Whistleblower Reveals ‘Crackpot Tory’ Plan To Criminalise Homelessness

Civil servants tasked with delivering the government’s plans to criminalise homelessness have “low morale” and are tired of “crackpot Tory ideas”, a government insider working on the Criminal Justice Bill has told the Big Issue.

The controversial bill is due to replace the Vagrancy Act, which has outlawed rough sleeping and begging for 200 years. But it has faced opposition from Conservative MPs and frontline homelessness groups, including the Big Issue, over measures that could see rough sleepers face jail or a fine up to £2,500 for an “excessive smell”. Speaking exclusively to the Big Issue, the insider said they were “ashamed” at having to work on the bill and the experience left them looking to leave the civil service.

The government insider, verified by the Big Issue, said: “I have never been so ashamed to call myself a civil servant. The code requires us to work on whatever the government wants us to, but after years of crackpot Tory ideas, I can’t take it anymore. Criminalising Homelessness has been the straw that has broken the camel’s back.” The Criminal Justice Bill is currently awaiting its report stage in the House of Commons – the fourth of five stages it needs to pass before moving over to the Lords on its journey into law.

The government insider told the Big Issue civil servants are braced for more than 100 amendments to the legislation, which also includes measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, sexual offences and police powers to take on drug and knife crime. They also expect it is unlikely that the bill will pass before the general election or faces being scrapped if a Labour government replaced the Conservatives at 10 Downing Street. “In my opinion, that would be a good thing. But we can’t bank on that unfortunately,” they said. “I think where we are in the political cycle more broadly: morale in the services is low and the general mood is low. This is just a last-ditch attempt at trying to be seen to be doing something to appease the shy Tory voter who gets a little bit uppity when somebody comes asking for a few pennies to buy a meal. I think people are really seeing through the cracks at an official level but our code compels us to do the work.”

They added: “Firstly, it’s not workable. And secondly, in whose public interest is it to criminalise homeless people or those who are struggling to get by? It might be in the Tories’ interest but certainly not the public’s. I think sometimes, as officials, the best thing we can do is kick things into the long grass and just hope that a change in ministerial direction, or a change in government, which is a rarity that we’re afforded, means that we can get rid of these ideas, because I don’t think anyone’s enjoying working on this.” The government insider also revealed that the Big Issue has come up in discussions around the bill.

They feared the current wording in the bill, which speaks of “nuisance rough sleeping” and “nuisance begging” and can punish people who are “likely” to be down, is too broad and could cause problems for Big Issue vendors. Their concerns centred on clause 57 of the Bill, which defines “nuisance begging”. Currently, the clause prevents harassment, alarm or distress to a person or their belongings and cites areas such as ATMs, public transport or vending machines. “It’s how hard you go in on that because is someone going to say selling the Big Issue is considered harassment?” the government insider said.

“Vendors are providing something in exchange for money, which isn’t begging, but if a member of the public has a warped view of society or a warped view of homelessness, and they think, ‘Oh, this is intimidating’ while in designated place like a train station, can they claim it as an offence? It’s just far too narrow.”

They added: “We sadly live in this society where, if you want to claim that you’re being harassed, the police will be compelled to come along. It’s all a waste of everybody’s time. Clause 57 is problematic from start to finish. They [Home Office] are trying to push ahead with it, trying to make the shoe fit and that’s not good policymaking.” Ultimately, the government insider said, the bill is an indictment of the Tories’ time in power and he accused ministers of hoping the measures relating to homelessness passed into law without being noticed.

“It’s cherry on the top here. Because you’ve had a decade of austerity and cutting back essential services at the front end and then on your way out you decide to criminalise the very same people who you have effectively put on the streets,” said the government insider. “The home secretary might not be as controversial as Suella, but it’s just the mechanisms and the way in which they are doing things like this, to criminalise vagrancy in this way. Because they know that without movements like the Big Issue, people wouldn’t shout about it because it’s just getting lost among amendments to 50 other bills and acts.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Civil servants enter public service understanding they are here to serve the government of the day, enact its policies and act professionally in accordance with the Civil Service code. The Criminal Justice Bill will repeal the out-dated Vagrancy Act and replace it with new legislation focused on supporting people to get off the streets. No one will be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live and we continue to engage with stakeholders and parliamentary colleagues as the bill passes through parliament.”

Housing LGBTQ+ And Vulnerable Young People

Lambeth Council has received more than £2m in funding, which will go towards providing housing support for young LGBTQ+ residents, reports Inside Housing.

The money, granted through the government’s Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme (SHAP), covers three years and will support young people who would otherwise be at risk of rough sleeping. It will be split between three initiatives, which will see the council working with partners to provide specialist accommodation for 22 to 26-year-olds who are not ready to live independently, young women with mental ill health and additional needs, and LGBTQ+ young people.

The SHAP fund, launched last year, is managed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and the Greater London Authority (GLA). The fund aims to help councils and their partners to support adults with a long history of rough sleeping and young people aged 18 to 25 who are at risk of rough sleeping by providing long-term accommodation and support.

Lambeth Council has awarded contracts to three organisations. Charity AKT will provide support to LGBTQ+ young people aged 18 to 25 in a building owned by Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH).  The AKT will also provide training so that partnership providers can provide specialist support to LGBTQ+ young people. Housing association MTVH will provide supported accommodation to young women aged 18 to 25 with mental health and additional needs, especially those who are vulnerable to exploitation. Peabody will provide 24-hour support to young people aged 22 to 26.

When the fund was announced, the council did an analysis of its gaps in provision.

Sophie Konradsen, lead commissioner for routes to independence pathway and semi-independent living at Lambeth Council, said: “Our analysis revealed a lack of specialist provision for LGBTQ+ young people, and a reluctance from LGBTQ+ people to access frontline council and commissioned supported housing services due to discrimination.” Ms Konradsen also said there was a “lack of appropriate single gender provision for young women” who require specialist support particularly for “trauma related to men. This funding will enable us to bring forward plans to support young people in Lambeth who may otherwise be at risk of rough sleeping,” she said.

Young Homeless Pushed To The Back Of The Queue For Help

More than 40,000 young people who asked councils for help with homelessness last year weren’t even assessed, according to Centrepoint. The charity’s policy and research manager Dr Tom Kerridge says filling councils’ £300m financial black hole is a ‘drop in the ocean’ compares to the benefits it would bring, reports The Big Issue.

Last year Centrepoint estimated that more than 119,000 young people in England faced homelessness – a record high and a 6% increase on the previous year. Figures from the most recent financial year will no doubt show that the problem is getting worse, and new research commissioned by Centrepoint shows that local authorities are buckling under the strain of meeting their basic legal obligations to assess and support vulnerable young people. Austerity has stripped back councils in England, meaning that they are simply not equipped to deal with these huge and increasing numbers.

It is a hugely brave moment when a young person approaches their local council to ask for help, but we estimate more than 40,000 of those who reached out last year weren’t even assessed and our latest data is shining a light on why.

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) makes it a council’s legal duty to assess every person that presents to them, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they do not have the resources to carry out these duties. This then leads to councils having to make difficult decisions around who gets assessed and supported – and young people are often at the back of queue. Despite significant investment from central government to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness more broadly over the last few years, it is evident that this is no longer enough. Demand for services and support is quickly outstripping supply and councils need more funding to deliver on their basic duties. But how much do they need?

Working with WPI Economics, we calculated how much additional funding councils across England would need to meet their obligations under the HRA. This involved creating a range of scenarios which accounted for a wide spectrum of needs and outcomes for young people: optimistic scenarios where cases are more easily prevented or relieved, pessimistic scenarios where young people are at a higher risk of homelessness, and a baseline scenario where all young people are assessed and their cases proceed in the same way as assessed cases.

From this, we found that councils across England are facing a £332m annual funding gap under the baseline scenario. One London Borough – Newham – would need as much as £32m to deliver on their duties. Others, including Liverpool, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Cornwall and Bexley, would need in excess of £10m each. However, these costs will be higher the more complex and difficult the cases become – in the most pessimistic scenario, where cases are much harder to relieve or prevent, councils could need up to £424m annually.

The largest expense comes from the main duty of the HRA and the cost of temporary accommodation (TA), which is becoming an increasingly difficult cost to bear for councils across the country. In fact, the latest government data has shown that £1.8bn was spent on TA across England in 2022-23. Given the increasing levels of homelessness, you could be forgiven for thinking the government is throwing money at the problem, rather than working to properly resource councils to help prevent homelessness and to create affordable homes for individuals and families who need their homelessness relieved.

A key part of addressing the crisis is ensuring that councils have the means to carry out their basic legal duties. Beyond this, we also need greater investment to build truly affordable homes, a cross-departmental strategy that defines the government approach to ending homelessness, and inflation-proof spending commitments that protect the most vulnerable people in our society. While £332m may sound like a significant amount of money to invest, it is a drop in the ocean in the context of current spending and when you think about how it could benefit society in the future. The sooner we identify young people facing homelessness and provide the right support, the sooner we can work towards ending youth homelessness for good.

From Rock Singer To Homeless Patron

Musician Robert Plant has become Patron of a charity supporting homeless people, reports the BBC.

The Led Zeppelin singer signed up with Wolverhampton-based Good Shepherd after inviting it to publicise its work at his concert in the city last year and visiting its headquarters. The star’s contribution includes supporting the creation of two paid trainee roles for people with experience of homelessness.

The singer, who lives in Worcestershire but was brought up in the Black Country, said he wanted to support the charity’s focus on “rebuilding confidence, self-esteem and spirit.” The Good Shepherd’s chief executive, Tom Hayden, said the group sensed the “enthusiasm and passion” Plant had for wanting to help people.

“He asked a lot of searching questions, which was great, because it really helped get to the heart of what we do in helping people not just find a temporary solution to issues such as homelessness and food poverty, but more sustained support where they can rediscover their strengths and pursue their dreams.” He added that the new trainee scheme would offer paid employment, a recognised qualification and training opportunities to progress in a career

Plant has a strong connection to the area were he grew up, is a vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers and has played a number of gigs in the city, most recently in December. He is currently on tour with his band, Saving Grace, before heading to America to link up with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and join Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan on the Outlaw Tour.

Prosecuted For Being Homeless

THERE have been hundreds of prosecutions in Merseyside for begging and rough sleeping over the past five years, reports the Wirral Globe.

It comes as the Government faces criticism over parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, which will replace the Georgian-era Vagrancy Act. The new bill could allow police to fine “nuisance” rough sleepers. Homeless charity Crisis said people living on the streets need compassion and support rather than being cast into the criminal justice system.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show there were 568 prosecutions in Merseyside under the Vagrancy Act in the five years to June 2023. Of these, 566 were for “begging” offences and two for “sleeping out” offences. Under the 1824 law, anyone prosecuted faces a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record. Across England and Wales, there have been nearly 2,888 prosecutions under the act – just 13 were for sleeping out, while the rest were for begging. Overall, 2,300 (80%) resulted in a conviction, including 468 in Merseyside.

Matt Downie, Crisis chief executive, said the figures paint a “grim picture” of the reality of life on the streets. He added: “Not only are people forced to live in fear, suffering regular violence and abuse, but they must also contend with the threat of being arrested. Noone should be criminalised for being homeless. “The Vagrancy Act was, and continues to be, a cruel and counterproductive piece of legislation. And yet, as it stands, its incoming replacement – the Criminal Justice Bill – will be even more punitive, increasing the level of fines and introducing a vague definition of ‘nuisance’ rough sleeping.”

“What people need is compassion, support, and the ability to build a life away from the streets. Casting people into the criminal justice system is not the answer,” he said. He added more social homes, proper funding for bespoke support services and ditching the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill is needed to tackle rough sleeping.

Separately, freedom of information requests by the Liberal Democrats showed there were 2,412 arrests across 29 police forces since 2019 under the Vagrancy Act. It included 866 arrests by Merseyside Police. Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP, said: “Experts across the sector have long advocated for a compassionate approach to homelessness. But instead, this government is intent on treating rough sleepers with cruelty and criminalisation.”

Housing charity Shelter said parliament must not enact the new legislation.

Chief executive Polly Neate said: “It is the Government’s catastrophic failure to build enough social homes combined with spiralling private rents that has led to record numbers of people not being able to afford to live anywhere.”

She added: “Everyone at risk of sleeping rough should have a right to suitable emergency accommodation, and to end homelessness for good it must invest in genuinely affordable social homes – we need 90,000 a year.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to end rough sleeping for good and we have a plan to tackle the root causes of why people end up on the streets, backed by an unprecedented £2.4 billion. They added the Vagrancy Act will be replaced with new legislation “focused on supporting people to get off the streets” while allowing local authorities and the police to “address behaviour that can make the public feel unsafe”.

The High Cost Of Homelessness

Amidst council bankruptcies, local authorities are spending more than ever on temporary accommodation, reports Hollie Wright for New Economics.

England’s housing crisis has reached boiling point. Soaring rents are leaving millions vulnerable to ​“no-fault” eviction and homelessness as landlords evict tenants to capitalise off higher market values. Far from providing stability, our housing system has become a source of hardship for many. At the sharpest end are the 109,000 homeless families, including over 140,000 children, stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation (TA) while awaiting permanent housing. These in-between homes often lack adequate facilities and pose safety risks. Most appallingly, 55 children have died at least in part because of conditions in their TA since 2019. Over two-thirds of children have inadequate access to basic amenities like cooking or laundry, whilst more than one in three lack their own bed to sleep in.

The instability and unsuitability of temporary lodging TA only compounds the hardship already faced by homeless families and children, especially more vulnerable groups such as survivors of domestic abuse. But alongside this human crisis, the situation is causing a severe strain on local authority finances across England. Councils face mounting financial challenges and a surge in homelessness, which they have legal duties to address. With six local authorities since 2021 going bust, and one in 10 expected to join within the next year, councils are pressed for choices and strapped for cash. Recently, this government offered a last-minute £600m funding top-up aiming to prevent further council bankruptcy. However, this stopgap measure is not enough to plug the estimated £4bn funding gap.

The root causes of this financial strain are twofold. Firstly, rising rents coupled with the freezing of the local housing allowance (LHA) TA subsidy from 2011 to 2024 have left councils grappling with a growing gap between housing costs and government support. In London, the LHA TA subsidy covers only 69% of total TA expenses. Secondly, the chronic lack of available social housing has forced councils to increasingly rely on more expensive forms of TA, particularly private rented sector (PRS) lettings, bed and breakfasts, and hostels. This reliance on costly PRS placements has been a driver of the surge in TA expenditure across England, from £1.4bn in 2018/19 to £1.8bn in 2022/23. London boroughs have been hit hardest, with the capital’s TA spend reaching £1bn annually, comprising 60% of the national expenditure, despite containing only 16% of the English population. At the same time, London’s councils’ TA costs have risen by 30% over the past five years.

The use of nightly paid dwellings, an expensive last resort for councils, has also risen sharply. Nightly paid accommodation are self-contained housing units rented from landlords on a nightly basis and managed by private bodies or individuals. Councils’ net spending on this across England has nearly doubled from £55m in 2021 to £107m in 2022, rising another £50m last year. At NEF we have submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests which show a third of responding councils had more than doubled their gross spending on nightly paid TA between 2018/​19 and 2022/​23. London councils in particular have rapidly increased their reliance on this inadequate and costly form of accommodation. Over the past five years, Croydon has spent a net of £53m on nightly paid TA alone. At the same time, the council is cutting £200m from vital services like social care and education and hiking council tax by 15%, in an attempt to balance its books after going bust in 2022.

The use of nightly paid TA is exacerbating councils’ financial turmoil whilst confining families to often poor-quality accommodation, including converted office space described by tenants as “uninhabitable”. Local authorities are compelled to divert substantial funds towards what tends to be substandard TA, straining their budgets and compromising their ability to adequately finance other vital services. While this crisis is being felt most keenly in London, it is not confined to the capital. Our FOIs find that this spend looks set to continue rising. Southampton Council, for example, spent £23,000 in 2018/​19 on gross nightly paid expenditure, skyrocketing to £700,000 in the first three-quarters of this current financial year alone – an increase of over 30 times. Smaller councils have faced even more staggering hikes, with Rother going from spending just under £6,000 in 2018/​19 rising to a staggering £342,000 in little more than the first half of 2023/​24; an 8,000% surge in gross spend on nightly paid TA over the past 5 years.

Further examples include Manchester City Council, whose gross spend on nightly paid TA last year was £19.5m. Just over halfway through this financial year, they have already spent over £22m, meaning they are likely to spend double over the course of just one financial year. Meanwhile, Solihull have already spent six times as much in just over half of this financial year compared to 2021 – a jump from £41,000 to £250,000. Faced with depleted housing stocks following decades of forced sales and having been prevented from building replacements by financial restrictions, councils have no choice but to address rising homelessness using market options.

We need immediate solutions. This government should abolish no-fault evictions and related policies that exacerbate housing insecurity. As a minimum, this government must ensure the LHA TA subsidy, which has been frozen since 2011, is uprated to establish a sustainable solution for councils moving forward. Councils also need to be given grant funding and the tools they need to meet the challenge of rising homelessness. The government should encourage councils to buy homes to let for social rent allowing them to act quickly and better target supply with need. Our research at NEF has shown that over the next two decades, acquisition programmes in London will save councils £1.5bn in reduced TA costs, and deliver central government savings of £780m. Fundamentally, we urgently need a new generation of social housing to address the housing emergency and provide safe, secure, affordable homes. As well as resolving the homelessness crisis, building 90,000 social homes a year will generate £12bn in annual economic activity, paying for itself after 11 years.

This complex set of problems requires systemic, long-term solutions to grapple with the huge challenges driving human misery and pushing councils to the brink. Councils and housing associations must be given the funds and tools to deliver the affordable, secure, high-quality homes we desperately need. With ambitious, common sense policies focused on sustainable solutions, we can pull millions out of housing need. But swift, ambitious action is needed before the human and financial cost of homelessness spiral further out of control.

Clampdown On Homelessness

Home Secretary James Cleverly is coming under increasing pressure to rethink plans to clamp down on “nuisance” rough sleeping in England and Wales, reports the BBC.

The government is expected to make concessions in the coming weeks to try to stave off a backbench rebellion. Dozens of Conservative MPs are thought to oppose the plans. Now more than 30 charities have written to Mr Cleverly to warn the plans could see vulnerable women being fined for seeking shelter.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill would allow police to move on “nuisance” rough sleepers and, if they do not comply, issue a fine or arrest them.

However, critics have argued the definition of nuisance behaviour is too broad and includes things such as causing excessive noise or smells, as well as being threatening or causing damage to property. Ministers have been holding talks with potential Conservative rebels seeking to block the plans in Parliament in a bid to find an approach that keeps them on side. Those discussions are expected to resume when Parliament returns from its Easter break next week and the backbenchers are confident there will be some movement.

The Home Office argues the measures will tackle rough sleeping and begging “where it causes damage, disruption, harassment or distress to the public, while avoiding criminalising the genuinely vulnerable”. They are set to replace the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which makes begging and rough sleeping a criminal offence. However, Tory backbencher Bob Blackman, who has tabled several amendments to the bill, believes the new plans are worse than the 19th-century legislation. “These people are not there by choice, they are there because they’ve got nowhere else to go,” he told the BBC. “They should be assisted, not arrested,” he added.

Conservative former minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith is among 11 Tories who are publicly backing his proposals, along with opposition MPs. More Conservative names are expected to be added to the amendments when Parliament returns from its Easter break next week. About 32 Tory MPs would need to back the proposals in order to win, but it is understood the government is not keen to have a public argument within its own ranks over the topic. Ministers are likely to tweak the wording of the bill to address concerns that people could be arrested simply because they smell.

Home Office sources say they do not believe their plans criminalise rough sleeping. But they want to ensure the police have sufficient powers to deal with aggressive begging. The legislation was written when Suella Braverman was home secretary and government figures stress the Home Office now has a different person at the top in Mr Cleverly. An ally of Mrs Braverman’s said the “reality is sometimes the government has to make tough decisions to the benefit of the majority”. They said homelessness is a “difficult subject” and “nobody likes talking about it” but you “can’t have a situation where shopkeepers have people blocking their doors and are unable to move them on”.

The letter, signed by organisations including Crisis, Amnesty UK and the Big Issue, praises government steps to end rough sleeping but argues that elements of the Criminal Justice Bill “undermine” those commitments. “It could see women, who are disproportionately likely to suffer violence and sexual abuse on the streets, penalised for seeking shelter and safety in well-lit doorways,” they write. “It could see a fine of £2,500 issued to a person carrying an ‘excessive smell’.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The bill concentrates on behaviour that is anti-social, including causing environmental damage such as with excessive noise or litter. No one will be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live. “We will continue to engage with stakeholders and parliamentary colleagues in the usual way as the bill passes through parliament.” At least 93 amendments have been tabled to the Criminal Justice Bill, on issues ranging from abortion to gay conversion therapy.

On Tuesday the government announced its own amendment, adopting a Labour policy to create a specific offence of assaulting a shop worker.  The bill has been likened to a “Christmas tree”, with its wide scope enabling MPs to attach various issues to it. With a general election around the corner, one government source said they thought the legislation had become a “last chance saloon” for MPs to propose changes they cared about. It is not clear when the bill will return to the Commons, but its increasing complexity is thought to be holding it up.

Homeless Café Under Pressure

A cafe set up to help homeless people in Liverpool is feeling the strain the cost of living crisis has put on people’s ability to support it, reports the BBC.

The Paper Cup Project’s cafe in Liverpool city centre runs a pay it forward scheme for customers to donate food and drink for rough sleepers. But founder Michelle Langan said as customers had been feeling the pinch, donations had suffered. She said the cafe’s utility bills had risen 300% since it opened in 2022. Demand, however, was increasing.

“It’s understandable that people have not got as much money to spend, which is having a bit of a knock-on effect on the pay it forward,” she said. “There’s also the fact that we are seeing more people who are experiencing homelessness, and they want to access the services we provide.” Ms Langan said “all we can do is hope that people will still be able to find that extra little bit of money to help us”.

As well as providing hot food and drinks, the cafe offers people who have been living on the streets the opportunity to work and potentially boost their chances of finding long-term employment. But Ms Langan said one of the most important things about the cafe, in Queen Square, was that it was “a place where they can come and sit for a bit and have space where they can relax”.

Emma, who is homeless, told BBC News the cafe was “amazing”. She said: “The first time I was homeless I was dead scared of coming here but they made me feel so welcome. People don’t know how hard it is being on the streets, how terrifying it is being homeless, being hungry and dirty.” Emma said the “basket in the corner with clothes in” meant homeless people like her were able to find something fresh to wear.

David, who also visits the Paper Cup Project cafe, described it as “absolutely brilliant”, adding: “Homeless people can come in in the morning for toast and a coffee and a bit of warmth and stay here for a few hours.” He said he was thankful to the people who took part in the pay it forward scheme.

Ms Langan said she hoped the cafe and the service it provides would weather the storm. She said: “I hope we’ll still be able to do all this in another year.

“We’ll just have to take the next few months as they come.”

Criminalising The Homeless Is ‘Cruel’

There is a grim irony to those who have overseen soaring rough sleeper numbers now looking to criminalise those they have failed, writes Liam Thorp in the Liverpool Echo.

“Homeless people should not be arrested just because they smell,” read the headline. I checked the date. It was April, but it was not the first of the month and this was no joke. This was a serious article being published about the United Kingdom in 2024. Why such a remarkable statement even has to be made by politicians tells us a lot about the pernicious and nasty agenda of this government.

The context here is that the government’s Criminal Justice Bill is making its way through Parliament. The government says it is seeking to replace the archaic 1824 Vagrancy Act but its new plans are similarly grim. In its current form the bill will give the police powers to fine or move on so-called ‘nuisance’ rough sleepers. Under the plans, those sleeping on the streets could be fined as much as £2,500 or even imprisoned. This is a move so toxic and cruel that even the Conservatives own backbench MPs – including the likes of Iain Duncan Smith – are threatening to rebel and vote against it. Good on them.

It may not surprise readers to hear that this planned attack on some of the most vulnerable people in the country was first announced by former Home Secretary, the famously compassionate Suella Braverman, the same person who suggested rough sleeping was a ‘lifestyle choice’. But it has continued on its way through the Commons under Rishi Sunak’s leadership. Critics of the legislation have correctly pointed out that it is so broad that someone could be criminalised for sleeping in a doorway or even, as the opening headline referred to, if they are deemed to have an excessive smell.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, writing in The Big Issue, put it well when she said that while experts across the sector have called for a compassionate approach to homelessness, the government “is intent on treating rough sleepers with cruelty and criminalisation.” There is a cruel irony to all this. That’s because the same party in government that has overseen a dramatic rise in rough sleeping through painful austerity cuts and the removal of support services is now looking to criminalise those that have fallen through the increasingly cavernous gap.

In February, latest figures revealed that rough sleeping increased in all regions of England. An estimated 3,898 people slept rough last year, a shocking annual increase of 27% and the highest annual rise since 2015. The latest number is more than double the number of people recorded as were sleeping rough in 2010 when records began. And you know what else began in 2010? The Conservatives came to power and launched their austerity agenda. For a government who has overseen such a shameful rise in the number of those sleeping on the streets to turn around and threaten to criminalise those same people is as brazen as it is cruel.

In recent months I have spent a lot of time talking to people at all ends of the homelessness spectrum. Liverpool as a city has been going through a homelessness and housing crisis with more and more people ending up at its sharpest end and on the streets. I have spoken to entrenched rough sleepers with painful histories of abuse and mental health crises who struggle with the support services or struggle to trust those who want to help. I’ve spoken to terrified people who never imagined they would end up sleeping rough but through a perfect storm of circumstances – rising rents, redundancy or family breakdown to name but a few – they have ended up in a terrifying position.

And I’ve spoken to desperate asylum seekers who have fled war and persecution and braved harrowing journeys to seek shelter for themselves and their families in this supposedly compassionate country, only to be turfed out of their accommodation and onto the streets of an unknown town or city as struggling councils try and fail to find them shelter. The idea of classing anyone in any of these positions as a “nuisance” seems anathema to me and I would hope it would be the same for most decent people in this country. It appears there are at least some people in our current government who disagree. Shame on them.

No-Fault Eviction ‘Disgusting’

Debbie Graham wrote into Big Issue after a no-fault eviction notice left her and her son facing the prospect of sofa surfing later this month.

A single mum has called for people facing a no-fault eviction to be given more time to find a new home as she faces a race against time to avoid homelessness next month. Debbie Graham, 54, is desperately searching for a new place to live after receiving a Section 21 notice in February, leaving her until 26 April to find a new home. The part-time mental health support worker, who suffers with arthritis, said she now expects to be sofa surfing at her friends while her 20-year-old son Jamie stays with his grandmother after giving up on finding another private rented home.

As the Renters Reform Bill looks set to be “watered down” with amendments when it returns to parliament in the coming weeks, Graham backed rent campaigners’ calls for longer notice periods so tenants can find a place to live. “It’s looking like I will be homeless,” said Graham. “The landlord did tell us that he was going to sell the house but he was going to wait until I moved out because he knew I was 55 in July coming. I was going to apply for a council bungalow because of my health: I have arthritis and I’m not good on the stairs. I was shocked when I got the eviction notice. I was upset because I knew I would only have two months to find a new home, which isn’t a long time. It’s not enough time at all.”

Graham has been living in her two-bedroom Carlisle home for almost three years, paying £495 in rent after a £70 a month rise in September last year. She had been planning to move out of the home when she turns 55 in the summer and said she has been on the social housing waiting list “for years”. Graham, who receives universal credit to top up her wages as well as personal independence payments due to her arthritis, the toll of finding a new place to live is having an impact on her health as the deadline draws closer. “I’m looking every day and I feel quite down with it all. It’s all getting on top of me really but I’m trying not to let it. I’m just trying to take things in my stride,” said Graham.”

“But there’s so much to do. I’m going to have to start packing and there’s work as well and there’s so much to do on my head. I haven’t got mental health issues but it does affect it. I’ve got to be careful because I don’t really want to get stressed because it can flare my arthritis up as well. I’ve got to try and think of my health as well.” She also fears the impact on her son’s apprenticeship in painting and decorating. Graham added: “This is his third year and he’s worked really hard and done really well. He’s making a life for himself and he’s going to have a trade behind him to be set for life. I try to keep my spirits up around him because I don’t want him to feel down. I want him to get through the rest of his apprenticeship so I just put a brave face on it.”

Campaigners have been calling for the Renters Reform Bill to be amended to give tenants four months’ notice to find a new place to live when they receive an eviction notice.  But instead the Renters Reform Bill is set to return after parliament’s Easter recess with amendments which pro-renter groups have claimed “water down” the legislation. Changes include measures which require renters to sign up to six months in a property when they sign their tenancy agreement and no-fault evictions only being banned for new tenancies until courts are reformed. The Conservative government pledged to scrap no-fault evictions five years ago this month but are yet to deliver, although housing secretary Michael Gove said it will be done by the General Election.

That’s scant consolation for renters like Graham who face losing their home in the meantime. “It would give me an extra couple of months because I don’t know where I’m going,” said Graham in favour of four-month notice periods. “I don’t think they’ve [the government] done enough and I think they are letting people down. To have that sitting for five years – if they’d have brought that through I wouldn’t have been in this position. I could have left this house when I wanted to leave, not making me homeless. I’m 54 years old and I’m not well, I shouldn’t be put in this situation in this day and age. To me, it’s absolutely disgusting.”