Spent half-an-hour wandering around the Christmas markets this morning, already really busy and with tills ringing. It was a reminder that notwithstanding recession and austerity most of us will be pretty comfortable over the festive season. However, earlier in the week I had stark reminders that not everyone is so lucky and that for thousands of people Christmas will not be very merry at all.
The Council Executive met on Wednesday with a very full agenda (download Wed 18 December Executive meeting files). One of the reports dealt with how we can provide support to people in most need in the city looking in particular at food and fuel poverty. It is a savage indictment of twenty first century Britain, still a relatively wealthy country, that poverty is on the increase, and food banks are now a growth "industry". Sadly, for far too many people Christmas will be cold and hungry.
Immediately after the Executive, the Executive Members Group (Growth) Group met. The economic dashboard which we review monthly was certainly brighter than a year ago so it wasn't all doom and gloom but we also had a paper on the economic impact of welfare "reform" and that was truly depressing. Now I know that according to the opinion polls cuts in welfare spending are very popular, but I do believe that is at least in part because of wide misrepresentation of welfare expenditure in the media. The biggest recipients of welfare spend by far are pensioners, people who've earned it over a lifetime, and out of work benefits only take a small proportion of the overall spend. Fraud isn't rife and their aren't thousands of benefits claimants living in luxury at the tax payers expense.
The paper showed that the biggest increase in poverty in Manchester is for working families - so much for making work pay. As for getting people into work, the Work Programme's success rate in Manchester with people on Incapacity Benefit is hovering around zero, and for those on ESA it's little better at around 2.5%. A rapidly increasing number of tenants are racking up rent arrears and in the private rented sector this is translating into increased numbers of repossessions. Being popular doesn't make it right, and being cold, hungry and homeless isn't right.