay a decision if it felt that insufficient evidence was available or more information was required without any loss of face.
For further comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org