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Tory MP Accuses Suella Braverman Of "Stigmatising" Homelessness

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (Alamy)

4 min read

Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on homelessness, Bob Blackman, has criticised Home Secretary Suella Braverman's remarks on homelessness in which she claimed living in tents was a "lifestyle choice".

On Saturday, Braverman confirmed an FT report that she was planning to restrict tents for rough sleepers, arguing that the UK could not allow "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". 

"What I want to stop, and what the law abiding majority wants us to stop, is those who cause nuisance and distress to other people by pitching tents in public spaces, aggressively begging, stealing, taking drugs, littering, and blighting our communities," she added. 

A number of Conservative MPs, energy secretary Claire Coutinho, have sought to distance themselves from the Home Secretary's comments. 

Blackman, whose private members bill – the Homelessness Reduction Bill – received Royal Assent in 2017, told PoliticsHome Braverman's remarks were a "poor choice of language". 

"These are not words you should use, the fact is that homelessness is not a lifestyle choice," he said. 

"It's something that unfortunately, happens to people more often than not through no fault of their own." 

The senior Tory MP, who is also the executive secretary of the 1922 Committee and sits on the levelling up committee, said the cost of living, high rents, addiction, mental ill-health, and migrants being granted the right to remain but without accommodation were among the reasons driving the number of homeless people in the UK.

"The key point here is every case of homelessness is unique and you have to look at what are the reasons why someone has nowhere to live?" he continued. 

"Unfortunately, with the cost of living challenge and with the cost of rent, people are increasingly becoming in difficulty and are therefore needing some help and assistance.

"What we should be doing is helping and assisting people – not stigmatising them."

He also expressed disappointment that the government's target to halve rough sleeping by the end of this parliament was likely to be missed. 

Bob BlackmvanAccording to the latest government data, 140,790 households were assessed as being threatened with homelessness and were owed a prevention duty in 2022-23, representing a 4.8 per cent increase from 2021-22. 

"We made a pledge at the last election to halve rough sleeping and then eliminate it by the time of the general election," he added. 

"Unfortunately, homelessness is on the increase again." 

The home secretary's plans are expected to be announced in the King's Speech on Tuesday. The changes to the law follow the government's decision last year to scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalised rough sleeping and begging.

The plans are also expected to include a new civil offence designed to deter people giving out tents to homeless people, meaning charities could be fined for giving out tents that are deemed to cause a nuisance. 

Heads of fifteen homeless charities, including Crisis and St Mungo's, have warned that Braverman's plans on homelessness risk pushing more people into destitution. 

"We strongly urge you to reconsider these measures, which will result in harm to thousands of people who have no option but to sleep in a tent, or on the streets, as they have no home of their own," the charities said in a letter to Braverman and levelling up secretary, Michael Gove

"Removing the only protection many people depend on and endangering lives cannot be the answer.

"We remain willing to work with you and the government on genuine solutions to end rough sleeping for good, but these changes gravely undermine any efforts to do so."

Tory MP Natalie Elphicke, who sits on the levelling up committee, also appeared to be critical of Braverman's rhetoric on tents.

"In all my years of helping people who are homeless, in cities like London and Manchester as well as my own local area in Dover and Deal, at no time, ever, has anyone said the answer lies in the removal of tents," Elphicke wrote on X. 

"Homelessness is complex and needs full support and specialist services. We should always be there to lend a helping hand to people most in need – to provide more housing, life chances and opportunities.

"That is what the future we seek to build should be all about."

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