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Opinion

Whenever the government wants to distract us from the important stuff, there's a crackdown

Another day, another policy that distracts and deflects from the bigger issues. Like Homer Simpson we must resist the doughnuts!

Two doughnuts with pink icing

Ever feel like the government is trying to distract you? Have another doughnut. Image: Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

At any moment in The Simpsons, Homer will be distracted by a doughnut.

Homer was ahead of his time in foreshadowing how easily turned we are from what we are supposed to focus on to something ephemeral and ultimately unrewarding. And while we can salute the makers of The Simpsons for the ever-evolving foresight, one thing they can’t have seen is that this form of misdirection is would become a key function of our government.

Over the past week a whole host of crackdowns were unveiled by Number 10. A crackdown on small boat crossings; a crackdown on anti-social behaviour, that will involve criminalising further the most marginalised, such as rough sleepers; a crackdown on noisy Airbnbs; a crackdown on men in their 20s with bad moustaches. Incredibly, only one of these is not true.

Rather than coming up with clear and decisive plans for the betterment of all, there is a push to othering rather than governing. As soon as the government are found to be responsible for something, they revert to pointing the finger at outsiders, whether the poorest in Britain, or those who land here due to terrible situations where they have lived. Worried about the cost of living? Well, hotels to house asylum seekers cost over £6 million a day. Imagine if that money could be used elsewhere. Think of that! How about that on the side of a bus!!

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Recently in The Big Issue Ian Dunt laid out clearly and precisely how this was its own kind of misdirection. The problem was one of process failure, not refugee numbers. Of the 40,000 people who arrived on small boats last year and claimed asylum only 340 had their claim processed by the end of 2022. The rest were bunked into hotels. And so it becomes easy to point the finger at the foreign bogeyman sucking up the resources hard-working British people should have access to.

It also then makes it easy for new planned policy in shifting these people who, in large parts fled terror, to mass camps. However, even that picture is not so clear. A report last week by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found that around a third of the money meant for overseas aid last year, about £3.5 billion, was used by the government on refugees and asylum seekers in Britain, much of it on soaring hotel bills. Somebody is making a lot of money. That figure was under £500,000 in 2016. And what happened within hours of this report being published, of the reality of which purse the £6m per day spending was coming from? The government started briefing press about barges and big ships being brought in to house asylum seekers.

Rather than encourage the spending of overseas aid overseas, which would help people in situ and perhaps allow them to live where they are rather than feel the need to flee, that was the response. Doughnuts, innit.

There is a rental crisis in Britain. We report this week on new figures revealing over 200,000 of England’s most affordable social housing had disappeared in the last decade. Plummeting supply leads to rocketing rents, and the need for more housing benefit for the most in need. Section 21 evictions will become more common while the Renters Reform Bill, which will help arrest them, is stalled in Parliament.

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And so the crisis grows and deepens. There is a clear direction of travel, and it is towards increased poverty and homelessness for many, including the pinched working poor, new graduates, and those who were able to manage, just about, in the past. But rather than deal with this crisis in a serious and diligent way, we remain in the moment of misdirection. 

At Big Issue we work to counter this crisis as it grows. For instance, there is the Hastings housing project, backed by Big Issue Invest, that has brought empty properties back into use, providing new homes at affordable rates. But unless the government gets properly, and profoundly, serious, we’ll be here in a year with even more people falling through the cracks. Doughnuts will not fix it.

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

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This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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