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British government creates controversy with report on homelessness

British government creates controversy with report on homelessness

Is sleeping on the street a choice? Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s words sparked a backlash in the UK, amid a cost-of-living crisis that has forced record numbers of Britons to seek food aid.

In a message posted Saturday on X (formerly Twitter), with a more conservative profile, he said he wants to prevent homeless people from settling on the streets.

“We cannot allow our streets to be occupied by rows of squatter tents, many foreigners, living on the streets is their preferred way of life,” he said on the social network.

Amid a severe inflation-fuelled housing and cost-of-living crisis, the report sparked outrage among charities, the Labor opposition and some elected Conservatives.

According to figures published in October by the government, 104,510 families lived in temporary accommodation in England between March 2022 and March 2023, a 10% increase compared to the same period the previous year. This is the highest level since 1998, when the first data were published.

In London, 3,272 people slept rough between April and June 2023, almost half of them for the first time.

Housing crisis

“Pointing the finger at these people will discourage them from asking for help, push them deeper into poverty and expose them to greater risk of exploitation,” Crisis, an association that helps the homeless, wrote in an open letter to the government.

“In the worst-case scenario, we will see an increase in the number of avoidable deaths and accidents,” he says.

The situation is more complicated considering that rental prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

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The recent increase in interest rates has made the situation even worse, and some homeowners who bought low-cost homes at low prices are now forced to sell them to pay off their debt.

“Decades of inaction are leading to sky-high rents, evictions and record levels of homelessness. But ministers are blaming everyone but themselves,” warns the chief executive of the charity Polly Need.

A “bad” winter

In a sign of the difficulties of Britons, the Trussell Trust, the largest network of food banks in the United Kingdom, announced on Wednesday (8) that the number of food parcels distributed has reached an unprecedented level: 1.5 million between April and September 2023, which is equivalent to an increase of 16% compared to 2022.

“We’re predicting this winter will be the worst we’ve ever experienced,” Helen Barnard, one of the leaders of the association, which manages 1,400 food banks, told AFP.

Nearly 65% ​​of those who come to pick up orders are “parents with kids who are struggling to pay the bills,” he says.

After peaking at 11.1% in October 2022 (a 41-year high), UK inflation fell to 6.7% in September 2023, the highest rate of any G7 country.

In addition to inflation, the charities believe that cuts to social assistance and housing shortages over the past decade have worsened food poverty.

“Many people use the money they have to spend on food to pay the rent and avoid eviction,” reports Helen Barnard.

“Ten years ago there were practically no food banks in the UK. Today, a generation of children believe that a bank is normal in every community,” concludes the chairman of the Trussell Trust.

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