The Covid-19 pandemic has gripped every inch of the globe, affected every class of people, every race, religion, and gender. No one is exempt, but some are more vulnerable; one group that falls under this category are the homeless population.
Current estimations state that there are 325,000 homeless people in the UK, including 135, 000 homeless children and 4,266 rough sleepers per night. It has been suggested that the homeless population is expected to skyrocket after this pandemic, meaning some members of the UK who are not homeless now could be in a few months’ time.
In March, the UK government announced the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which dedicated £3.2 million to protect the homeless by providing emergency housing. Many rough sleepers were housed in hotels which have been empty due to the crash of the travel and hospitality industries. However, only 2 months later, leaked reports have suggested that the government are secretly ending the scheme and cutting funding, despite the continuing high number of coronavirus cases and the R number being between 0.7 and 1. The leaked report suggests that it is only the funding for England that is being cut; Scotland and Wales have plans to continue supporting their own homeless population.
The scheme, although not perfect, has allowed some people to live with four walls and a roof over their head – a given to most of us. In a few cases, it has meant that healthcare and addiction services have been able to engage with those they were not able to before. In the long term, the scheme will pay for itself.
If the reports are true, and rough sleepers are sent back out onto the streets after we’ve almost ended rough sleeping overnight, then it is an easy conclusion to draw that the scheme wasn’t to help ‘them’, it was to protect ‘us’. The priority of the government’s actions should be called into question, because it seems they are about to reverse one of the biggest steps to help the homeless they have ever made. And for what reason?
Whilst the reports have made front page news on both the BBC and the Manchester Evening News in the past few days, the government has issued a statement stating the claims to be untrue. They are assuring that Dame Louise Casey will continue to lead the task force into the next phase of support for rough sleepers.
However, the truth behind the government’s response may be difficult for some to believe – as it was only in February this year that BBC research revealed that the number of homeless people in the UK was actually five times higher than the official government figures.
Shockingly, it is also still criminal to sleep rough or beg for money in the England and Wales under The Vagrancy Act 1824. It is time to hold the government responsible for their treatment and policies regarding the homeless population in the UK. Homeless charity Crisis and human rights organisation Liberty are supporting a change.org petition to scrap the outdated Act – sign HERE!
~ Seema Pirbhai