Compassionate Rushcliffe Borough Council have devised a way to deal with the issue of homelessness and vulnerability through alcohol addiction; they are going to fine drinkers and rough sleepers up £100. This was reported October 16th 2016.

You are probably now thinking the same as me; how are people who are homeless going to pay a £100 fine? If they had £100 to spare, would they even be homeless?

It is obvious to anyone that of course they can’t pay this and it is a ridiculous, penalising measure; and one that also gives ‘authorised officers’ the power to dismantle bivouacs or remove the bedding of the homeless.

Talk about kicking someone while they are down right?

Apparently the council have been concerned about anti-social and nuisance behaviour and have decided to take action in the form of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). Having worked within this sector for some time I don’t doubt that there are some issues related particularly to people drinking on the street. Although tackling rough sleepers too appears to me to be making a generalisation that all rough sleepers would be drinking or else just finding an excuse to get rid of something that the council don’t want to see.

Tackling the symptom, not the cause

None of us want to see people living on the street or addicted to alcohol. I am particularly aware of this issue now as the weather starts to turn and it is getting colder. As I walk through a town centre from one sheltered warm space to another and I see someone who is living on the street I always start thinking about what the solutions could be.

The thing is, criminalising and attacking someone for being poor and vulnerable is not the answer. Issuing a £100 fine to someone who doesn’t even have somewhere to live is clearly not going to get you anywhere. Moving on someone who is causing a nuisance just moves on the problem to somewhere else.

The best that this approach can hope to achieve is a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ solution. Maybe that is all some people want, but to me that is not good enough.

This approach ignores the reality of homelessness, alcohol addiction and all of the associated issues that go with these problems. No-one wakes up in the morning and just decides that they will start living on the street and/or drinking problematically. It is a process that occurs over time, it is the result of poverty, isolation, vulnerability, trauma, mental ill health and many other issues.

The UK is currently experiencing enormous increases in inequality and poverty that have led to over a million people relying foodbanks to feed themselves. We have a housing situation that is so dire in this country that Shelter have now found that 4 in 10 people live in inadequate housing. Sine 2010, when the Conservative-led coalition came to power and began their ideological austerity, there has been over a 102% increase in rough sleeping.

Whilst the report on Rushcliffe Borough Council’s decision states that there is support and places to go for homeless people and people with addiction issues, these are in fact the very services that have been cut right back in most areas. Local authorities, which fund these services, have received bigger cuts than any other area of public spending.

The very unsurprising fact about this whole story is that Rushcliffe Borough Council is Conservative-led; Conservative dominated in fact. Although I noticed that the vote for these measures to punish vulnerable homeless people was reported as being ‘unilateral’. I haven’t been able to find a breakdown of the vote however.

So while their party in government has created this terrible state of affairs which has led to an increase in homelessness and inequality, Rushcliffe Borough Conservative Councillors have been only too happy to dish out more pain to the very people that have suffered the most. This decision comes just a few days before Theresa May has attempted to rebrand her nasty party as a compassionate one with a promise of £40 million to help homeless people.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time recently that a local authority has decided to punish and stigmatise vulnerable people. Nottingham City Council were recently banned by the ASA for posters which degraded and demeaned homeless people.

In the main homelessness and many related issues are symptoms of a society that is terribly unequal and unfair. If this Tory-led council of Rushcliffe Borough really wants to tackle homelessness then it should put pressure on central government to appropriately fund local authorities and to provide more housing. Or else they must find other compassionate ways of supporting homeless people and people who have addiction issues.

The demonisation of vulnerable people must stop and the real villains, who hand out tax breaks to richest whilst cutting from the poorest, must be held to account.

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