Pandaemonium

THE REAL UNDESIRABLES ARE NOT ON THE STREETS

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.

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

12 comments

  1. https://www.gov.uk/asylum-support/what-youll-get

    https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/insights/migration-statistics-how-many-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-are-there-in-the-uk/

    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!

    • I’m ever hopeful that one day I’ll write an article about some subject to which your first response will not be ‘But the problem is immigration’. But then I’m an optimist.

      • One day you might actually take up the deeper challenge of UK’s ecological debt and shift away from ideology and the hubris of anthropocentism to sustainability and ecological science.

        I remain the optimist 😊.

        • It’s an argument that’s been made since before Malthus and that’s been discredited since before Malthus. It’s also an argument that’s long provided cover for anti-immigrant sentiment, not to mention outright racism. It’s also provided cover for promoting prejudices against the poor and the working class, as ‘overbreeding’. So, don’t be too optimistic about me adopting reactionary arguments.

  2. damon

    Quote:
    “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”
    https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/london-plan/current-london-plan/london-plan-chapter-one-context-and-strategy-0

    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.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/16/chicken-shop-knife-crime-campaign-home-office

    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.

    • Let me get this straight. You don’t like criticisms of the government’s initiative to put anti-knife crime messages on chicken boxes. You think Mark Field should have been defended for his treatment of a Greenpeace protestor. So you’re ‘disappointed’ that I criticize Field’s comments about, and Tories towards, the homeless. I’m afraid the logic here escapes me. Leave aside whether or not you’re right about the government anti-knife crime initiative, or about Field’s treatment of a protestor, what is ‘disappointing’ is your attempt to criticise what I say by ignoring what I say, but implausibly linking it to random other stories.

  4. damon

    What disappointed me was the way you set the piece up. I don’t know if it’s your headline, but Mark Field is being presented as an undesirable – and his reaction to the Greenpeace intruder at that event is the first “charge” against him. It’s the kind of thing Owen Jones would write.
    The Guardian is full of that kind of thing day after day, so I was looking for better from you Kenan.
    Secondly he’s accused of being uncaring towards the vulnerable street homeless of Westminster.
    Again, it’s such an easy and simplistic way of looking at that kind of street homeless.
    I’ve seen them myself several times outside Westminster Cathedral and many of them have serious drink and drugs problems. They can be the kind of people who don’t want to stay in hostels because they don’t like the rules, and hostels not wanting them there because they’re too wild. They are a problem.
    So I’d say that the accusation there against Mark Field goes unproven.
    It ends up sounding like the kind of thing they call out on SWP street paper sales.

    Mark Field might be far more aware of the difficulty Westminster has dealing with the hundreds (or thousands) of homeless that spend time there over a course of a year than most of us are. I’ve just arrived in Dublin today, and one of the first things you always notice here is the amount of street homeless/drug addicts begging on the street.
    The solution to that problem isn’t just to give them food and money. They want drugs.
    To suggest that they are also a nuisance doesn’t necessarily make you a hard hearted callous person.
    Sure, the government should do more to help people get off drugs and get off the streets, but in the U.K., we’re a country which can’t even operate proper police forces or prisons. We’re told there’s not the money.
    My main point though is the rising population. It’s going to be 10 million in London before too long, and no one really wants to think about where they’re all going to go.
    Many people don’t like being squeezed up by increasing the population density in their boroughs.
    And lastly, my first thought after walking through central Dublin this afternoon after a few years away, was “where did all these people come from?”
    There’s people everywhere, in greater numbers than before I think.
    A mixture of tourists and immigrants are making the place feel too congested for my liking.

    Even though I don’t write blogs or have any other outlet for my opinions, I do take “research” reasonably seriously. Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to the Capuchin Day Center for homeless people for lunch, as it’s a place I went to a number of times about eight years ago. It’s really busy – or was back in the middle of the Irish recession then. I’m curious to see how it is now. They serve over a hundred people at each session and it was very interesting to see who was actually turning up. I have a feeling it will be just as busy, and probably more ethnically diverse than before – though there were family groups of east European Roma coming in back then too.
    The east European street drinkers were also a contingent.
    https://www.capuchindaycentre.ie/Capuchin_Day_Centre_2013/Capuchin_Day_Centre_for_Homeless_People.html

    • ‘What disappointed me was the way you set the piece up. I don’t know if it’s your headline, but Mark Field is being presented as an undesirable – and his reaction to the Greenpeace intruder at that event is the first “charge” against him.’

      What I wrote (and, as ever, you ignore what I actually write) was this:

      ‘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.’

      I did not talk simply of Mark Fisher as ‘undesirable’. In the context of Fisher having described the homeless as ‘undesirable’, I pointed out that the problem of the homeless is down to social policy, that punitive attitudes are misguided, and that it is those who promote such attitudes and enact such policy (including, though by no means limited to, Fisher) who are the real undesirables. It is striking that you should defend Fisher’s description of the homeless as ‘undesirable’ but object to me using his word to describe those who have enabled policies responsible for creating a housing and homelessness crisis. Talk about siding with those in power against the vulnerable and the victims. It is striking, too, that you ignore policy (lack of house building, austerity, benefit cuts, central government squeeze on local authorities) and point the finger at the homeless themselves or simply ‘the rising population’.

      ‘It’s the kind of thing Owen Jones would write…. The Guardian is full of that kind of thing day after day… It ends up sounding like the kind of thing they call out on SWP street paper sales’

      It’s ironic how you (and critics similar to you) imagine that continually repeating the line ‘it’s the kind of thing Owen Jones/Guardian/SWP would say’ constitutes some sort of argument. If I were to criticise you on the grounds that ‘It’s the kind of thing the Daily Mail/Nigel Farage/UKIP would say’, you’d be the first to protest. But you imagine that doing it in reverse makes for a slam-dunk case.

      ‘My main point though is the rising population. It’s going to be 10 million in London before too long, and no one really wants to think about where they’re all going to go’

      The same argument was being made when London’s population was 8 million, and 6 million, and 4 million and 2 million. When Malthus was writing, London’s population was less than 1 million. Whatever the figure, it’s always too much for those who imagine that the problem lies with certain kinds of people (usually immigrants, the poor or the homeless) rather than with official attitudes and government policy. When the amount of social housing stock in England has decreased by 25% between 1981 and 2016, and when what is described as ‘affordable housing’ is anything but, it seems to me that it’s the policies not the people that need challenging.

      ‘A mixture of tourists and immigrants are making the place feel too congested for my liking.’

      Oh, the irony. You’ve spent the past year, as far as I can see, travelling around the world. You’ve commented from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Turkey, now Ireland. There are probably a lot of other places you’ve been that I’ve missed out. And every time, the argument has always been ‘too many tourists and immigrants’. You happen to be one of those ‘tourists and immigrants’. But the problem is always the other tourists and immigrants who ‘make the place feel too congested for my liking’. A little self-awareness might help.

  5. damon

    I had a meal in the Capuchin day centre for the homeless in Dublin yesterday and today and it was interesting to see who was there and to guess why.
    I was there just to check the place out, but also to have something to eat, as Dublin is pretty expensive and I’m not working at the moment. They must do over two hundred people, as it seats more than a hundred, and people come and go over two hours.
    Firstly, most of the younger men in there have drug and drink problems I think.
    They will almost certainly be in receipt of dole money, but I think that is spent on drugs as soon as they get it and they are genuinely hard up for the next period till they get paid again. They should be working, but most of them couldn’t hold down jobs. Some sleep rough while more have places to stay. I once spent three months staying at the Salvation Army Hostel in central Dublin – while holding down a job too – so I do have an idea about what goes on. I was probably the only person at the hostel who went out to work in the morning. For most of the others, their days revolved around drugs and trying to get money.
    There are jobs here if you want them. I saw a bunch of east European construction workers getting their breakfast baps and drinks in one of the small supermarkets this morning. If they can work, then there’s no reason why young Dublin men can’t also. There’s even job vacancies listed in the window of the tourist hostel I’m staying at.

    So those young men are unemployed and possibly homeless, because of the choices they make themselves.
    If they can’t get it together to sort their lives out, it’s really not anyone else’s fault.

    The other kinds of people in the centre, were groups of Roma families – who even have a little family area partitioned off because they have young children with them. That’s three tables which are always occupied mostly by Roma people, and it was the same last time I was here several years ago.
    They are probably breaking the rules about how people from the EU can go and live in a member state, because I think you’re supposed to be self-sufficient. There are quite a few east European street alcoholics who go in there. They also don’t have the right to live here if they’re not working I believe.
    Then there are some older Irish individuals who are probably very hard up (but will surely be on benefits too) – but maybe some of them just like to get out and talk to people as well as have a free cooked meal.
    There are also some BAME immigrants in there. African and Asian people. They might have never got things going right since they first came into the country. I really don’t know. But maybe they’re a bit like me and just freeloading a bit, because eating out is so expensive here. Even Kebabs and such stuff is too expensive (for me).

    As for housing, Dublin built a load of new housing during the Celtic Tiger boom years. Too much they used to say.
    But the population has also gone up a lot with immigration and there’s a lot of housing demand.
    It’s just a pity that they have to make such ugly edge of the city housing developments like Tyrrelstown.
    I went to see it this morning, and it looks like a lifeless Milton Keynes suburb. It’s also a home to quite a number of African migrants and their children. If you google the words Tyrrelstown and Africa – only negative stories seem to show up though. It seemed very quiet to me. But it was only 10am.
    But building more and more developments like that might help out with housing need, but makes the city look very ugly and overly spread out. It’s a long way on the bus.

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