Homeless People Need Help, Not Punishment: Labour Party To Repeal Law Criminalising Rough Sleepers

 

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn have announced that the next Labour government will repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Vagrancy Act 1824 is an Act of Parliament which makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg. Anyone who is found to be sleeping rough or begging in public can be arrested.

Labour will say that the priority should be to support the less fortunate and to not criminalise them. The legislation creates further austerity and has a very hostile approach when it comes to dealing with homelessness in this country. Reports have stated that those convicted under the Vagrancy Act can be fined up to £1, 000 and can leave those convicted under the act with a two-year criminal record.

Labour has committed to ending rough sleeping with a plan to reserve 8,000 homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.

Jeremy Corbyn MP said:

The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.

 

Final Comment from Editor- Heidi Boahen

According to homeless link’s latest publication of research in January 2018, 4, 751 individuals are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. This indicates an increase of 15 % from 2016- 2017. 600 homeless people have died in England and Wales last year according to official figures.  

In addition, over 300, 000 people are currently homeless in the UK according to Shelter. It is, therefore, no secret that austerity has taken over the UK and the current Conservative government does not seem to understand the importance of keeping the need of the people first. Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire who has also been the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup since 2010, has recently stated that the government policies such as welfare cuts are not to blame for the rise in homelessness but rather the breakdown of families and drug use are. As much as there are many factors that contribute to being homeless, it is ignorant to state that the policies created under the current government have not contributed to the rise in homelessness, with figures even stating the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010.  The Housing Secretary’s comment has angered many homeless people but also people who are not homeless. They understand that many who are homeless do not want to be and just need the right support system.

It has been reported that a homeless man died on the street after collapsing outside parliament this week. As it seems now, the Labour Party is the only party willing to set up a plan to overcome this crisis. To help the many who are neglected by the current government.

320,000 people homeless in Britain: Number of homelessness doubled under Conservative Government

 

December is starting to get cold; it’s dark in the morning when I leave for work and often dark the evening. That darkness is now a constant in my life but so to also is Wayne, the homeless man who sits outside the Tesco I pass on my way to work. He’s not from Manchester originally and has been living rough in the city for the last year. Wayne is one of about 20 people gathered around the Northern Quarter area of Manchester; scattered outside Greggs or Spar, in doorways and alleys, sometimes sleeping and sometimes high but always looking up at the people passing by. Statistics, numbers, hard data, these are solid things that people use to find meaning and make sense of this world. Much of the basis of modern society is built around numbers and our use of them. But to tell you that up until this year the National Office of Statistics didn’t record the annual deaths of homeless people in this country is a damning shame. Indeed it took an investigation by the Manchester Evening News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to force the agency into finally recording these deaths. Later this month those statistics will be published in full but so far because of the independent investigations, we know that in the last 12 months 449 people have died on the streets of England. Of those, 14 of died on the streets of Manchester and those are the ones who have been counted. We know that members of the homeless community who die in hospitals or in temporary accommodation aren’t listed in these figures.

To hit you with a couple more stats, as of this moment there are currently 320,000 people homeless in this country, this figure rises by the month and has doubled in the last 5 years (Tory coincidence I think not). Of those 120,000 are children, a generation growing up in unstable housing and poverty. We know that now 1 in every 200 people in Britain is homeless or stuck in temporary accommodation. Manchester is not even close to being the worst municipality in the country for homelessness but it is number 1 in the North of England. In Manchester, we currently have 4,000 people homeless and around 100 or so sleeping rough in the city centre any given night. This works out to another lovely statistic of 1 in every 135 Mancunians being homeless. Newham in east London is currently the worst borough in the country with 1 in every 24 in housing insecurity and 75 sleeping rough. For me the reality of this problem is startling, I moved away in 2014 to live and work Canada and upon moving back last year what I saw on the streets of Britain reminded me more of the tent cities that were prevalent across North America. It feels like it has happened so quickly but we all saw this coming. In a perfect storm scenario, years of successive squeezes on vital support services and endless cuts have exposed the vulnerable in our society and many are simply being forgotten about. A person dies every month on the streets in Manchester and while expensive flats and condos are being put up by the day, many more lie destitute in unsafe temporary housing and hostels. Needless to say, little help has been forthcoming from the Government. It was announced this week that life expectancy for the poorest in our country is dropping and we haven’t even seen the full rollout of Universal Credit and the £5bn more in cuts to the welfare state, austerity is over in all but name.

The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham has been particularly vocal in his pledges to end homelessness and he seems to be doing all that he can. He currently donates a cut of his wage every month and has set up the Bed Every Night initiative. This scheme aims to provide a bed, a hot meal and support for anyone sleeping rough on the streets of Greater Manchester between November 2018 and March 2019.  It is a scheme that should be rolled out all over the country, one that will definitely help those currently on the streets and stop a great number dying of exposure this winter. However it does have its caveats, it is only open to those from Greater Manchester, which is understandable from a funding perspective, as you don’t want to attract other cities homeless. However, a number of the homeless community on our streets are from elsewhere in the country and therefore aren’t eligible. My friend Wayne is one of those and while he spoke positively of the Mayor and all he is doing for the community he hasn’t seen many changes in the last few months that directly benefit him but he is hopeful for the New Year. The council is certainly in a tough position trying to figure out how it helps keep those who aren’t eligible safe this winter.

 

What do we need? We need more shelters for those who are currently sleeping rough, especially emergency shelters for the nights that are particularly cold. We need more social housing and better temporary housing, not rat infested dirty flats that are packed full to bursting. Social housing also needs to be a percentage of every flat building in the city and I would push for an overall cap on rents. People who are getting back into society need to feel a part of it, not away from everyone in a decaying old building with others also struggling. We need an end to Universal Credit and a reversal of every cut to major frontline services with proper investment being put into social care and the police force. We need to end the culture of demonising those of us who have fallen on hard times and those who end up on the streets. We need to change our attitude as a society, to become open and warm again and not push to the fringes, those among us that need the most help. Finally, we need to all do better, to remind our friends of poverty and let those in power know how unhappy we are.

Most of us are one paycheque away from being in a similar position to those that died on our streets this past year. It could happen to anyone and the only way to solve this crisis is to demand that the Government and local council leaders do more to help those most vulnerable in our communities.

Homelessness won’t go away, it is a national crisis that needs our full attention.

One year on, silent march for Grenfell

Thousands gathered on the streets of Kensington to take part in a silent march on Thursday evening.  The march marked the one year anniversary of the Grenfell fire which claimed the lives of 72 people.

Organised by community support group Grenfell United, the march concluded a day of remembrance around London that included several church services and vigils. The Police estimate up to 5,000 people took part.

Green scarves were handed out by volunteers as well as signs and placards calling for justice and amnesty for all.

Anthony Hamilton, 25, of Stand Up To Racism, said: “We are so happy to be here because if you look at the community, the people represented are so diverse.

“People have forgotten about race and what divides them and [have] come together as a community.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined members of the community and told reporters that the fire represented “everything that is unequal and wrong about this country”.

Survivors and family members of the victims led the march bearing a “justice for Grenfell” sign. In a very poignant moment, they also paused to thank members of the fire brigade who lined the procession.

Speaking to The Guardian, Vincent Archer, 51, a firefighter who worked at the scene days after the fire, said: “All the marches that have taken place since, I’ve been working, but also I just didn’t feel up to it. I felt tonight on the year anniversary I would come back and see how I feel.”

The inquiry into the Grenfell fire is set to resume as the community continues demand answers.

CrimeStoppers providing safe haven for tax dodging Tory

Crimestoppers is an ‘independent’ crime-fighting charity. They operate largely on anonymous tips from the public and have genuinely been a force for good in tracking down and raising awareness of crime and terrorism. Despite this however, it is alarmingly apparent that they do not chase down financial crimes with the same veracity. This needs to change.

On first inspection of the board of directors, it is no surprise that the charity does not consider financial crimes to be worthy of public attention or criminal condemnation. This is because the board of trustees is packed with Lords and people who have won OBEs/CVOs/QPMs/CBEs/BEMs (i.e. not exactly representative of the country).

 

I have no doubt that the majority of those listed have genuinely good intentions, but I also know that they likely represent the upper echelons of the social classes. This results in an implicit bias towards not investigating ethically dubious financial behaviour such as those committed by the incorrigibly corrupt Lord Ashcroft.

We at The People’s News reported the various tax avoidance schemes employed by Ashcroft in great detail, and the BBC Panorama documentary exposed his activity to the nation. I, like many others, assumed this to be a turning point and that change was imminent. I was wrong, nothing has, or will change, because those who have the means to pursue such contemptible behaviour are also those most likely to be guilty of it. This, in part, is because they do not see what they are doing as criminal, which is technically correct as they are operating within the law. However, the reason this activity is still legal is because figures like Ashcroft donate (legally bribe) millions to the Conservatives, and his polling data is instrumental during election campaigning (e.g. if polls indicate a labour seat is vulnerable, they can channel efforts to the constituency in an effort to flip the seat to Conservatives).

Additionally, the reason the rich don’t feel like they are behaving criminally is because the consequences of their actions are deferred, making it easy for the wealthy to dissociate themselves from any wrongdoing. Alternatively, for example, if violent behaviour results in the death of another person, causation is clear (i.e. the actions of the aggressor were unambiguously the cause of death).

We are all somewhat guilty of overlooking the serious consequences of financial crimes, but I argue that they are far more pervasive than any physically violent crime. To illustrate this more clearly, let us reconsider the hypothetical example of violent behaviour resulting in the death of another person. It is painfully clear that the person who died, died as a consequence of the violent behaviour of the aggressor, and the aggressor will likely be criminally charged.

However, it is important that we clarify the criminal element of this hypothetical. For instance, violence itself is not illegal, and there are situations in which you can be violent such as in boxing and various other contact sports. Therefore, whether a person has committed a crime is predicated upon the consequences of the violence (injury or death), and not the violence itself. This is how the rich and the Conservatives are able to dissociate themselves from the devastating impact of their greed. For instance, it is difficult to argue that the consequences of a psychically violent crime were not the consequence of the violent behaviour by the aggressor because of the temporal proximity of the act and the consequence, whereas the consequences of tax avoidance are more nuanced and deferred, thereby allowing the aggressor (i.e. tax-avoider) to almost entirely dissociate themselves from any wrongdoing. Instead of tax avoidance immediately resulting in the death of another, it manifests slowly due to reduced funding for government support such as that provided by the NHS, and results in countless more deaths. Support for this loosely abstract comparison can be found in recent research published by the British Medical Journal that correlated this cruel application of a proven to be ineffective economic policy to over 120,000 avoidable deaths under during Conservative rule.

It is perhaps a tad inflammatory and hyperbolic to attribute these deaths to the Tories, but it is getting more and more difficult to resist this assertion when educated, non-political, people such as those being published in the British Medical Journal are correlating these deaths to the elite greed and contempt for the working classes. People like Ashcroft can no longer claim blissful ignorance. As of right now, given what we know about the impacts of this draconian understanding of economics, the elite can no longer dissociate themselves from the consequences of their actions.

I feel like this article has been crystal clear, but then again, I think we as a people are often blindsided into downplaying this type of behaviour. Therefore, the rest of this article will focus on trying to contextualise this in a way that I feel it warrants. To do this, consider the definition of the word ‘terrorist’.

We are accustomed to othering terrorists as predominantly Muslim, ISIS related scourges on democracy that use violence to push their agenda. However, no terrorist organisation of any affiliation can boast of killing 120,000 English people. We need to reconceptualise our understanding of the word violence. We all too readily recognise the physically violent behaviour that ISIS use in pursuit of political aims, but because of the deferred relationship between elite greed and the deaths of the most vulnerable in our country, it is difficult to inspire the same emotional response as that from death as a result of another’s violent behaviour. For instance, the 120,000 avoidable deaths reported by the British Medical Journal are not evenly distributed among the social classes, but instead, with almost surgical precision, they are heavily biased towards poor, working class people.  It is important to note that I am not suggesting this is an overarching conspiracy to suppress the working class vote by culling the population, but rather, an unintended, yet convenient, consequence of the greed of the elites.

If we want change in our politics we need to take a more active role in the politics of our country. Whether that be holding to account those that pursue criminal and societally pervasive behaviour such as Crimestoppers, or collectively condemning the legal bribes taken by the government from the likes of Ashcroft.

Finally, as I am sure many of you reading are deeply concerned about the criminal behaviour of those governing our country and those claiming to be upholding the law of the land, I encourage you all to call CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111 and air your grievances.

Alternatively, you can anonymously report the behaviour by filling in this online form.

Austerity – Asymmetrical, abhorrent and avoidable

“Unless we deal with this debt crisis, we risk becoming once again the sick man of Europe”. This was David Cameron in 2009, addressing the Conservatives in Cheltenham on how best to deal with the wake of the 2008 global financial crash. More specifically, this was the beginning of the age of austerity in the Conservative party mindset – the treatment of our nation as a failing business that demanded sweeping cuts across the public sector. Cut to the beginning of 2018, and it was announced that Austerity had finally reached its targets of debt reduction – a full 2 years later than the brutalist model of spending reduction was supposed to. But how successful has Austerity really been for the United Kingdom and its future?

With the aim of reducing the national debt to a level that investment could begin again without compounding trillions in national debt, Austerity has been ‘successful’ –  it has finally succeeded in its core promise to reduce the budget deficit significantly.  Indeed, according to UKPublicSpending.co.uk’s estimations, the current budget deficit between 2010 and 2017 has fallen from £99.74 billion to only £14.04 billion. Though this is a considerable reduction in national debt, there are two key issues that prove the truly devastating impact of Austerity on the United Kingdom – the impact on the economic prosperity of the people, and the precedent set by both former and future conservative action surrounding the national economy.

To take national debt reduction as evidence that austerity has worked for Britain is almost laughably reductionist. Rather, austerity has led to significant economic hardship, regional economic disparity and a fall in opportunity for many. This is not to argue that societal hardship in times of economic uncertainty is surprising; rather, the extent of such hardship was widespread, brutal and largely unnecessary.  Take women in the national economy, for example. Due to austerity and the severe public spending cuts, female workers in the public sector have been most harshly impacted by this policy of financial subtraction. Due to cuts in tax credits, sweeping redundancies across largely female dominated sectors, and the growth of the casual job market as the only route back into employment, it is estimated that women have been 15% worse off as a result of austerity – equivalent to just over £70 billion lost in potential wealth. Similarly, massive cuts to the welfare system have severely impacted the lowest earners in our society – with a 2016 WBG assessment estimating that the lowest 10% of households will be 21% worse off as a result of austerity.  Austerity has had a similar regional effect, with massive cuts to budgets outside of the regional south leading to a disparity in unemployment. According to the Office for National Statistics, unemployment in the North East reached 5.8% in 2017; compared with 3.3% in the South East. It is no complex conclusion, therefore, that the effects of austerity have been not only significant, but wide ranging and unequal.

But it is the failure of the neoliberal consensus that makes austerity not only brutal, but unnecessary. It must be conceded that the wake of the 2008 financial crash demanded a somewhat revolutionary economic response. In a world with families being kicked out onto the streets, Multinational banks closing and national economies such as Greece almost collapsing under the weight of their debt, to maintain the economic status quo would have achieved little else but gradual and unavoidable economic collapse.  But to claim, as the Conservatives did, that Austerity was the only solution is not a problem of debt but of failed foresight. The problem itself relates to the consensus of privatisation and state reduction that has prevailed since the 1980’s. The need for economic revolution after the brutal conditions of the 1970’s, coupled with a political desire to appeal to the electorate, led to a shift in economic models; away from taxation, and towards venture capital and debt. This allowed of economic growth based on lending, debt and speculation, whilst pacifying voters by protecting their ‘hard earned money’ from the evils of taxation. At the same time, the growth in faith that the private sector facilitated economic revolution led to mass privatisation, the shrinking of the state and the sale of numerous sources of government revenue, external to taxation. How, then, does a state fund itself whilst maintaining this ethos of low taxation and sale of its own revenue streams? Any attempt to increase spending through taxation, after the prosperity of the 1980’s, would have been little else but the proverbial bullet-in-your-own-foot; thus, the money must be borrowed or gained from the sale of government assets.

This is where the problem of failed foresight emerges. Austerity was not inevitable, had the neoliberal consensus recognised that privatisation, low taxation and increasing focus on debt was the recipe for economic crisis on an unprecedented scale. Austerity is the product of ignorance to the inherent fluctuations of capitalism; an ignorance that removed any state capability for self-investment, any capability to reinvigorate the economy and consumer confidence, and any ability to enact any alternative to brutal cuts that affected millions. Not only did the population face severe cuts, it also faced negative real wage growth. The UK achieved the 2nd worst economic performance in Europe between 2007 and 2015, only Greece managed worse. The nation sank to the bottom of the OCED wage growth index in 2018.

Perhaps more troubling than this, the rhetoric surrounding austerity removed the decision from the political sphere. The Conservative government made it appear as an unavoidable evil that we, the people of Britain, would just have to grit our teeth and bear the severity of. It is important, now more than ever, to challenge the ideas around austerity as a ‘success’ and those who seek to remove debate and democracy from political decisions. If light is not continually shed on how brutal, unequal and unsuccessful austerity has been for the current and future state of Britain, then we leave ourselves prone to this kind of unnecessary rhetoric again; perhaps even as a cover for more inherently unequal policy.