A moment of consideration for Heather Wheeler. The government’s new homelessness minister has no idea why homelessness has surged in recent years. A comforting thought for the homeless in Britain that the minister assigned to them has no idea why squalor and destitution has been steadily worsening.
The one thing Wheeler is sure is that it is not due to a combination of welfare cuts, council cuts and high rents. They do not contribute. Wheeler doesn’t know why homelessness has been rising consecutively for about seven years but of that much she is sure. The state of homelessness by autumn of 2017 had climbed by 15% from the previous year. The number of rough sleepers had climbed by 18% in London and 14% in rest of England since that same time. The capital, where gentrification and sky-high rents are an increasingly common occurrence, constituted 24% of England’s total rough housing, where it was previously 23% in 2016.
The Tories have shifted from their One Nation Conservatism which previously imbued a collective social responsibility upon the wealthier classes to ensure there was some sort of social protection, however threadbare, for the poorer classes. There is now just visible contempt for poor people from the government, a terribly disguised class-rooted hatred.
If Heather Wheeler was sincere in her lack of understanding then she simply isn’t right for the job. But she probably does know, which makes it worse. How could she not when everyone else can see it? The radical upsurge in homelessness hasn’t existed in some sort of vacuum separated from the cuts to housing, welfare and council budgets. This is a direct causation, not correlation. The failure to regulate rents within the private sector has driven people to the brink often. Yes the tenants know they aren’t any less of a people but they’ve been treated as so.
The Tories would rather prefer to ignore the existence of these people. They are just part of the background of the streets now. There as we walk past. Acts of compassion such as buying a cup of coffee or donating a few pounds is all we can muster. And yet we are probably doing more than the Tories want to. They have created a culture where it’s acceptable to suspect and sneer at homeless people, by blaming them for their predicament and denying them any right to empathy and compassion. You have a culture where you have councils asking for homeless people to be cleared out of sight to cater for a royal wedding. You have homeless spikes emerging everywhere to act as a deterrent for vulnerable people desperate to sleep somewhere. You have local police forces warning people not to donate.
If you can convince the public that the homeless are either liars or makers of their own pitfalls, you can convince people that nothing needs to change in the way of government. And when pressed to take action, the most the Tories can muster is a disingenuous show of compassion and care that focuses on mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction to explain for the social disaster of their ruinous policies. This is a standard feature with right-wingers, to deflect and distract, to portray the homeless as the unwitting architects of their own demise, who deserve some help and pity from those of us who didn’t fall into addiction.
This is not to say that many do not suffer from these issues. Many do, but that too can often be tied to economic anxiety. Once again, the government will never address that.
So of course the new homeless minister doesn’t know why homelessness has been rocketing for seven years. It’s in their ideology not to ask questions of what their policies do to the most helpless people in our society.