Letter: Rochdale Council dehumanising and divisive

Date published: 27 December 2017

Dear Editor,

One can only marvel at the ill-considered timing of Rochdale Council Cabinet voting through their highly controversial PSPO order only a few days before Christmas Day.

Clearly, they have a very loose understanding of the notion of 'the season of goodwill to all men' - and women.

Those public officials might well want to take some time for personal reflection and to examine their consciences.

This is a highly questionable ' sledge hammer' to crack a nut since the last Rochdale rough sleeper count a few weeks ago identified seventeen street sleepers.

Seventeen seems to be a relatively small collection of individuals to re-home especially, since we often hear our councillors extolling the virtues of Rochdale's Adult Social Care System - one can not help but wonder why this seemingly intractable problem has not yet been cracked.

Christmas Day also seems like a highly appropriate time to remind those councillors who voted to introduce fines for begging of Proverbs 21:13 'Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered'.

Councillor Blundell seems intent of declaring war on the poor, the vulnerable and the destitute.

The very same social victims of a seven-year conservative government austerity programme that his own party and party leader is pledged to opposing in parliament.

It seems to me that perhaps Councillor Blundell (along with his Cabinet colleagues) has somewhat lost touch with his humanity and compassion.

I would like to take this opportunity to personally ask him to join me on the streets of Rochdale to spend a night meeting some of the people he seeks to demonise and hear their stories in the hope that he will get a much-needed insight into the very real suffering and hardship street beggars and rough sleepers go through on a daily basis.

Councillor Blundell suggested that fining 'aggressive beggars 'is 'the only solution' to what he describes as 'organised begging'.

There are many people in Rochdale who are far more excised about councillors awarding themselves a 34% - 51% allowances pay-rise than they are about a handful of regular street beggars in Rochdale.

Duringh what Councillor Blundell describes as 'peak begging season' Greater Manchester Housing Action Group, responding directly to his article, point out that: 'This terminology, as well as being dehumanising and divisive, is ultimately a distraction.

'People are on the streets asking for money not out of some aggressive plot to prey on kindness, but simply to survive in a system that has failed them. Using language in this way obscures these wider systemic issues and feeds into the 'othering ' of homeless people, encouraging indifference and fear.

'Central to Blundell’s call for fines is the idea that homeless people are being driven to ask for change by a profit incentive. This is a distortion of the reality of the situation. By seeing the street homeless population as individuals seeking economic opportunity, he is wilfully ignoring the structural forces that have led to an explosion of street homelessness.'

No, Councillor Blundell – the solution to begging is not fines, it is  fixing our broken housing system.'

I look forward immensely to hearing from Councillor Blundell as to when he can find a window of opportunity to spend a night out with us on the cobbles to meet some of the less fortunate Rochdale citizens.

I would ask the councillor, and any of his cabinet colleagues who care to join him, to be mindful of the fact that the number of street homeless has increased by 134% since the Conservatives came to power.

This is largely down to cuts to housing benefit and the increasing conditionality of welfare benefits, actions which have driven people into destitution.

Once on the street, people have been unable to find help, again due to recent cuts to services, leading to a further entrenchment of health issues and support needs.

80% of homeless people have received no help from social services after being moved on by the council, while mental health services have seen cuts of £538 million per year since 2010.

Some of these cuts to vital frontline services have been implemented by Rochdale Council locally in direct opposition to the numerous warnings of housing, homelessness, mental health professionals and campaigners.

For Rochdale Council to then turn around and seek to publicly 'wash their hands' of all blame and culpability for the direct consequences, of which increased rough sleeping and street begging is but one outcome, of their own decisions to implement central government's ideological driven cuts to local services will strike many people as the pinnacle of political hypocrisy.


Andrew Wastling

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