Like many of you, I’ve often dreamt of packing in the hustle and bustle of daily life and trading it all in for the good life. No, I’m not talking about retiring to a beach in the Bahamas or renting out a loft in Paris that overlooks the Champs-Élysées. I don’t need a mansion in Beverly Hills or a luxury houseboat in Venice. I’m talking about the real stuff. That’s right: a thin canvas tent, shakily propped up outside a Pret a Manger on a London high street.
At least, that seems to be the dream according to Suella Braverman, who this morning tweeted that tents are a “lifestyle choice” for some rough sleepers.
“We will always support those who are genuinely homeless”, our endlessly compassionate home secretary wrote on X/Twitter. “But we cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.”
Don’t worry guys, Braverman was very careful to make the distinction between the “genuinely homeless” and those who are, I assume, just out there for a laugh. After all, who wouldn’t choose to spend every day out in the famous British sunshine, subsisting off the equally famous generosity of London commuters during rush hour?
Normally when somebody says that “nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets”, they mean that nobody should suffer the indignity of being homeless – not that people living on the streets literally shouldn’t be allowed to live in tents.
It’s another in a string of outrageous statements by the home secretary, with other recent highlights including the “hurricane” of migrants she warned of at this year’s Tory conference, her attack on pro-Palestine protests as “hate marches”, and her insistence that being gay or a woman isn’t enough to qualify for asylum, even if the person will be deported to a country that persecutes women and LGBT+ people.
Honestly, it’s difficult to blame Braverman for her never-ending stream of offence and obscenity. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that there’s some real money to be made in riling people up (and she’ll probably be looking for a new job soon, after all). But it does feel like she’s overdoing her audition for GB News a little bit. You need to leave yourself room for your schtick to evolve, and it’s difficult to do that when you’ve already said that it’s your “dream” and “obsession” to see a flight take asylum seekers to Rwanda. There’s a big difference between being controversial and being a Power Rangers villain.
The latest figures show that 157,640 families were homeless in 2022-2023 – an increase of 8.6 per cent from 2021-22, and 12.1 per cent above the pre-Covid-19 level in 2019-20. They also indicate that rough sleeping is on the rise, with more than 3,000 people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2022 – an increase of 26 per cent from 2021.
Braverman’s words would be beyond the pale even if those things weren’t true, but to say such a thing when families are struggling with an ongoing cost of living crisis, the ripple effects of a global pandemic, and a housing problem that only seems to get worse by the day, is a low point even by her barely existent standards.
Might I recommend to the home secretary that, if the sight of the unhoused offends her sensibilities to this extent, she try to actually do something about it? She is, I’ll remind her, a high-ranking member of the current government – and not, as she seems to believe, an alt-right YouTuber angling for a guest spot on InfoWars.
Hopefully, Braverman will never find herself in the kind of circumstances in which so many of her targets find themselves. But right now, if there’s anybody who needs to be forcibly evicted from their position for “blighting our communities”, it’s her.