By the time this piece is published, Suella Braverman may already have been sacked. Whether or not she holds on at the Home Office (or is back within the week … ) her verbal assault against the homeless wasn’t made in a vacuum – there be votes for views like hers.
And made just days before Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, the timing of her call to kick down the tents of the homeless was exquisite, seeing how many are ex-service personnel who risked their lives for this country. Scared people, scarred people, wounded in mind and soul as much as body, who’d protected us from only the cover of a tent against bombs, now in the hour of need with only the thinnest sheet of fabric protecting them from winter or thugs’ boots. Will the state provide? No – in fact Braverman and friends would have their tents taken away and fine anyone replacing them.
‘Cruella’ maybe was looking ahead to next year, the 200th anniversary of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, that criminalised homelessness, sweeping away or locking up the unsightly hordes of disabled and deranged ex-soldiers, discharged and abandoned after the Napoleonic Wars, who’d made the world safe for Britain’s empire but were now fouling up the finely colonnaded cities its slave wealth built.
We feared this government would take us back to Victorian levels of depravity – they’ve surpassed that, it’s Georgian mores they’re evoking. And look at what they’ve undone, in such a short time.
“Homes fit for heroes”
Only a century ago, indeed the very day after the actual Armistice of the Great War, the PM David Lloyd George announced a general election for which his platform was “homes fit for heroes”, with the ensuing Addison Act – named after the minister of health, Dr. Christopher Addison (they knew good health depended on good homes, as we see today mould killing our children), to clear the slums and build 500,000 homes in three years. “Slums were not, and are not, intended for the men who have won this great war,” Lloyd George said, making it a “national concern” – something the state was to sort.
Attlee and the Welfare State
The General Strike and the Depression wrought more poverty, and the War to End All Wars only foreshadowed far worse to come. But out of that, 80 years ago, the veterans and their families, angry for their deserved but delayed peace dividend, voted in Attlee’s Labour party on a landslide to found the UK’s modern welfare state – good schools, pensions, the NHS, decent dole – and again, housing, clearing more slums, replacing the stock lost to Nazi bombs.
The US saw the same. In 1944 the Veterans Administration home loan program guaranteed millions of single-family and mobile home loans built the suburbs, while the Housing Act of 1949 rebuilt the inner cities along with new open spaces, infrastructure, water and sewer facilities.
Decades later in the UK, as the war on welfare commenced in earnest, Thatcher sold off the council stock, Blair built no replacement, and on cheap credit the landlord class grew, leveraging their assets to outbid others, though equally many, their pensions raided and tanked, brought bricks to evade old-age penury. Today, we’ve never seen housing so unaffordable, to buy, to rent, and with interest rates going up, to keep hold of. Same in the US, where increasingly soaring concrete is given over to ragged canvas.
Figures from the homeless charity Crisis indicate that the homeless average life expectancy is in their 40s – half the population at large, while their suicide rate is nine times higher. It’s estimated that on any given night, there are 10s of thousands of people sleeping rough – but there is “no national figure” for the total. Each nation records it differently, and many aren’t counted at all. Yet we know it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’?
Some 6% of UK nationals that replied to a Government survey on homelessness said they’d served in the armed forces, meaning that veterans are overrepresented in the rough sleeping population, overrepresented in communal living facilities, underrepresented in the supported housing sector, reported Homeless Link.
They sleep outside with those escaping domestic violence, sexual abuse, modern slavery, people whose stable lives disintegrated through sheer dint of losing their job, accumulated debts, by eviction, by repossession. People whose minds collapsed through grief. Many people who’ve incurred head injuries somehow, by whatever accident, suffice to send their lives rolling down the embankment. People whose souls are buried by drink and drugs – but surely to God we’re better than just to judge them and let them die? For whom living out in the cold waiting to be assaulted again really, really is not a ‘lifestyle choice’.
Who was Suella appealing to? The right-wingers who lay siege to hotels filled with asylum seekers, lambasting the government and do-gooders for not providing for our homeless veterans?