Society: Homelessness in Westminster

David Cameron’s proposal of creating a ‘Big Society’ has been greeted with derisive cackles from the majority of left leaning since it was announced in the Conservative election campaign.

In the months following the coalition formation it has been resurrected under various guises, the response to each of these being further cackles and wry observations that the public will be expected to pitch in more for free while their tax-paid services are savagely cut.

Sure, you’ve heard this before, doled out mantra-like by your lefty friends. Most of the Tories policies are widely regarded as laughable in their brazen idealism and simplicity, but Conservative-run Westminster council have surpassed themselves with their latest attempt to widen the divide between rich and poor.

Not content with cutting every conceivable service, Westminster have decided to take the sinisterly Dickensian measure of proposing a by-law which would essentially make homelessness illegal on the streets of Central London. Yes, seriously. Pack up your things and head for the hills because it’s going to get worse…To quote the new proposal, ‘to lie down or sleep in or on any public place’ will be outlawed, with those that defy it getting a slap on the wrist and a meaty fine of £500. Ouch. Where does a homeless person get £500? If this isn’t filling you with enough bile, to ‘distribute any free refreshment’ will be outlawed too, with flouters facing the same fine. How unpleasant.

Charities that raise money solely to provide food and water for London’s homeless on weekly soup runs will be left with nothing to do, or stand firm and accept regular fines. Technically giving a homeless person a bite of your sandwich or a bit of KitKat would amount to ’free refreshment’ and result in a fine for both of you. How obviously and bitterly ironic that in the midst of Cameron’s bluster regarding a ‘Big Society,’ charity workers in one of the country’s wealthiest areas will be unable to care for the needy. Sure, where there is homelessness there are a minority of bad eggs, but this is the same for every social group.

In aiming to punish those shuffling around the streets off their faces and making a nuisance around Westminster‘s rich inhabitants, those genuinely in need of help will be worse off. Sure, the issues are way more complex than I can outline here, but at the crux of the matter removing charity and forcing homeless people to move on to other unfamiliar areas will cause a great deal of suffering for many.

The council justify these proposals by stating, in no uncertain terms that homelessness is a lifestyle choice, encouraged by those who decide to give their time and money to help them out. A lifestyle choice? Really? Yes, according to Westminster council. A conscious decision to spend your days on the streets begging for money, food or water. While this sounds pretty ridiculous, I guess it provides another example of how out of touch the Conservatives are with the issues faced by those at the lower end of the financial spectrum. I suspect, though, that the real reason for this sudden dislike of London’s homeless emerges from the upcoming Olympic Games in 2012.

The Games will obviously bring a great deal of tourism to the city’s streets, and to be blunt, Westminster wouldn’t want those pesky hobos shuffling about and ruining everyone’s good times. London wants to be seen as affluent, forward thinking and tolerant. I guess homeless people serve as a stark reminder of the underlying problems in it’s society. Charging fees to sleep on London’s popular shopping streets would result in people having nowhere to go, forcing them to dangerous backroads or other parts of the city.

This is a very similar move to that which both Atlanta and Sydney used before their hosting of the Olympics, systematically forcing their homeless from streets and essentially banning them from returning with court orders. In some cases they were bussed to cities several hundred miles away to ensure they could not easily return. If this is the case, Westminster are acting in an extremely shameful fashion, attempting to remove a problem rather than do anything constructive about it.

Hopefully these proposals will not be allowed to go through, but with a government so openly blasé about the needs and issues facing it’s poorest citizens you never can tell…

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