On Monday, November 13, Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary following a long line of controversial statements. One such statement was a comment about the pro-Palestine marches in London, which she labelled as ‘hate marches.’ In defiance of No.10, Braverman released an article where she accused the Metropolitan Police of bias with regard to the policing of protests which incited far-right groups to stage counter-protests at the Cenotaph and further clash with the police. Her latest blunder, however, was to comment that homelessness could be a lifestyle choice and to try and apply pressure on charities to limit the dispensing of tents to homeless people on the grounds that they create a nuisance.

Cameron’s Unwelcome Return

Braverman’s departure has seen the shocking return of former Prime Minister David Cameron as foreign secretary, with James Cleverly filling the role of home secretary. Cameron’s return, however, summons bad memories. During his tenure, homelessness in fact rose by 37 per cent.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Suella Braverman had to go. Suggesting that homelessness could be a lifestyle choice was irresponsible. Pushing to fine charities for giving tents to the homeless was arguably a step too far. Her demonisation of certain groups of the British public had no place in government and she ended up causing more problems than she was solving.

The former home secretary’s language to describe an extremely vulnerable group in the country was nothing short of contemptible. She seemed to have ignored important factors that can contribute to someone becoming homeless. These include poverty, unemployment, mental health problems, lack of affordable housing, and living in an abusive household. Additionally, those who leave the care system, prison or the army are often forced into homelessness due to a lack of adequate support. All these things indicate that homelessness is very rarely a lifestyle choice and more properly a predicament that is forced upon a person who lacks the freedom to choose otherwise.

Careless Words

The following statements reveal the extent of Braverman’s ill-conceived words:

Bob Blackman MP, head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for ending homelessness, said Braverman was wrong to discuss a complex and serious issue in such terms and advised her to use ‘wiser’ language.

Homelessness charity, Shelter, said Braverman’s comments were a sign of failed government policy, adding: ‘No one should be punished for being homeless. Criminalising people for sleeping in tents, and making it an offence for charities to help them, is unacceptable.’

The Housing Crisis

In her post, Braverman does mention that there are ‘options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough.’ This however is a poor attempt to justify her short-sighted proposal. Homelessness has got worse with each year of Conservative rule, with a 74 per cent increase in rough sleeping since the Tories took power. This notably includes David Cameron’s tenure, where it was revealed in 2016 that homelessness had doubled in London under his premiership. Government cutbacks to housing benefits and the Conservatives’ poor record on the provision of affordable housing were cited as some of the key factors for the rise.

It has become apparent that government support has continued to be insufficient. The lack of affordable housing is debatably one of the main reasons for the rise in homelessness. For instance, the average price of a UK home has nearly tripled since the turn of the century with prices increasing by more than 60 per cent over the last decade Affordable housing is a formidable issue that the government has not adequately addressed. There are more than 1.2 million households on social housing waiting lists in England alone. At the same time, despite promises, the government has failed to build enough affordable new homes.

In fact, the government has actively reduced social housing. Wealthy property developers have been allowed to bypass social housing rules and further permeate the market with overpriced housing. In October 2022, a Guardian report revealed that the Hinduja brothers, the richest people in the UK, broke social housing rules in their Old War Office development project. Under social housing rules, the development of the property should have included 8,000 square metres of affordable housing (that’s 98 flats). Despite this, the Hinduja brothers did not build an inch of affordable housing. By all indicators, homelessness is clearly not a priority for the Conservatives and a Cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to change that pattern.

Youth Homelessness on the Rise

With youth homelessness rising, the government is also failing young people. Last year, the number of young people who sought help for homelessness was enough to fill the Albert Hall 25 times. As the youth become more vulnerable to homelessness, the support for them has steadily decreased. According to Action for Children, the main reasons for youth homelessness are family conflict, poverty, mental health challenges, and a lack of support for children in care. It is estimated that as many as 370 young people seek help every day.

The challenges young people face are not being adequately addressed by the government. The King’s recent Speech was a disappointment as it did not outline any plans to tackle child poverty, mental health, homelessness or care support. Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society said: ‘The King’s Speech missed the mark entirely. Life is too hard for too many children.’ He added: ‘As living costs soar more families are drowning in debt and hitting crisis levels. This was the chance for a big, bold move to help those struggling the most — especially young people.’

The case of Suella Braverman should serve as an example of the importance of being careful and considerate when discussing such difficult issues as homelessness. The return of David Cameron, however, suggests that the Tories are a party in deep confusion rather than a government capable of tackling the nation’s homelessness epidemic.

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