Vanessa Gould Man in a sleeping bag

As I am away for a couple of weeks, and posting little new material on Pandaemonium,  I am taking the opportunity to publish some of those shorter pieces from my Observer column that I don’t normally post on Pandaemonium.  This is a a short piece on homelessness and official attitudes and policies, first published on 7 July 2019.

None are so blind as those who would blind others. Mark Field, the Foreign Office minister suspended for grabbing a protester by the throat, has, according to leaked emails, described a homeless charity in his Westminster constituency as a ‘magnet for… undesirables‘ and suggested it was ‘high time’ for it ‘to take a little more responsibility for its ‘clients’’.

One might wonder whether it was not high time for Tory ministers to take a little more responsibility for their policies. Official figures suggest that the number of rough sleepers has increased by 165% since the Tories came to power in 2010. Homeless charities suggest that the real figure is much higher.

The Greater London Authority found 8,855 people had slept rough in the capital in the year between April 2018 and March 2019 – up from 7,484 the previous year. More than a quarter of all London rough sleepers are to be found in Westminster.

And then there’s the dizzying numbers of ‘sofa-surfers’ and of families forced into emergency temporary accommodation. In England, 83,700 households, including 124,490 children, were in temporary accommodation as of December 2018 – a 74% increase since 2010.

The reason for the rise lies in government policy – the failure to build social housing or to regulate private rents, the savaging of benefits, the slashing of local authority funding.

However, it’s not the policies creating homelessness that are presented as the problem, but the homeless themselves. Public councils and private companies install ‘homeless spikes’ or boarding to deter rough sleepers. They use Asbos to move them on or demand the police sweep them off the streets so polite society doesn’t have to see them.

It’s such attitudes and such policies that truly need sweeping away. The real undesirables are not on the streets but in council chambers and the Palace of Westminster.


The image is ‘Man in a sleeping bag’ by Vanessa Gould, part of her ‘Homelessness and Perception of Reality’ series.



    Considering that the UK government has an open door policy for asylum seekers and refugees which grants them free accommodation, it is no wonder that EU austerity rules and EU free movement rules intersect to create a housing crisis.

    Population growth in an already overpopulated country such as the UK only results in the slow but sure degradation of UK green infrastructure which increases the UK ecological deficit. This biocapacity overshoot results in increased import dependancies which translates as the importation of biocapacity from abroad.

    This invariably means land grabbing by the consent of foreign national elites, leading to tribal wars, the militarization of rural areas, deforestation and evictions/fleeing which in turn results in refugee camps and poverty stricken urbanisation which fuels migration to escape overpopulated biocapacity starved regions.

    In other words, population overshoot in the UK results in wars and market imperialism abroad which in turn fuels migration into already over populated developed regions which in turn starves existing populations of housing and further increases ecological deficit as new houses are built into green infrastructure.

    The negative cycle of biocapacity overshoot and ecological debt is then repeated ad infinitum until democracy says stop!

  2. damon

    “London is projected to see its population rise faster than any other region of the U.K. The number of people living in the British capital is set to reach 9.54 million by 2026, almost 9 percent more than in 2016, according to Office for National Statistics projections published Thursday.
    24 May 2018”

    It’s hard enough to build enough houses to cover the need there already is.
    Mayor Khan came in with big hopes of building very large numbers of new homes, but is facing up to how difficult it is to do a lot quickly. We don’t do infrastructure very well in Britain. The fact that we still have the Woolwich Ferry going back and forth instead of a bridge there, should be a national embarrassment.

    Also – in much of the country, there is a policy of councils not giving any help with housing – even emergency homeless shelters – to anyone who doesn’t come from that locality.
    I found that to be the case in Leeds and in the West Country some years ago. You couldn’t even get into the Salvation Army hostels in Plymouth and Bristol if you weren’t local.
    Their message to people from elsewhere was just “Go Home”.
    Or go back to the borough where you were from and they might help you there.
    So why should it be different for Westminster? Probably very few of the street homeless there come from there.
    They go to Westminster for the same reason so many homeless people end up in San Francisco and other cities on the American west coast. And they will be attracted by provision to street homeless with soup kitchens etc.
    I know that San Francisco had more than a dozen places you could go and get free food. You could just hang about all day, then, depending on the time and the day, go off for lunch or dinner somewhere.
    You could live like that, and it could even be fun and a bit of an adventure for a while.
    The same goes for London I’d guess. I’ve seen The Big Issue sellers at that place on Victoria Street, and it actually looked like an easier option to what I was doing – which involved hard labour and getting up at 5am.
    Some of the homeless people who hang about outside Westminster Cathedral are indeed a problem for the regular people who live and work there. Just feeding them on the street doesn’t move things on in any way.
    It just keeps the people there sitting on their flattened cardboard boxes and waiting for the next soup kitchen run to turn up and hand out the sandwiches.

  3. damon

    I just read this other Guardian piece about the “outcry” over an initiative to put anti-knife crime messages on chicken boxes (it’s racist apparently) and I immediately thought of Kenan’s article here.

    It’s the same Guardian anti-Tory, always looking on the negative side sort of argument spiel.
    Having a go at Mark Field like that. He should have been defended against most of the criticism for what he did with that female protester. He was slightly rough maybe – but just slightly. And the whole thing will have taken him by surprise and he just reacted.
    What would have been worse would have been for everyone to have sat back and done nothing.
    Under the assumption that when things like that happen you can’t do anything.
    Because all action to stop annoying people turning up and ruining events “is violence”.
    There were plenty of other articles in the Guardian saying as much and heavily criticising Mark Field, so I’m a bit disappointed to see Kenan just doing the same.

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