UK

Conservative Minister Baroness Williams Scolded For Saying Some Homeless 'Choose To Sleep Rough'

03/07/2016 05:09 pm 17:09:13 | Updated 07 March 2016

A Tory minister has been condemned for blaming the country's homelessness crisis in part on people "choosing to sleep rough".

Charities piled in to rubbish the claims made by Baroness Williams today, after the peer said some rough sleepers made a free and conscious decision to be without a bed.

Quizzed on why homelessness had quadrupled under the Conservatives two consecutive terms in government, the communities minister explained: "The reasons for rough sleeping are many and complex - they are.

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Baroness Williams speaking in a debate on homelessness today

"And in amongst those numbers there are a number of people who actually do choose to sleep rough."

She continued, despite the questioner, Baroness Armstrong, shaking her head in disbelief, and attempted to defend the government's record on homelessness.

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Labour peer Baroness Armstrong was more than unimpressed

"Without making a comment upon that, this government is committed to not only tackle rough sleeping and ensuring that nobody spends a second night out.

"But in one local authority there’s actually no first-night-out programme in place. But my Lords that’s why we have protected, both centrally and locally, homeless prevention programmes."

Charities piled in to rubbish the claims made by Baroness Williams today.

Matthew Downie, Head of Policy and External Affairs at homeless charity 'Crisis' told HuffPost UK: “Our research and experience tells us just how dangerous rough sleeping is: the average age of death for someone sleeping on the streets is just 47, while rough sleepers are thirteen times more likely to be a victim of violence.

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Charities were unhappy with the comments made earlier

"Given this context it is hard to conceive of someone making a rational choice to sleep on the streets.”

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at youth homeless charity Centrepoint also told HuffPost UK that the under-25s they worked with sleeping rough was not "a lifestyle choice".

"The minister's comments do not reflect the reality that for the young people we support rough sleeping isn't a lifestyle choice, they simply have nowhere else to go," he said.

"The simple fact is that the number of young people rough sleeping in London has doubled in the last five years. The problem lies in demand for bed spaces rather with a shortage of supply."

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of homeless charity and housing association St Mungo’s, added: “No-one sets out to sleep rough. Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous, and even takes lives. We believe no one should be sleeping on our streets.

"Recent rises in the number of people sleeping rough are simply shocking.

“The reality is that people end up on the streets for a number of complex and interrelated reasons, including mental health, relationship breakdown, loss of a job or tenancy and substance use."

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A spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government responded, saying: "No one should ever have to sleep rough. Baroness Williams made clear many rough sleepers can have complex needs that include mental health problems or addiction.

“If the support is not available or people do not take up the support on offer, then this can lead to cycles of rough sleeping.

“That is why we have increased central funding to tackle homelessness over the next four years and we are developing a £5 million social impact bond targeted to help the most entrenched rough sleepers move off the streets.”

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