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Editorial: Rising homelessness is the Tories' fault – not a ‘lifestyle choice’

SUELLA BRAVERMAN’S attack on the homeless plumbs new depths from a minister already known for kicking downwards.

It combines a xenophobic jibe at foreigners with brazen victim-blaming, ludicrously terming rough sleeping a “lifestyle choice” when the rise in homelessness is demonstrably the fault of the Conservative government.

The Home Secretary knows that the homelessness crisis cannot be swept under the carpet. 

Rough sleeping has risen by 74 per cent since 2010, according to the government’s own figures. The rapid provision of safe accommodation to thousands of homeless people during the pandemic showed rough sleeping can be ended almost overnight where there is the political will: but as soon as the lockdowns passed the will disappeared, and a 26 per cent rise in rough sleeping last year alone points to the devastating impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Homeless Link CEO Rick Henderson pointed to the causes at the start of the year: “A shortage of affordable housing, an often punitive welfare system and increasingly stretched health services.”

The results are visible everywhere. It is now rare to take a journey in one of our larger cities without encountering beggars. This is an indictment of 13 years of Tory rule. 

It’s an electoral liability for the government — and one likely to get worse. The Tories’ 2019 pledge to end rough sleeping within a parliament lies in tatters, the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness & Rough Sleeping has warned, pointing additionally to the way Braverman’s own Illegal Migration Act risks making an additional 200,000 asylum-seekers homeless. 

Nor when she has a dig at the “many [homeless] from abroad” should we forget the broken promises made to Afghan refugees after the Taliban swept to power in 2021, with over 1,000 Afghans at risk of being made homeless next month because of a December 15 deadline for councils to eject them from hotel accommodation — a deadline imposed by Braverman’s own Home Office.

Home repossessions are rising, as the Bank of England’s repeated interest rate rises force up the cost of housing and soaring energy and grocery bills see more and more fall behind with the mortgage or the rent. The Tory Party — whose parliamentary wing is riddled with buy-to-let landlords — has delayed the proposed ban on no-fault evictions, leaving tenants in the huge private rented sector at increased risk of finding themselves suddenly without a home.

The human cost of homelessness is appalling. Those suffering its most extreme form, rough sleeping, are more likely to be victims of crime and a staggering 17 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public. Some “lifestyle choice” — yet Braverman’s language is designed to increase the likelihood of such attacks, just as hate crimes against the disabled have risen steadily through 13 years of Tory rhetoric about benefit scroungers. 

Most homeless people do not sleep on the streets, being placed in temporary accommodation at local authority expense.

Councils whose budgets have been slashed by this same Tory government are forced to pay through the nose, as the Communist Party’s Lorraine Douglas pointed out at the party’s congress today, to house them in hotels or private rented accommodation due to the drastic shortage of social housing.

Any resulting squeeze on local services should be blamed squarely on the Tories, not the luckless users of these inadequate lodgings.

We have already seen how the far right — aided and abetted by more than one Conservative MP — seek to whip up resentment against refugees placed in such accommodation. 

Braverman’s bid to ban provision of tents to the homeless is an invitation to racist thugs to assault and abuse, and to the police to harass and intimidate people with nowhere to go. It is a disgusting policy from a government with no plans to address the homelessness crisis — a government we should work to remove from office at the earliest opportunity.


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