Despite the vindictiveness continually meted out by this government to migrants, poor people, sick people, people on benefits (the list is endless), if someone hadn’t told me about Suella Braverman’s latest wheeze, I wouldn’t have believed it. The Financial Times (£) says that Braverman “seeks to curb rough sleepers by restricting use of tents on the streets”.
Please think about that for a moment.
The Guardian carries the same story and quotes the FT’s statement that charities could be fined for giving tents to homeless people. The plans are said to have been put forward for consideration as part of a new criminal justice bill to be outlined in the King’s speech. ‘Justifying’ the proposals to the FT, the Home Office is reported to have claimed – with its usual twisted logic – that it wants “to ensure communities feel safe and secure”. So if their tents are taken away, presumably there will be some alternative ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation offered to rough sleepers, so that they don’t need to go on cluttering up the shop doorways and making communities feel insecure?
I’m joking, of course.
Just today I received an appeal leaflet from ShelterBox; the headline is “A tent keeps a family together”. For many people around the world, a tent – associated in prosperous Western minds with holidays, festivals, fun – offers so much more than just protection from the elements. It represents property, a defined space of one’s own, somewhere to keep an eye on the children and one’s meagre belongings, a degree more safety perhaps. It offers privacy and a level of dignity which, if you are absolutely on your uppers in whichever country, must be hard to find otherwise.
Against the background of the terrible events in the Middle East, here in the UK we are approaching Remembrance Sunday, and Braverman – keen to garner the votes of GB News viewers and the like – has apparently expressed concern that Remembrance events might be disrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrations. It’s ironic, then, that if her initiative becomes law, it will almost certainly condemn many ex-service personnel to having to continue to sleep rough without even a tent to keep the rain off. Despite Johnny Mercer’s assertion in parliament in March 2023 that ‘Operation Fortitude’ would end veteran homelessness by the end of the year, many former service personnel are still thought to be sleeping rough; but reliable figures are hard to come by. If, for example, you don’t have a home, you don’t appear in the census.
Rough sleeping must be awful, probably far beyond the imagination of most of us, although Braverman seems to think people don’t have to end up on the streets: she says it’s a “lifestyle choice”. The legacy of George Osborne’s austerity drive has been compounded by the meanness of successive Conservative governments (not to mention the waste and corruption over which they’ve presided); social housing is in appallingly short supply and now that the cost of living crisis is also upon us, rents are clearly rising beyond what many people can scrape together. The country is sliding further into Dickensian levels of poverty. And that will lead, inexorably, to more people losing their homes and ending up on the streets.
It’s not a lifestyle choice when your government makes it for you.