Homelessness: my pledges to help end it

If you live in Manchester – or any city in the UK – you have almost certainly noticed a rise in homelessness over the last few years.

In December the city council counted 70 people sleeping rough in the city centre, almost double the number of a year before. That snapshot figure only includes everyone the team could find. It doesn’t count people who are homeless but have a roof on their head, or those who sleep rough in other parts of the city.

The austerity programme of the current and last governments has meant a multi-pronged attack on housing security. That doesn’t only mean welfare ‘reforms’ like sanctions and the bedroom tax, but also the central cuts to council funding that put local services at risk, and the changes to legal aid that prevent many people from getting the help they need to avoid losing their home.

But when so many people in our city don’t have a home to call their own or even a roof over their heads at night, it’s not the time to apportion blame. It’s time for homeless people themselves to decide how Manchester can become a safer and better place – and one where homelessness becomes a thing of the past.

That’s what the Manchester Homelessness Charter is about. Homeless people, those with experience of homelessness, other Manchester citizens, the city council, healthcare and other public sector services, charities, faith groups, businesses and more came together as the Manchester Homelessness Partnership.

homelessness partnership

Together they produced a Charter with a clear vision: to put an end to homelessness in Manchester, and. Before that is achieved, those who sign up to the charter agree to follow a set of values regarding the rights of homeless people in our city. Everyone who is homeless has a right to a safe, secure home. A right to safety. A right to respect and a good standard of service. A right to equality of access to information and services. A right to equality of opportunity.

You can sign up here to pledge your support to the charter. I’m proud that Manchester City Council – one of the key partners behind this work – have done so: you can see the council’s pledges here.

But I also thought it was important to pledge my support as an individual. So I did,  and my 2 pledges are:

  • I will find more opportunities to listen to homeless people about council decisions and services
  • I will take part in the Great Manchester Run to raise money for Mustard Tree.

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Mustard Tree are a local homelessness charity who helped create the charter. They provide vital life support to homeless and marginalised people in Greater Manchester and they put the voices of those with experience of homelessness at the centre of everything they do. I’m so proud to be running for them, and I’d be so grateful if you would consider supporting me, and more importantly supporting Mustard Tree, by donating here.

Thanks for reading- don’t forget to donate here and to pledge your own support to the charter here.

Grace North Run

In September I will be running – stop laughing – I will be running the Great North Run (aka Grace North Run), which is a half-marathon, which is 13.1 miles.

If you remember me from PE – or have, indeed, ever seen me attempt to run up a flight of stairs – you will realise how ridiculous this is. I run in elections. I do not run in races. UNTIL NOW.

Since my usual exercise regime consists of power-lifting meeting papers (and pints) and my usual diet consists of five kinds of biscuit per day (and pints), I’m having to put in some serious training effort for this. I’ve been running around Platt Fields so much my trainers are coated in goose-poo. I’ve been cross-training in the Aquatics Centre despite the unpleasant Year 7 flashbacks I get when I’m swimming. I’ve been learning terms like ‘cross-training’. It’s all very out of character.

The only thing that will make all this nonsense worth it is if I can make a totally massive pile of money for the NSPCC. We’ve been reminded over the last months how vital their work is. For years, abused children have been ignored, blamed, denied a voice or too scared to come forward. NSPCC and ChildLine need our help to reach out to more children and give them support, a listening ear and most of all a voice.

When I’m collapsed in a post-run heap (or ambulance) in Newcastle on the 15th September, I’d love to think that the couple (or dozen) of hours I’ve just spent running will pay for a few hours of NSPCC ChildLine workers answering the phone to kids who need them. And I’d be so grateful for any donation you can give to help.

Thanks & much love,

Grace

PS – the official name of this event is the Bupa Great North Run, which means I will unfortunately be a running one-woman advert for a private healthcare provider. But if I make at least my fundraising target of £500, I promise I will run it with ‘I love the NHS’ written on my face. Which is surely worth a donation in itself.

My speech to council on International Women’s Day 2013

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Friday 8th March was a day for the world to celebrate women.

I’ve written on this blog before – pretty comprehensively, I like to think – about what International Women’s Day is for and why it’s important, so I won’t do it again.

Instead, as Chair of Manchester Labour Women’s Forum, I made an intervention at Friday’s budget-setting council meeting about all the things making me angry this International Women’s Day. If you missed it – either because you weren’t there or because I was speaking too furiously fast to be heard – here it is:

It’s International Women’s Day today, as well as Angry Manchester Day, but I’ve found all the anger this morning a bit infectious, so I’d like to talk about some of the things that are making me angry.

I’m angry that women have been the hardest hit by the Tory-Lib Dem government’s freezing of child benefit; by the Tory-Lib Dem government’s cuts to childcare funding through Working Tax Credits; by the Tory-Lib Dem government’s decision to start charging for the use of the Child Support Agency; the decision to scrap the Health in Pregnancy Grant; and by the cuts to refuges and domestic violence charities that have seen Women’s Aid having to turn away over 200 women in danger in a single year.

Women make up the vast majority of victims of domestic violence, who will be hit by cuts to legal aid, and will find it harder to leave their partners thanks to welfare benefit cuts. Women are expected to make up 65% of the 710,000 redundancies this government has planned between now and 2017. Women in two-parent households will be discouraged from working under Universal Credit. And one-quarter of the victims of the Tory-Lib Dem government’s outrageously unfair bedroom tax will be lone parents, the vast majority of whom are women.

And as what I would like to think of as a final indignity, although I’m sure it won’t be, next month the Tory-Lib Dem government will introduce real term cuts to maternity pay, on the same day that they give millionaires a tax cut worth an average £100,000.

This is the Government’s Mother’s Day present – a hundred grand each to their own mothers and a maternity pay cut for the mothers of Manchester. I’m not sure about you, but I think my mom would have preferred something from Thornton’s.

We’ve heard today that this Government is not on the side of Manchester people. It’s certainly not on the side of Manchester women. And that’s why everyone in Manchester, especially women, needs to ask this group of Liberal Democrats, and John Leech MP, why they keep standing up for this government when this government is not standing up for us.

Michael’s Manchester

Regular conference-goers of a certain age will be familiar with Peter Wheeler’s annual guides to the best local pubs – now there’s a new generation. My friend Michael Wheeler has produced an exhaustively researched (I can attest) guide to some of the best pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants in Manchester – it’s your essential guide to going off-piste in Manchester and you can view and/or download it here.

Rape 101

Ooookay. Thanks, the internet. I’d got most of my column written at about half seven last night – wasn’t about much, had a few jokes. And then Twitter informed me that some Missouri Republican Congressman I’d never heard of had been talking about rape and abortion. There’s a sentence that never bodes well for your evening.

 

It’s tempting to dismiss the stupid things some American politicians say about rape with a simple, heartfelt expression of relief that we don’t live there. However, Akin’s attempt to specify ‘legitimate’ rape is an uncomfortable reminder of Ken Clarke’s ‘classic rape‘ comments of last year. It also blends in well with the comments of some Assange supporters, on Twitter and elsewhere. These include both those whom we might have hoped to hold to a higher standard (oh, former Python Terry Jones. You spent so long dressed as a woman – I’d thought you might have had more sympathy for real ones) and those who sadly fail to surprise us. The opinions of George Galloway (from about 20 minutes in, if you haven’t seen it and you’re in the mood to be enraged) would be far easier to laugh off if we didn’t have to deal with the fact that, like Rep. Akin, the guy’s an elected representative. And unlike Akin, he technically represents a constituency in this country, even if he hasn’t been there since he was elected. It looks like it might be time to dust off the ‘Rape 101’ textbooks once again.

 

1 – Julian Assange is accused of rape. I thought this whole ‘it was only sex without a condom!’ thing was cleared up by now, but I’ve still been seeing tweets to that effect over the weekend. You can read a list of the accusations here, but to summarise: he’s accused of holding a woman down in order to have sex with her, penetrating a woman in her sleep, and having sex without a condom against the woman’s wishes.

 

I know that doesn’t in any way mean he did it, but suggestions that he’s only wanted under a quirk of the Swedish legal system need to stop.

 

Besides which, ‘sex without a condom’ is hardly a trivial affair, as this account from the F-Word blog demonstrates. There’s a massive difference between ‘consenting to sex’ and ‘consenting to potential HIV and/or babies’.

 

2 – with reference to the fact that Assange is accused of raping a woman while she slept: you do not invite sex by being asleep next to someone. If you were walking down a dark street alone, someone might reasonably comment that you could have taken more steps to ensure your safety. They’d be unlikely to claim they assumed you wanted to be stabbed.

 

If you’re in bed with another person, here’s what you need to do to prevent a rape occurring: don’t rape them.

 

3 – The fact that a person has done some things you agree with does not make them incapable of rape. Sad but true.

 

4 – moving on from Assange to Akin, apparently it’s necessary to explain that you can get pregnant by being raped. The idea that the female reproductive system shuts down during rape is far from new, so if you’ve been labouring under this illusion allow me to rob you of it: you’re thinking of ducks. Conception is easier for ducks if it happens during consensual sex, for reasons related to their corkscrew-shaped vaginas and ballistic penises. When it comes to humans, however, a 1996 study found that an estimated 32,101 pregnancies occur as a result of rape every year in the US, and concluded that ‘Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency. It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence. As we address the epidemic of unintended pregnancies in the United States, greater attention and effort should be aimed at preventing and identifying unwanted pregnancies that result from sexual victimization.’

 

5 – there’s no such thing as legitimate rape. When Akin said this, he didn’t mean ‘legitimate’ as in ‘acceptable’. What a relief, right? Until you realise that what he meant by ‘legitimate rape’ was ‘rape I’m prepared to believe happened’. We’re back at Ken Clarke’s notion that rape only happens when a strange man leaps out of the bushes, possibly armed, and forces himself on a woman (the only difference being: Ken never tried to claim that at this point the woman’s cervix slams shut), and that in every other circumstance, rape is a misunderstanding.

 

In American politics, the definition of rape is important in healthcare as well as in the justice system. Last year, you might remember, Republicans including Akin tried to further limit the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, with a bill which initially specified that abortion would only be funded in cases of ‘forcible’ rape. (‘Forcible’, incidentally, was part of Ken Clarke’s limited definition, too.) That would have ruled out Medicaid assistance for abortions resulting from: statutory rape, drug rape, date rape, rape of women with limited mental capacity, and possibly, given that many states don’t have a legal definition of ‘forcible rape’ (perhaps because it’s, y’know, a tautology), all rapes in those states.

 

In the end the Republicans bowed to pressure and took the ‘forcible rape’ bit out of the bill. But the concept keeps returning, so prevalently that I’m starting to become seriously concerned about sex education, here as well as in the States. Keep saying it until it sticks: sex without consent is rape. How is that so hard to understand?

 

This post originally appeared on LabourList.

Leaflets, licensing and the Lass O’Gowrie: what I’m up this week

Got a bit of a busy one for the rest of the week! Today’s mostly a #labourdoorstep day – I’ve just come back from delivering thank-you leaflets (yes, I know the election was a while ago) and I’ve got several hundred still to get out over the next couple of weeks – any help gratefully received! Then this evening I’m out in Moss Side knocking on doors for Lucy Powell.

Tomorrow morning I’m at the licence review hearing for Twisted in Fallowfield. This bar has been causing a large number of complaints from local residents so we’re hoping for a good result.

Thursday is the 193rd anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre,  so after a few hours at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Swinton, I’m going to the Peterloo Debate at the People’s History Museum, where Tony Lloyd will be discussing the right of citizens to protest, the power of the state and the very nature of policing, which are key challenges now in the UK and across many parts of the world. And after that I’m off to sample the pub quiz at the Lass O’Gowrie!

On Friday I’m back in Swinton at GMFRS HQ, where as part of my role as the Fire Authority’s member champion for consultation, engagement and social media, I’m attending a demonstration of some software which could help the service connect even better with local residents. Should be exciting!

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your week…I’m off to wrestle with leaflets.

The Sunday Summary, 6-12th August

Hope you’ve all had a good weekend. I’ve been quite a good little blogger this week, so I thought I’d show off with this quick round-up of the week’s posts, in case you might be interested in any you missed!

Monday’s LabourList column was on Labour’s funding challenge. Also on Monday, I posted about Rusholme & Fallowfield Civic Society, who are looking for new members.

On Friday I posted a review of Thursday night’s Young, Bright and on the Right. Odd kids, but I suppose we all did things at university we’re not proud of…

And yesterday, following suggestions from a local resident, I posted a list of 6 things you can do to get more involved in your community (particularly if your community is Fallowfield). If anyone has any more suggestions for a follow-up to that one, let me know.

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

6 things you can do to get more involved in your community

Following this post from earlier in the week, Sue from the Rusholme & Fallowfield Civic Society has very kindly got in touch with some suggestions of other community opportunities to blog about. Today’s post is about things you can do to make your area better – especially if you’re in Fallowfield or elsewhere in Manchester, but most areas will have similar opportunities available. It’s not an exhaustive list, so feel free to get in touch with any more suggestions!

1. Have your say. Residents in the ‘studenty’ area of Fallowfield might be interested in the consultation on a ‘cumulative impact’ licensing policy for areas of Fallowfield and Withington. If this policy comes into force it will make it harder to get a new licence to serve alcohol in parts of the wards which already have a high density of bars and off-licences. I’m supporting the proposed policy, and you can take part in the consultation yourself here.

Another ongoing consultation is on the council’s proposed changes to council tax benefit. The Government is requiring councils to replace the existing council tax benefit scheme with new local schemes by 31 January 2013, to take effect from 1 April 2013. We are using powers to increase the council tax charged on empty properties and second homes, but this will not offset all of the reduction in funding. Our proposals reduce the amount of council tax support we pay to working-age households in the city. You can see the proposals and give feedback here, or in person at one of the library drop-in sessions taking place across Manchester. The Fallowfield Library sessions are on the 20th August and the 10th September, between 3pm and 7.30pm.

2. Start young! Too young to pay council tax or get annoyed at off-licences? This autumn, Manchester City Council is setting up four youth panels across the city, and if you’re 13-18 you can take part. The panels will enable young people to have a say in what happens in their local area, to highlight things that are important to them, and to work with key decision makers so that young people’s views are taken into account.

If you think you might be interested – or know someone who is –  there are meetings next week where young people can find out more:

Tuesday 14 August 3:00 pm at the Factory Youth Zone,  Rochdale Road, Harpurhey, Manchester, M9 8AE
Wednesday 15 August 3:00 pm at the National Cycling Centre, Stuart Street, Manchester M11 4DQ
Thursday 16 August 3:00 pm at the Powerhouse, 140 Raby Street, Moss Side Manchester,  M14 4SL.

Places at next week’s events are limited so young people who wish to attend should email myvoice@manchester.gov.uk  to check availability.  You can also find out more on Facebook.

3. Go online. The consultations I linked to above are just some examples of what Manchester City Council is putting online. Put your postcode in the ‘My Area’ box on the bottom right of the council website for all kinds of local opportunities and information – including your bin collection dates!

4. Protect and serve! Home Watch or Neighbourhood Watch schemes are one of the best examples of how the police and community can work together to prevent crime. It involves a group of residents getting together to make their neighbourhoods a better and safer place to live. Contact your Neighbourhood Policing Team to find out if there is a Home Watch scheme in your area – if not, why not talk to your members about setting one up?

Meanwhile, Community Guardians are a growing number of volunteers throughout the city who are succeeding in making their neighbourhood a better place to live, by working with Manchester City Council to ensure that any environmental problems or defects in the area are dealt with promptly. The council will provide you with an information pack which will include freephone numbers to report environmental issues so it won’t cost you anything, just a little of your time. If you’re interested in becoming a Community Guardian please contact the Community Guardian Team on 0800 083 7924 or e-mail communityguardians@manchester.gov.uk.

5. Home Improvement – for you and your neighbours. Like many housing associations, City South Manchester (which owns most of the social housing in Fallowfield) offers a variety of ways for its tenants to get involved in their decisions and services. Some are very informal and won’t take up much of your time, such as responding to surveys; others are more structured and will require training and more of a commitment, such as joining a scrutiny panel. You can also take part in a walkabout with CSM’s staff to point out any problems in your area. Have a look at their website for more information.

6. Have a day in the park. ‘Friends of…’ park groups are a great way to look after your local area, and the Friends of Platt Fields is believed to be one of the older ‘Friends of a Park’ groups in the country. Established by local people in 1994, initially as a response to the proposed closure of the very popular ‘Pets Corner’ in the park, the group now exists to promote Platt Fields Park, encourage improvements to its physical environment and stimulate greater use of the Park by local people as a place for activities, events, recreation and leisure. If you would like to become a member of the Friends of Platt Fields Park please contact Anne Tucker, the Secretary, on 0161 613 3138 or 07740 428629, or use the contact page of their website.

Review: Young, Bright and on the Right

Reading over the notes I made during Young, Bright and on the Right last night on BBC2, three points stand out, because I wrote them in capitals. One is MY GOD THEY LOOK YOUNG, the second is WHY IS HE STILL TALKING ABOUT CHEESE?, and the third is WHY ARE STUDENT JOURNALISTS ALWAYS BETTER-LOOKING THAN STUDENT POLITICIANS? The first two comprise a reasonable summary. YBAOTR was a show about two very, very young people spending a lot of time talking about things of a similar level of importance to cheese. As for the third point, ’twas ever thus.

If you didn’t watch YBAOTR – and I’d recommend you iPlayer it – it featured two members of student Conservative Associations. A ginger one, who looked a bit like Eric Morecambe (except ginger, obviously) and went to Oxford, and a blond one who went to Cambridge. Twitter was divided on who the blond one looked like, between the people who thought he might be Boris Johnson’s love-child, those who thought Draco Malfoy might really walk among us, and people who know who Mike Joslin is.

The blond one’s parents were clearly a little bemused by him – even his dad, who had such an inexplicable moustache he has no right to be bemused by anyone – while the ginger one’s mother, sister and grandfather were all so visibly, burstingly proud that their offspring had made it to Oxford that you couldn’t help but warm to them.

In many ways this show wasn’t about young Tories so much as it was about all of student politics, which are “vicious precisely because the stakes are so small”, in the words of the Kissinger quote Gemma Tumelty tweeted last night. (And let’s face it, if anyone should know it’s Gemma.) In parts, this was a sombrely-narrated documentary about the intrigue and conspiracies of a student political society. I know both Labour and Tory members for whom that would once have been the ultimate dream. When you’re nineteen, nothing that will ever happen to you in your life seems more important than whatever is happening right now.

You certainly wouldn’t know what else was happening in the world of politics from watching this show. Although it was repeatedly stated that the two of them had right-wing views, little of these were in evidence. The ginger one proudly trotted out the line that Conservatism is all about people like him, able to achieve anything despite their background – which is why you should vote Conservative if you want to improve the life chances of precisely one person from each Northern town – and the blond one didn’t much like tax or the EU. Otherwise, they were concerned solely with improving their own standing in their respective Conservative Associations: the ginger one through subterfuge and plotting things over afternoon tea, and the blond one by buying cheese. This was the most depressing part, and I don’t know whether it’s a symptom of Conservatism or just careerism. At that age you should be living life with the sound turned up – getting angry, feeling passionate, taking an interest! But these kids, it seems, really did go into politics to change the minutes of the last meeting.

The response on Twitter has been interesting. Tories were at pains to point out that these two aren’t representative of all young Conservatives, which is good or bad news depending on which other young Conservatives you’re looking at. Unhappy with how things were going for him in the Oxford University Conservative Association, the ginger one ‘exposed’ the rest of them as port-swilling racists. In Cambridge, however, when a few CUCA members tentatively suggested that it might be a tad more welcoming to hold events that weren’t in white tie, they had to stand back to avoid the windmilling arms of the blond one as he insisted on the right of societies like CUCA to exclude all the other people like him.

Both Torylets have obviously spent a short lifetime struggling to fit in. The ginger one didn’t speak until the age of five and had such severe dyslexia when he was younger that he initially found it difficult to participate at school; the blond one’s problems relating to people are evidenced by his mother’s gentle prodding, obviously not for the first time, to “make eye contact!” You can’t help wondering whether their decisions to identify with the Conservative Party at a young age, and not only to go to posh universities but to deliberately seek out the poshest fellow students to show up their own lack of poshness, are an attempt to explain away the differences between themselves and those around them. When people are always going to think you’re a bit odd – because you are, in fact a bit odd – it must be comforting to tell yourself that people just think you’re a bit odd, because you’re working-class, or a Tory.

I couldn’t help feel sorry for the blond one when it became clear that he’d been picked on a bit at school, and that – touchingly – he thought this wouldn’t have happened if he’d been able to go to public school instead.

The ginger one, on the other hand, started blubbing about how difficult it is to be an OUCA member as the son of a single parent – at the exact same moment he got into trouble with the then OUCA president for some earlier bad behaviour. And then he went to the paper and created a minor scandal that hit the national news. It’s possible that he’s a political genius. I shall be keeping a watchful eye out for him in a future shadow cabinet. One wonders if he’ll have picked up any actual views by then.

This post originally appeared on LabourList on Friday.

Rusholme & Fallowfield Civic Society

RFCS exist to stimulate public interest in and care for the beauty, history and character of Rusholme and Fallowfield and their surroundings. They’ve been around since 1968 and they’re after new members. Membership costs just £3 a year and the Society says that if you’re a member you will:

– be in contact with other neighbours and fellow residents who want Rusholme and Fallowfield to be neighbourhoods of choice
– be able to discuss local issues with like-minded people and agree plans of action that will solve local problems
– access and receive up-to-date information about civic issues in general, and those particularly relevant to Rusholme and
Fallowfield residents
– be invited to meetings, exhibitions and lectures about Rusholme and Fallowfield topics
– be invited to participate in a programme of social events including trips to places of interest, both local and further afield in the North West.

Interested? Contact the Society’s Vice Chair, Sue Devlin, on sue@suedevlin.co.uk.