A Tory councillor in Bradford told a planning meeting that “tramps and drunks” in the city centre should be “grabbed by the scruff of the neck” and moved on. This is the latest expression of hatred towards homeless people by members of the Conservative Party.
Councillor David Heseltine was speaking at a presentation of plans to regenerate the city of Bradford. He claimed that he’d spoken to people who refused to enter the city centre due to the number of rough sleepers.
On the rise
That these people are vulnerable and in need of help is, presumably, irrelevant. Government statistics released in September 2016 show that homelessness in England is at its highest level for nearly ten years. Meanwhile, figures published earlier this year show that the number of people in England sleeping rough on any one night has doubled since 2010, and risen by nearly a third in just the last year.
As winter fast approaches, these people face the reality that homelessness could prove fatal for them.
This is something that even Conservative MPs have started to realise. Bob Blackman put forward a private members’ bill for debate on 28 October to reduce homelessness. Blackman has proposed changing the approach of services from reaction to prevention, saying:
For too long we in this place have forced local authorities to ration their help to homeless people in their communities.
It would seem that Blackman’s message has failed to spread throughout his party.
Earlier this year, the Conservative-led Worthing Council announced plans to ban rough sleeping and begging, and to issue a £50 fixed penalty notice to those who break it. If they don’t pay, they could be issued with a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal conviction.
In October, meanwhile, another Conservative council, Rushcliffe Borough in Nottinghamshire, also began threatening rough sleepers with fines. The council said rough sleepers in an affluent suburb of Nottingham, West Bridgford, had been “causing a nuisance”.
As a result, they could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £100. Failure to pay could lead to prosecution and a maximum fine of £1000.
Even the Labour-led Nottingham City Council joined in, running a billboard campaign earlier this year urging people to “#givesmart”. Giving money to beggars, it claimed, meant watching your money “go up in smoke”, “go down the drain” or “go to fraud”.
The criminalisation of homelessness has been pushed through with the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs). Introduced by the coalition government in 2014 to allow councils to ban certain activities in local areas, a number of councils have tried to include rough sleeping and begging in their terms.
Hackney Council, Newport City Council, and Cheshire West and Chester Council have all since dropped rough sleeping from their PSPOs following a backlash. Whether Rushcliffe Borough Council will follow suit remains to be seen.
Taking from those with nothing
The concept of fining people for sleeping rough when the reason they’re sleeping rough is that they don’t have a house, and thus presumably money, seems particularly cruel.
Human rights organisation Liberty has opposed PSPOs from the get-go. Rosie Brighouse, its legal officer, said:
A cruel trend has developed of councils using these powers against the most vulnerable in society.
Sleeping rough is not ‘anti-social behaviour’, and criminalising homelessness does nothing to address its underlying causes.
This is something that Bob Blackman should bear in mind while arguing for his homelessness reduction bill. While improving support given to those who are homeless is undoubtedly the right course of action, without increased funding for council services it can go nowhere. According to homeless charity Shelter, cuts to councils fall disproportionately on homeless services.
– Support Crisis in helping homeless people this winter and beyond.
– Read more of The Canary’s coverage of homelessness.
Featured image via Matthew Woitunski