By Patrick Daly
LONDON - Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she wants to put a stop to the “nuisance and distress” caused by homeless people pitching tents on public streets.
The Cabinet minister said Britain “cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents” occupied by people who she said were mainly from abroad and “living on the streets as a lifestyle choice”.
She said that unless there was action, then British cities could see an “explosion of crime, drug taking, and squalor” that she said San Francisco and Los Angeles in the United States had witnessed.
Mrs Braverman made the comments on X, formerly known as Twitter, as she shared an article from the Financial Times reporting about how she is pushing for restrictions on the use of tents in urban environments.
According to the report, the senior Conservative’s proposals include establishing a civil offence to deter charities from giving tents to homeless people.
It said charities could be fined for handing out tents if they are deemed to have caused a nuisance under plans being pitched to be included in the King’s Speech, which will set out the UK Government’s legislative agenda on Tuesday.
The potential legislation would look to prevent the obstruction of shop doorways by rough sleepers who are using tents, the FT said.
The Liberal Democrats said it was “grim politics” for the Home Secretary to want to “criminalise homeless charities for simply trying to keep vulnerable people warm and dry”, while other critics hit out at her description of rough sleeping being a “lifestyle choice”.
Mrs Braverman, who is currently on a visit to the Greek island of Samos, tweeted on Saturday: “The British people are compassionate. We will always support those who are genuinely homeless.
“But 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.
“Unless we step in now to stop this, British cities will go the way of places in the US like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where weak policies have led to an explosion of crime, drug taking, and squalor.
“Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets.
“There are options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough, and the Government is working with local authorities to strengthen wraparound support including treatment for those with drug and alcohol addiction.
“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.”
A move to tackle the rise of tents on British streets has been criticised by politicians and the charity sector.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, said “banning tents will not solve homelessness”.
He tweeted: “The Tory Government’s attitude to vulnerable people sleeping on our streets lacks compassion and is deeply depressing.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “This is grim politics from a desperate Conservative Government which knows its days are numbered.
“It is a new low for Braverman to criminalise homeless charities for simply trying to keep vulnerable people warm and dry in winter.
“The British public raise millions of pounds for homeless people at this time of year, and the Government’s response is to criminalise those charities trying to help.
“This policy will do nothing to stop rough sleeping and will leave vulnerable people to face the harsh weather conditions without any shelter whatsoever.”
Housing charity Shelter tweeted: “Let’s make it clear: living on the streets is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ — it is a sign of failed government policy.
“No one should be punished for being homeless. Criminalising people for sleeping in tents, and making it an offence for charities to help them, is unacceptable.”
Crisis, a homelessness charity, also rejected Mrs Braverman’s depiction of rough sleeping, adding: “We don’t have nearly enough affordable homes and rents are soaring, leaving people destitute and forced to sleep rough.”
The Home Office said it could not comment on what might feature in the King’s Speech.
But officials pointed to the Antisocial Behaviour Action Plan announced in March, which included proposals to provide police and councils with fresh powers to “address rough sleeping and other street activity where it is causing a public nuisance”.
The plan said officers should be able to “clear the debris, tents and paraphernalia that can blight an area, while ensuring those genuinely homeless and with complex needs are directed to appropriate support”.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We want to ensure our communities feel safe and secure.
“That’s why, through our Anti-Social Behaviour Plan, we introduced a package of new measures to better equip the police and local authorities to respond to nuisance begging and rough sleeping, which can be harmful to individuals themselves and to the wider public.”
In September, the Government was warned by the Kerslake Commission, a panel of 36 experts, that it was not on target to meet its goal of ending rough sleeping by the next general election, which must take place by January 2025.
The Government published its Ending Rough Sleeping For Good strategy in September 2022 in which it restated its 2019 manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.
But figures published earlier this year showed that the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in England had risen for the first time since 2017.
A snapshot of a single night in autumn last year found 3,069 people sleeping rough, up 626 (26%) on the equivalent total for 2021 and nearly three-quarters (74%) above the level in 2010 when the figures began.