Housing

Suella Braverman told tent crackdown will see people ‘dying on the streets’

The home secretary sparked fury over the weekend when she said homelessness is a ‘lifestyle choice’. Now charities and 100,000 Brits have urged her to backtrack on plans to criminalise the use of tents to support homeless people

Suella Braverman has sparked a furious backlash

Image: UK Home Office

Suella Braverman has been told she must rethink plans to criminalise the use of tents to support people experiencing homelessness or risk seeing people “dying on the streets”.

A total of 15 charities, including Crisis, Centrepoint and The Refugee Council, have written to the home secretary calling for a U-turn on proposals that could see frontline homelessness organisations face fines for handing out tents to people forced into rough sleeping.

A petition opposing the plans has also racked up almost 100,000 signatures in the two days since Braverman posted her thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, describing homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”.

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The charity letter read: “Working on the frontline of the homelessness crisis, we know all too well the risk to life these punitive laws present, and how they only serve to push people further into destitution. We are calling for an urgent reversal of this decision if the government wants to prevent people from dying on our streets, exposed to the cold and all the hardship that rough sleeping entails.

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“Sleeping on the street is not a lifestyle choice. Laying blame with people forced to sleep rough will only push people further away from help into poverty, putting them at risk of exploitation. At the extreme end we will see an increase in deaths and fatalities which are totally preventable.”

Gavin Smart, chief executive at Chartered Institute of Housing, who also signed the letter, told The Big Issue: “This is a housing crisis which requires positive state intervention – the answer is not to blame the victims and punish those trying to help them which will only make things worse.”

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho also distanced herself from Braverman’s comments on Monday. She told Sky News and Good Morning Britain that she wouldn’t necessarily use that language herself.

“Before I came into parliament I did a lot of work in social justice, I actually worked with people who were homeless and I think the reasons people get into that position are complex and very varied. So I wouldn’t actually use the language of a lifestyle choice,” said Coutinho.

“I think, actually, in her tweet and thread she distinguished that a lot of people in that position who end up in that position are struggling, for example, with addiction issues and she wasn’t talking about those people.”

Braverman’s plans to restrict the use of tents by people experiencing homelessness were first revealed by the FT on Friday.

The home secretary is reportedly planning to include a new civil offence in this week’s King’s Speech to prevent charities supplying tents to people in need and impose fines if they do so and the tents are deemed to “cause a nuisance”.

The plans are considered part of the government’s replacement for the Vagrancy Act. Ministers promised to repeal the 200-year-old law – which criminalises rough sleeping and begging and harks back to the Napoleonic Wars – last year but it has yet to be replaced.

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Braverman’s thread on X/Twitter on Saturday sparked fury over her suggestion that people who are sleeping rough are doing so “as a lifestyle choice”.

“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,” said Braverman.

“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.”

The home secretary’s comments have attracted widespread criticism, including from Big Issue founder Lord John Bird.

“If you don’t deal with a problem when it’s a social problem then, at times, it becomes a law and order problem,” said Lord Bird

“If the root causes of poverty and homelessness had been addressed decades ago, you wouldn’t have this need transferred to the streets of the UK. We need grown-up thinking rather than responding to the issue with a policy that infers homelessness is a law and order offence, which Suella Braverman is doing here.”

Thousands of Brits have also voiced their displeasure at Braverman’s plans with a petition on campaign site 38 Degrees quickly gathering signatures.

Veronica Hawking, head of campaigns at 38 Degrees, said: “The huge public backlash to Suella Braverman’s cruel scheme shows the British public want to help people who lose their homes, not punish them, or the charities who support them.

“When a petition signed by nearly 100,000 people lands on their desks within two days of their plan being announced, Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak must recognise the political cost of this cruelty and scrap these plans.”

Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice. Want to help The Big Issue support as many people as possible through the unprecedented poverty crisis this Christmas? Here’s how you can help with our Winter Support Kit

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