Rishi Sunak wants to prosecute rough sleepers. It seems money can’t buy brains

Here’s a message that Rishi Sunak – for all his riches – seems unable to understand:

Sunak thinks the best way to deal with homelessness is to criminalise it.

He wants to give local authorities and the police powers against “nuisance rough sleeping” as part of a flagship Criminal Justice Bill that is so loosely drawn up that someone could be considered a “nuisance” for sleeping in a doorway, having an “excessive smell” or looking as though they might intend to sleep rough.

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Critics – including backbenchers on both sides of the Conservative Party – say the Bill would criminalise people simply for being homeless. More than 40 Tory MPs are saying they won’t support it and are backing amendments:

This is a problem that Sunak has created for himself – because he could have avoided it if only he had done a minimal amount of research.

Nearly 10 years ago, This Site commented on the success of efforts to end homelessness in the highly right-wing Republican US state of Utah – where the authorities realised that permanently housing the homelessness is cheaper than criminalisation.

I wrote:

“In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of Emergency Room [hospital] visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker”, according to Nation of Change.

“So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

“It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.”

Here in the UK, we have a lot of social housing becoming available as the Bedroom Tax takes its toll, and a consequently-rising level of homelessness – meaning that British Conservatives have missed the point of the Utah programme altogether.

Perhaps they don’t have figures showing it is cheaper to house the homeless than to kick them onto the streets. It certainly seems unlikely that the overworked NHS take care to note down every single homeless person receiving treatment – and any conclusions we draw from the remarkable rise in Accident & Emergency admissions since the Tory-led government started its pogrom against social housing would be drawing on very iffy evidence.

Perhaps they want to develop the now-empty social housing into expensive homes for the very rich. This certainly seems to be happening in London. Even developments that are forced to include affordable housing have done so by segregation – adding divisive “poor doors” so that rich and poor neighbours need never meet each other.

Perhaps they simply want to hurt poor people.

This seems the most likely.

It can’t be about saving money, you see. One of the most right-wing states in one of the most right-wing countries in the world started running a social housing programme in the knowledge that it would save money for taxpayers, so the Tories can’t suggest that’s what they’re doing.

It has to be spite.

Is that what the new Criminal Justice Bill is about – victimising the poor one last time before the Tories are thrown out of office?

Or is Rishi Sunak simply too stupid to understand as Utah’s legislators did that the cost of arresting a homeless person, running them through the justice system and fining them an amount they cannot pay – simply for being homeless – creates a pointless burden on the public purse?

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