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Anger as Suella Braverman calls homeless in tents a “lifestyle choice”

Home secretary Suella Braverman has described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice”, prompting a furious reaction from moderate and left-leaning groups.

Braverman proposed cracking down on rough sleepers living in tents, marking the latest turn in her divisive politics.

She wrote on X/Twitter: “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.

“Unless we step in now to stop this, British cities will go the way of places in the US like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where weak policies have led to an explosion of crime, drug taking, and squalor.

“Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets. There are options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough, and the Government is working with local authorities to strengthen wraparound support including treatment for those with drug and alcohol addiction.

“What I want to stop, and what the law abiding majority wants us to stop, is those who cause nuisance and distress to other people by pitching tents in public spaces, aggressively begging, stealing, taking drugs, littering, and blighting our communities.”

The Financial Times reports that fresh homeless rules could replace elements in the 1824 Vagrancy Act.

Two clauses could be inserted into the new criminal justice bill in England and Wales, which could make it a civil offence for charities to hand out tents if they are deemed a nuisance – for example by blocking shop doorways.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said: “Living on the streets is not a lifestyle choice.”

She added: “Homelessness happens when housing policy fails and boils down to people not being able to afford to live anywhere.

“Private rents are at an all-time high, evictions are rising and the cost of living crisis continues.”

Opposing political parties spoke out.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “My brother was a rough sleeper, unlike Suella Braverman he has dedicated his life in gratitude to the fact he still has it to the service and help of others.

“He’d be a better home secretary than her but then again a cardboard box would be a better home secretary than her.”

And the Liberal Democrats wrote on X/Twitter: “It is a new low for Braverman to criminalise homeless charities for simply trying to keep vulnerable people warm and dry in winter.”

Even right-leaning political figures have been critical.

Gavin Barwell, former Tory housing minister, wrote: “We need to get people off the streets, but the language Braverman uses – dismissing the most vulnerable in our society as having made a lifestyle choice – is shameful and reveals she is more interested in appealing to her base than dealing with the complexity of the problem.”

Meanwhile the Conservatives’ current energy secretary Claire Coutinho distanced herself from Braverman’s comments, saying she “wouldn’t necessarily use that language”.