Faced with figures showing homelessness rising to record levels and some 600 related deaths over the past year alone, housing secretary James Brokenshire has hinted at a row back on his roundly criticised claim that austerity policies aren’t to blame.
While his concession falls short of acceptance, Brokenshire does say in an interview with Politico that “changes to policy” are needed with Tories needing to ask themselves “very hard questions” about why so many more people are now living on the streets than when they came to power.
Brokenshire did not directly acknowledge welfare cuts as a cause of homelessness – but nor he directly deny it, saying “work was under way” with the DWP to create a “data set” examining the impact of welfare changes on homelessness.
The interview also had Brokenshire admitting he does not give money to the homeless.
Brokenshire’s seeming shift in stance comes within a week of him saying rising homelessness was not a result of government policy, but had been instead driven by addiction, family breakdown and ‘foreigners’.
His comments attracted virulent cross-sector criticism, with shadow housing secretary John Healey accusing Brokenshire of having his “head in the sand”.
By contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made an unpublicised visit to a London homeless shelter ahead of Christmas Day to work with volunteers – with pictures and social media response only emerging later.
Corbyn used his Christmas message to pay tribute to people who help rough sleepers, refugees and families in poverty.
Among the many hotels and venues opening up to the homeless over Christmas Day was Birmingham’s New Street station – where 200 were treated to a three-course dinner organised by the Midlands Langar Seva Society and supported by Network Rail.
Some of those dining had spent previous nights sleeping outside the station.
This morning (Dec 27), Greater Manchester police confirmed that a man found dead in a canal in the Ancoats area of the city on Boxing Day was known as homeless – enquiries are ongoing to establish his identity and circumstances of death.