Opinion

There is always a choice between wedge politics and human decency. There is always another way

Whatever the rationale behind Suella Braverman's wrongheaded comments, we shouldn't pay any heed to them

If you see a Big Issue vendor, stop and check in with them

Last week in Big Issue we revealed findings of our investigation into potential massive rises in homelessness and rough sleeping. We discovered that due to the government’s acceleration of processing of asylum claims, thousands of people granted leave to remain in the UK were having support withdrawn. Booted over to the responsibility of local authorities who are barely keeping the wolf from the door, people were being left with nothing. And the outcome for many was bleak.  

Being charitable, you might claim this was an unintended consequence of Westminster’s desire to help people move along. Being less charitable you could see a callous disregard. 

Whichever lens you view through, there is an inevitability to the result.  

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It’s not clear if Suella Braverman’s remarks about the lifestyle choice of rough sleeping was a cynical attempt to get ahead of what is coming, to pre-emptively point the finger at those left on the streets and make them, many from overseas, look like they are responsible and should take the blame. 

That suggests incredible Machiavellian forethought and a dark reading of the reaction of the British people to the poverty of others. Only she could tell you if that is the case. What is clear is this was one of the most wrongheaded, ridiculous and lamentable things a senior minister has said during the lifetime of this parliament. And that includes some of Boris Johnson’s prize remarks coming to light in the Covid inquiry. It feels like the outcome of a culture war-loving pressure group, keen to hammer home a new wedge issue. 

The reasons it’s wrong have been well articulated. But the consequences are yet to be seen.  

It’s not just a stupid thing to say. That kind of remark, and the other language around it, freighted with so much, can embolden the worst of people. 

It can make some believe it’s OK to attack those on the streets; it’s their own decision to darken the doors after all, and therefore it becomes fine to get physical and move them on.  

Over the years we have carried many stories of our vendors being attacked for simply being brave enough to stand on the street and try to earn a living. Not all our vendors are rough sleeping. We provide an opportunity for a diverse range of people to earn a living, essential now more than ever as inflation gallops and the cost of living tightens in winter.  

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As language swirls around suggesting anybody on the street has decided to be there rather than elsewhere, with potential for them to become targets, there is a clear outcome. We must show by action we repudiate the thinking of Suella Braverman. 

If you see a Big Issue vendor, stop and speak to them. Engage, see how they are, buy the magazine, buy a Winter Support Kit, return and check in again. We can show the good side of human nature and be decent. 

King Charles is on the cover of Big Issue. By being here, and writing for us, he is showing he supports what we’re doing, as we support the work of the Coronation Food Project. Things don’t have to remain bleak. 

There is always another way. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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