Homelessness minister Wheeler feels heat over ‘racist’ language

The MP has been slammed for calling street homeless “tinkers” in leaked emails

Homelessness minister Heather Wheeler has faced accusations of using “racist” language after leaked emails appeared to show her referring to rough sleepers as “old tinkers”.

The Guardian reported that a ITV Ross Kemp documentary on homelessness uncovered the email message that Wheeler sent three months before taking up her current role.

The October 2017 message to a homeless charity described rough sleepers in her South Derbyshire constituency as “the traditional type, old tinkers, knife-cutters wandering through”.

After Michelle Gavin, from charity Friends, Families and Travellers, told The Guardian that the language was “racist”, Wheeler offered a “heartfelt apology” and described the message as an “error of judgement”.

It’s not the first time that Wheeler has attracted criticism after she admitted that she “didn’t know” why rough sleeping figures were rising last year.

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And the minister, who vowed to resign from her position if rough sleeping figures did not halve within five years of her appointment, will been concerned to read the latest Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) figures counting those sleeping on the streets in London.

Rough sleeping in the English capital has reached a record high with 8,855 people recorded as sleeping rough in London between April 2018 and March 2019 – up 18 per cent on the year before.

The documentary Ross Kemp: Living with Homelessness, which is due to air on ITV in July, will head to Wheeler’s constituency where it was estimated that there were no rough sleepers in the official rough sleeping count.

Nationwide there was a two per cent drop in the count after eight years of consistent rises – but the accuracy of the figures, taken from a one-night snapshot – has been questioned.

The CHAIN figures are considered more accurate as they involve multiple agencies working together and cross-referencing across a year rather than a count taken across one night.

Image: Parliament