Political power has the ability to damage or delight.
We all need to vent in some way. This is mine...
8 November 2023
UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, seeks to fine homeless people and charities for their tents.
It is very easy to blame the poor for their poverty. This week, Britain’s Home Secretary, Suella Braverman wrote proudly on Twitter/X that she wants to create a new civil offence to allow the authorities to fine charities who give out tents to the homeless, and fine the homeless themselves if their tent is in an inconvenient spot and deemed to be a public nuisance. Her argument was that people who sleep rough choose to do so and so it is right to remove their tents from them.
“We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice” @SuellaBraverman 4 November 2023.
When I read it, my stomach turned. The “undeserving poor” is a Victorian notion which has served certain politicians very well over the years and given them an easier life. Blaming the poor for their situation gives politicians an opt-out clause for laziness in public office.
Eliminating poverty in Britain is a far harder task and yet, if we are honest, it is the only way of achieving the society we want, with lower waiting times on the NHS, lower crime rates, better mental health and a thriving economy. Even climate change cannot be fully dealt with unless inequality is reduced.
For Suella Braverman and all the other Conservative MPs who voted against and abstained from the free school meals vote during the pandemic, the idea of eliminating poverty in Britain is not on their radar. Fears around the general election in the next 18 months are skewing the need for well planned and properly considered policies which can actually help our homeless population.
There are many reasons why there are 1.4 million people on the social housing waiting list and high levels of street homelessness. Successive governments haven't built enough homes and housing hasn't been a priority. In the past 15 years, Britain has had 13 housing ministers, seven of whom in the last four years. The churn of housing ministers increases uncertainty and prevents plans from reaching maturity.
The removal of housing benefit for under-25s during David Cameron's tenure also pushed many young people into poverty and the ripple effects of austerity continue to be felt. In reality, austerity never ended.
If the Home Secretary really wants to deal with poverty, she would begin with a plan on how to end it in five years, without raising taxes. Governments in Britain are not elected on the basis of raising taxes and there is no guarantee of re-election, so accepting these parameters is fundamental.
It would be an immense task, but with compassion, focus and a detailed plan which works in conjunction with the green agenda, it could be achieved. At the very least, we should try. If poverty levels were halved in five years, that would still mean taking seven million people out of poverty. It would still be worth doing, but without aiming for 100% those levels would never be reached. It needs an all-or-nothing approach.
There is money in the pot to pay for it, if you know where to look. Excessive government waste through poor decision-making and accounting could save millions, and creating a new social gilt fund could raise billions of pounds ring-fenced for social good.
Eliminating poverty in Britain is not a utopian fantasy. We would just be creating a society which is fit for every person who lives in it. If Suella Braverman really wants to help the homeless, she would be thinking holistically and planning properly, rather than pushing the divide and rule agenda.
It is a weak way of behaving for someone in such a position of authority and power. Thankfully, it did not go unchallenged. The National Housing Federation, Crisis, Centrepoint and a raft of other front line organisations wrote an open letter against her plans. It is blindingly obvious that it is a terrible idea and concerning that she thought it was a good idea at all. We need strong politicians who understand the society they are running. Sadly when it comes to our Home Secretary, we will be waiting a while. Her attitude is not just a mistake, it signals someone who has no comprehension or compassion for reality.