Performative Cruelty

Kaitlin Dryburgh

Just when you think the UK Government couldn’t get any more deplorable, Suella Braverman opens her mouth.

Of all the ridiculous things Braverman has said she may have outdone herself on this one. This week she announced that the next item on her list of misery is to crack down on the nuisance that is the homeless, and their tents. This she says causes distress, and I agree. As a very rich and developed country why do we still have homelessness, why are there people living in tents, yes it is distressing to see. It’s distressing to have a government in Westminster that doesn’t seem to care. What may be an issue for her is that since her party took power in 2010, homelessness has increased 74%. That statistic doesn’t play out well when there’s an election next year and the tents on the street only emphasis that.

Braverman laid out her proposal in such a way that she thought she could hoodwink the public by making us believe she really did care about homeless people. As if she was directing this only at the bad ones, the ones who as she puts it “choose to live in tents”. Of course she would never demonise the actual homeless population, but also she’s not helping them either. She means the ones that would rather park their tent up on the high street than have a stable roof over their heads. Ahhh yes, Suella, those homeless people. As Braverman puts its there is “no need to use tents in the 21st century”, agreed. Yet if you spoke to anyone who did use a tent Ms Braverman, you would quickly find out that there is a need.

A choice she says. Where do you start with a statement such as that. If Suella was in front of you, would you try and make her see reason in the fact that no one would actively want to sleep on the street in an unsafe, unhygienic, and mentally crushing environment rather than in a cosy house? Would you ask her if she had actually ever spoken to a homeless person that lives in a tent, or the homeless charities that she also takes aim at?

Perhaps I would ask her where she thinks this choice comes from. Is she imagining a group of council housing officers with puzzled faces as they stand around in a new build racking their brains as to why no one wants to move into their plethora of homes? Does she imagine thousands of lovely empty council houses just sitting there waiting for the ‘scum’ on the streets to make the right choice and move into their new house? Em no. The UK already has over 100,000 people living in temporary accommodation waiting for permanent social housing. Our housing stock is abysmal. Thanks to Mrs Thatcher and friends we don’t have nearly enough social housing, and a large amount of what we do have is not fit for purpose. This vulnerable and secluded section of society does not have people going around conveniently offering them new homes.

Her proposal, which has so far been backed by absolutely no one in the cabinet, also took aim at the charities who supply the nuisance rough sleepers with tents. This she says will result in fines for charities. As you would have expected charities have come out in their droves to condemn the comments and provide a little reality to this farcical nonsense. St Mungos, a homeless charity, clearly argues that it is in fact the government’s choice that people are sleeping in tents, it is their policies that have driven many to this position. Very rightly they ask why aren’t they putting more effort into helping the situation instead of penalising the homeless. Crisis follows the same sentiment, rough sleeping and homelessness is exasperated by poverty, poverty that in many cases has been brought on by their poor policy decisions.

Braverman also made her case by looking to other cities, stating that we don’t want to go down the route of San Francisco and Seattle who have not been tough enough in tackling the reliance on tents. San Francisco have a huge homeless and rough sleeping population (almost 8000) and have abandoned streets just lined with tents. But we can already find comparisons between San Francisco and the UK, specifically London. San Francisco has an astronomical wealth gap between the poorest and the richest, just like London. If Silicon Valley was its own country it would be one of the richest in the world. They have the tech people; London has the bankers, and both have pushed the poorest out and created a housing problem. Both cities have not been tough enough with rent controls, and both have poor excuses for social housing. There are many comparisons we can make, but not being tough enough on the homeless shouldn’t be one of them.

Yet, even more worryingly, some people will agree with Braverman. Without an ounce of empathy many will blame the homeless, believe that living in a tent is a choice and they are undeserving of help. People such as Braverman thrive on letting hate flourish and causing divisions among society. It’s performative cruelty and whether she believes it or not almost doesn’t matter because real damage is being done. She may secure her position in government by pleasing the ever-growing right-wing portion of her party but she’s leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.

So what could she be doing? Well thankfully for her, a study was published this year that could provide the answers (or feed into her hobby of ignoring all evidence). In Canada social scientists proved that homelessness is in fact not a choice but due to a lack of money *pause for surprised gasp*. With 115 participants in total, some were transferred one lump sum of $7,500 Canadian dollars and were coached on the best ways of spending it, others were transferred the money but received no coaching, and others received coaching and workshops but no money. Those who received the money made wise decisions and on the whole didn’t run out to spend it on drugs and alcohol, as many often predict. The money went on items that you would expect, rent and food. In the long run the majority found suitable, stable housing and were no longer homeless. It was found that the coaching and workshops made little difference and providing one direct cash transfer saved the government money in the long-term.

An initiative such as this requires people to trust and understand that deep down most of us all want the same thing. However, as long as the current Conservative government is in power, social cohesion will never be possible.

As for Suella Braverman, a person who has all the warmth of the child catcher and the likeability of a panto baddie, she will most likely be out of a job in a year, but will perhaps still stick around to really ensure her party self-implodes. She has put her own self-interests and party interests above anything else. We just have to hope that her influence isn’t strong enough to erode the understanding or empathy many feel for those who are less fortunate.

2 thoughts on “Performative Cruelty”

  1. ‘Lifestyle choice’ is not an appropriate description for a situation where homeless people feel that the only accommodation available to them is not suitable for their needs. For example, private sector rental flats sometimes strict rules against people having dogs – that is a problem for some homeless people whose only companion is 4-legged. Similarly, many homeless shelters exclude drug users and those addicted to alcohol.

  2. Georgr Sutherland

    The Canadian example may not be suitable, at least in a place like London, as there are simply not enough homes for people to live in and the money available in the Canadian scheme would not cover London rental prices. I am not stating that the policy is not a good policy, but because of the Thatcherite policies there is simply not enough suitable accommodation available.

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