The UK is currently grappling with a mounting homelessness crisis, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s response to the issue has raised concerns about insensitivity and a lack of compassion. On Saturday 4 November 2023, Braverman sent out a tweet which called for restrictions on the use of tents by homeless individuals in UK towns and cities, dismissing their plight as a “lifestyle choice.” The conservative politician’s remarks have ignited a firestorm of criticism, with many accusing her of dehumanising the homeless and utilising them as societal scapegoats.
It’s a fact that the homelessness crisis in the UK has reached unprecedented levels, forcing families to depend on food banks to survive. Back in February of this year, The Guardian reported that almost 90 per cent of food banks had seen a dramatic increase in demand, with some having to even turn people away. With a dire shortage of affordable housing and inadequate support services, more people are ending up on the streets, exposing them to harsh weather conditions and immense vulnerability.
Braverman’s proposal to restrict the use of tents by homeless individuals has, predictably, attracted widespread condemnation from critics who can’t help but be impressed by the sheer audacity. You’d think that a government which claims it has spent £2 billion in funding over three years to tackle homelessness and has vowed to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act (a nearly 200 years old act that once made it a crime to beg or sleep rough) would not let Braverman make such despicable statements but instead, aim to address the issue. But oh well, who needs effective solutions when you can just make tents disappear, right? Out of sight, out of mind, as the popular saying goes.
There is an increasing fear that major UK cities, particularly metropolitan hubs like London, are perilously close to resembling cities in the United States, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco,— where sprawling tent encampments serve as stark symbols of governmental neglect. The homelessness crisis is not solely attributable to housing shortages but is also exacerbated by the skyrocketing cost of living, making it nearly impossible for many families to secure stable accommodation.
So, yes, homelessness, my dear Cruella, is not a choice. In actuality, it is a stark and harrowing reality for thousands of individuals and families who find themselves without shelter, struggling against the odds to survive.
James Cox, representing the Public and Commercial Services Union, pointed out: “The government’s proposal seems to have a political agenda aiming to dehumanise people and create a scapegoat in society.”
Official statistics suggest that just over 3,069 people in England were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single Autumn night in 2022. However, these numbers are not mere statistics, they represent real people grappling with the harsh realities of life on the streets. Despite the government’s supposed commitment to ending rough sleeping by 2024, the uphill battle to combat homelessness continues as the numbers persist and continue to rise.
This crisis cannot be reduced to a phrase as demeaning as “lifestyle choice.” It is a reflection of systemic failures that demand concerted efforts from all sectors of society. As winter descends and the temperatures plummet, the plight of the homeless becomes increasingly dire, underscoring the urgency of addressing the crisis with empathy, effective policies, and a commitment to safeguarding the most vulnerable.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael deemed Braverman’s statements as a “new low,” while the entire Liberal Democrat party labelled the comments as “grim politics” from an administration that knows “its days are numbered.”
SCREENSHOT spoke to Highway House, a homeless shelter in London, to gauge their perspective on the potential impact of Braverman’s proposal to restrict the use of tents by homeless individuals.
A representative from the shelter emphasised the need for alternative solutions, expressing concerns about removing tents without providing adequate accommodations. “If she’s restricting tents, then the government will need to find other solutions to give a place to stay for the homeless. Homelessness, unfortunately, has been on the rise. We cannot say that it’s a ‘lifestyle choice.’ I work for a homeless centre, and I deal with homeless individuals every single day. I can guarantee you that the majority of the people in this situation are here without having a choice.”
Addressing mental health issues among the homeless is indeed a crucial aspect of tackling rough sleeping in response to Braverman’s stupid remark. Highway House’s representative went on to add: “It’s essential to recognise that many homeless individuals struggle with severe mental health conditions, which often contribute to their homelessness. Providing appropriate mental health support and services is a vital component of any strategy to combat homelessness effectively.”
The UK government’s approach seems to involve the criminalisation of charitable organisations that are making efforts to offer help and shelter. Rather than addressing the issue of rough sleeping, this policy leaves vulnerable individuals exposed to harsh weather conditions without any form of shelter. Braverman’s stance sharply contradicts the compassion and support necessary to tackle the country’s homelessness crisis, revealing a significant lack of empathy for those facing desperate circumstances.