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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > April 2019 > A TALE OF TWO CITIES


Manchester has a housing boom and a homelessness crisis at the same time—and it has George Osborne to thank for both
a person sleeping on the pavement under Piccadilly Station in Manchester
”Forest of apartment blocks”: nearly 80 cranes can be seen on Manchester’s skyline constructing flats for young professionals

It is the great Manchester paradox. In the past few years, the self-styled capital of the north has become renowned for its residential boom— cranes, concrete and steel fusing in the air at a breathtaking pace; thousands of new flats crowding into the Victorian gridlines of its city centre. But it has also become notorious for a serious homelessness problem. At street level, the piles of sleeping bags come into sight the moment you emerge from the city’s Piccadilly or Victoria stations. New figures released this month revealed that 21 homeless people died in the city in 2011—that’s more than in any other local authority area in England and Wales. You hear this mismatch remarked on every time a party conference is held in the city, every time Londoners relocate north for a few days, and on the tram as you enter town from any direction.

This isn’t, of course, the only city where you can find affluence and squalor side by side. Despite the absence of recession and employment that is plentiful by the standards of recent history, homelessness has been rocketing nationwide. But the contrast in Manchester is singular. It is here we can most starkly see the twin faces of the legacy of nearby Tatton’s ex-MP, the former chancellor George Osborne. A champion of austerity, he was also reported as telling the cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up.” In Manchester, at least, we have got that boom. The gentrification it spurred has doubtless improved the lives of many aspiring people—and yet, as you look down from the new skyscrapers to the streets below, it is hard not to wonder whether it came at the expense of others.

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In Prospect’s April issue: Mark Damazer, the former controller of BBC Radio 4, tells the inside story of how the BBC has tried—and sometimes failed—to cover the political crisis that overshadows everything else. Elsewhere in the issue: Playwright and screenwriter James Graham profiles John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, as he takes centre-stage in the unfolding Brexit drama and Tom Clark examines the Independent Group and argues that they could well shake up the established political tribes. Also, Jennifer Williams highlights the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in Manchester—a city that is simultaneously experiencing a housing boom and a homelessness crisis.