Homeless people living on the streets have “chosen this lifestyle”: these statements by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman have sparked a backlash as record numbers of Britons, faced with the rising cost of living, turn to food banks to get food basic food items.
In a post on Platform X on Saturday, Braverman said she wants to stop homeless people from setting up their tents in public spaces. “We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents inhabited by people, many of them from abroad, who live on the street having chosen this way of life.”
The post has sparked outrage from aid organisations, the opposition and even some Conservative MPs as Britain, the world’s sixth-largest economy, faces an acute housing and cost-of-living crisis exacerbated by inflation. Even Chief Minister Rishi Sunak distanced himself from his minister’s hard line.
According to figures released by the British government in October, in England from March 2022 to March this year 104,510 households were living in temporary accommodation, a 10% increase on the same period last year and an unprecedented number since 1998, when records began to be kept.
In London 3,272 people were sleeping rough on the streets of the British capital from April to June 2023, almost half of them for the first time.
“By targeting these people you are simply preventing them from asking for help and driving them into poverty, putting them at great risk of exploitation,” homeless advocacy organization Crisis wrote in an open letter to the government.
The situation is even more critical as rent prices have skyrocketed in recent years. The recent rise in interest rates has further exacerbated the housing shortage: some owners bought homes at a good price when interest rates were low, and are now forced to sell them to pay off their loans.
Britain’s government has repeatedly pledged to stop evictions, which have been on the rise, but has been slow to adopt a measure that is unpopular with property owners.
“Decades of inaction have left us with massive rents, rising evictions and record levels of homelessness today, and ministers are blaming everyone but themselves,” said Polly Neat, chief executive of the charity Shelter.
The “worst” winter
In an indication of the difficulties faced by Britons, the Trussel Trust, Britain’s largest network of food banks, announced on Wednesday that the number of food parcels it distributed had reached unprecedented levels: 1.5 million between April and September this year; a 16% increase over 2022.
“We estimate that this winter will be the worst we’ve ever seen,” explained Ellen Barnard, an executive at the organization that manages 1,400 food banks.
Almost 65% of people requesting the food parcels “are parents with children who are struggling to pay the bills,” she revealed.
Inflation, after peaking in October 2022 — at 11.1%, the highest level in 41 years — fell to 6.7% in September, the highest rate among G7 countries.
In addition to high inflation, aid organizations estimate that the reduction of social benefits over the past ten years and the lack of housing have exacerbated food poverty.
“A lot of people use the money they should be giving for food to pay rent and avoid eviction,” Barnard said. “Ten years ago there were virtually no food banks in Britain. Today a generation of children are growing up believing that there should be a food bank in every community.”