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“Nothing about us without us”: Towards a transformative vision of co-production in the homelessness sector.

Allmark, N (2020) “Nothing about us without us”: Towards a transformative vision of co-production in the homelessness sector. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

In 2017, there were almost 160,000 households experiencing acute forms of homelessness in the United Kingdom (UK) (Bramley, 2017). This figure had risen by 33% since 2011 and is projected to have doubled by the year 2042 if trends continue along this same trajectory. This sharp rise in homelessness over recent years has been driven by a mixture of austere spending policies and welfare reforms imposed by national government since 2010. In the run-up to the UK general election in 2015, a series of protests took place across the country calling for an end to austerity and the punitive welfare reforms imposed by the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition government. Locally in Manchester, protesters cited homelessness as a key policy issue during a five-month public space occupation. The protest site was regularly moved due to legal action taken by both Manchester City Council (MCC) and latterly Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Under increasing pressure to respond to the concerns of the protesters, MCC formed the Manchester Homelessness Partnership (MHP) and Charter. Through this partnership, an opportunity for change emerged as future homelessness related services would be created in ‘co-production’ with people who had faced homelessness themselves. 4 Co-production in the Public Sector has the potential to reduce economic inequality by redesigning public services around the interests of marginalised groups. However, in practice, co-production remains an elusive concept. There is still much to be learned about how public organisations create equitable relationships with the community groups. As the author of this thesis – and a former public sector worker – I came to this project with the desire to bring public services and communities closer together. Using a community psychology framework, I draw on a range of participatory and ethnographic approaches undertaken during 18 months of fieldwork to examine how organisational representatives and people with experience of homelessness worked together in the MHP. This research reveals the foundational stages of a long-term journey towards community governance through the MHP and explores the extent to which co-production in this setting is an emergent form of democratic organisation. Three different sites of MHP co-production practice are shared as ethnographic cases in this thesis. By presenting these cases in the authentic, sequential order of investigation, this research casts light on the hidden politics of co-production and power in the MHP. The first case is an arts project between an art institution and small MHP arts group. Under the collective name The Listening Projectors, they articulated a utopian vision of co-production as a route to social cohesion. However, even their own working practices fell short of the democratic ideals that they promulgated. In the second case, the Unsupported Temporary Accommodation (UTA) Action Group is presented as 5 an example of organic co-production between multi-agency representatives, private landlords and temporary shelter residents. This introduces the challenges of using co-production in the homelessness sector, where policy and practice are dictated by national government. Third, the Resettlement Group is presented as an alternative approach to commissioning in the homelessness sector. This ethnographic case critically examines the extent to which radical change, based on the ideas of unhoused co-producers can be implemented within the broader political economy. The MHP aspired to redesign the homelessness sector around the expertise of unhoused co-producers. However, this research considers that intermediary progress has been achieved in embedding informal examples of small-scale change through co-production in the MHP. A mixture of institutional resistance and tight time scales have stymied community engagement and promoted restrictions on spaces of participation. The insights of unhoused co-producers in this study directly challenge the institutional culture of the city government that conceptualises homelessness in individualised terms. In addition to offering a critical examination of MHP practice, this research theorises a transformative vision of co-production for the future. The utopian vision of co-production - based on the marginalised voices within the MHP - reconceptualises homelessness as housing exclusion. Policies intended to address homelessness in Manchester should focus directly on prioritising social housing as the central tenet of the social welfare contract in the UK. A vision of social equality in Manchester may only be achieved through 6 a long-form deliberative process led by people with lived experience of marginalisation, oppression and structural violence in traditionally exclusive spaces of power in the city.

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