Another Tory coronavirus U-turn that’s utterly despicable

Boris Johnson
Steve Topple

The Conservative government has backtracked on a major pledge to alleviate the worst effects of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic for those at high risk. It denied it’s done a U-turn, saying this is “simply wrong”. But the devil is in the detail, and moreover the government now appears to be “gaslighting” the journalist that broke the story.

“Everyone in”?

In March, the government said it was giving £3.2m to councils to get every rough sleeper off the streets. BBC News reported that its homelessness “tsar” Louise Casey said:

As you know, this is a public health emergency…

We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.

Many areas of the country have already been able to ’safe harbour’ their people which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.

At first, it appeared to work. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told Manchester Evening News (MEN):

The latest figures show more than 90% of rough sleepers known to councils at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation

But MEN also reported that the Tories have now effectively scrapped the scheme.

“Scrapped”

MEN claimed that:

Civil servants have told Greater Manchester officials that the scheme – known as ‘Everyone In’ – is no longer being funded by central government and that March’s original Covid guidance to local authorities has been scrapped.

It also said:

a leaked report to the region’s combined authority reveals the… [MHCLG] has now ‘drawn a line’ under its programme and has told councils it will no longer be funded, although no ministerial statement has been made to that effect.

But…! But…!

The government has denied this is the case. A MHCLG spokesperson told BBC News:

It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest that we have stopped funding to keep rough sleepers off the street.

We gave councils an initial payment of £3.2m at the start of the pandemic so they could take immediate action and help rough sleepers off the street.

You can read the full MHCLG statement here. But crucially, the spokesperson said:

We have since given councils a further £3.2bn to deal with the immediate pressures they are facing, including supporting rough sleepers.

Here’s where the devil is in the detail. Because while it’s correct that the government has given £3.2bn to councils, the reality on the ground is not as clear cut.

“Taking money from the areas that need it most”

The government’s funding of councils has been controversial. As The Canary previously reported, Liverpool city council claimed it was facing bankruptcy due to the additional costs of the pandemic. The Canary’s calculations showed that the Tories’ so-called ‘fair’ allocations to councils were anything but that. For example, it gave Liverpool city council £68.70 per head of the population to help with the costs of the pandemic. This with a council that is the fourth most deprived local authority in 2015. As Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson put it:

Liverpool is a city with some of the worst levels of deprivation in the country, it is an absolutely crazy situation that instead of getting more government support, we are getting less.

They are literally taking the money from the areas that need it most.

But moreover, it’s questionable if the £3.2m scheme ever worked in the first place. Because the MHCLG claim that “90% of rough sleepers known to councils” had been put into “safe accommodation” is based on official rough sleeper figures.

Meanwhile, the extra £3.2bn allocated to councils is not ringfenced. So councils already facing bankruptcy and huge additional costs due to coronavirus are having to choose which areas to prioritise funding.

Dodgy stats?

BBC News noted the boss of the charity Crisis saying that:

There is still a deadly virus out there and, while it’s to be commended that over 5,400 people have been given safe temporary accommodation, the job simply isn’t finished.

But the 5,400 figure is based on official government stats. The true number of people who sleep rough every year may be nearer to 25,000. So it’s debatable whether the £3.2m of initial government funding actually helped all those it claimed it did.

Predictable

When the Tories announced they wanted to make sure every rough sleeper was “inside and safe“, The Canary wrote at the time:

The plan, while in some respects sensible, does little more than whitewash their record on the homelessness crisis that’s gripped the UK for over a decade. And after the pandemic is over, it’s more than likely it will be business as usual again.

The neck-breaking, “business as usual” U-turn has now come to pass. But the MHCLG is still desperately trying to spin the MEN story as “inaccurate”, even taking to Twitter to call out Jennifer Williams, the journalist who broke the story:

Williams defended the story, publishing an extract from the leaked document:

The coming days will see if the government has abandoned rough sleepers or not. But either way, this chaos from the Tories was sadly predictable.

Featured image via the Telegraph – YouTube

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