With a councillor calling for rough-sleepers in Bath to be sent back to their councils, should the council support homeless people from other areas?
From the outside, Bath may seem like a bubble of World Heritage City beauty, unaffected by the problems of homelessness that large cities like London and Manchester experience. However, if you’ve ever been in central Bath late at night, you’ll know that this is not at all true; you’re likely to see several homeless people, and potentially be approached by one of them asking for money so they can get a room for the night.
Bath and North East Somerset Council has recently acquired £860,000 of government funds to help these people. However, local councillor Barry Macrae has said any rough sleepers not local to this area should be sent “back to where they came from”. He claims this is due to a fear that when this money runs out, the funds will have to come from local people and the council. This is a very real concern, and I wholly agree that we can’t let other councils get away with not effectively tackling their homeless problem, leaving the burden to fall on Bath as rough sleepers move here. He’s not wrong either that housing homeless people is expensive, with the cost of providing homeless families in Bath with temporary accommodation being more than £150,000 in 2016/17. Therefore, with an estimated 1/3 of rough sleepers in Bath not being ‘locals’, it is easy to see how handing over the responsibility of helping these people to other councils could help to stretch funds.
However, the current funds are not coming from council tax payments (which would be paid only by constituents of Bath and North East Somerset), but from the government budget, which is funded by taxpayers from across the UK. Not only that, but the stage where the money may run out is a long way down the line. Therefore, I would argue that while preparations should certainly be made to ensure that the scenario Macrae is describing doesn’t happen, the weather is getting colder every minute as I write this, and the danger that faces people sleeping rough in these harsh conditions won’t discriminate based on what council they belong to. Furthermore, there has already been an indication from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that their funding could be extended beyond the current 18-month guarantee, so the idea the funds will dry up at the end of this period isn’t a certainty.
The rhetoric of ‘we have to look after our own’ is a dangerous logic that leads to discrimination and ‘othering’. It’s a slippery slope: where do you draw the line of telling a homeless person to ‘go home’? Are we going to tell homeless immigrants that they have to go back to their country of birth, even if they have worked in the UK for years before, for whatever reason, ending up on the streets? I would instead agree with Conservative councilor Lisa O’Brien that we have to take care of any vulnerable person. The first step in the process of addressing homelessness in Bath should be to help those that are incredibly vulnerable, not to figure out who should be helping them; that can come at the later stages of rehabilitation when they are safe, with a roof over their heads.