Suella Braverman under fire after vowing crackdown on tents and claiming rough sleeping is ‘lifestyle choice’

Suella Braverman has prompted outrage after she vowed a crackdown on tents used by the homeless and described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice”.

The home secretary claimed streets risked being “taken over” and that without action British cities would see “an explosion of crime, drug taking, and squalor”.

She added that many of those living in tents were “from abroad”. Those who were genuinely homeless would always be supported, she said.

But in a raft of criticism over her remarks, she was accused of “disgraceful” politics and of blaming the most vulnerable for her government’s failings.

Even former Tory MPs condemned her push to fine charities who give tents to the homeless – part of proposals pitched to be included in the King’s Speech on Tuesday.

Ex-Tory MP Ben Howlett said such a move would be “actually evil” and “not a single MP with any shred of decency” could support it.

Charities have criticised Braverman’s claims that living on the streets is a ‘lifestyle choice’ (PA)
Charities have criticised Braverman’s claims that living on the streets is a ‘lifestyle choice’ (PA)

It comes as Ms Braverman, who is currently on a visit to the Greek island of Samos, said:

  • If anyone were to vandalise the Cenotaph during pro-Palestine marches on Armistice Day “they must be put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground”

  • she again referred to the protests as “hate marches”, despite a furious row over the phrase that has even included Gary Lineker

  • When asked about restricting homeless people from using tents, said “it cannot be right that parts of our cities are ruined and blighted by the sights and the use of tents”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused Ms Braverman of picking “a fight over tents” as Labour said ministers were “blaming homeless people rather than themselves” after rough sleeping rose dramatically since 2010. Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael denounced it as “grim politics from a desperate Conservative government which knows its day are numbered”.

And homelessness charity Shelter said: “Let’s make it clear: living on the streets is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ – it is a sign of failed government policy. No one should be punished for being homeless. Criminalising people for sleeping in tents, and making it an offence for charities to help them, is unacceptable.”

In her statement on the issue, written on X, formerly Twitter, Ms Braverman said that “nobody in Britain should be living in a tent” and that the government was working to help the homeless, including through treatment for those with drug and alcohol addiction.

She said she wanted to stop those who cause nuisance and distress to other people. She added: “We will always support those who are genuinely homeless. 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.”

Shelter estimated earlier this year that at least 271,000 people are recorded as homeless in England, including 123,000 children.

The last Conservative manifesto pledged to end rough sleeping before the next election, due by January 2025. But in September, the government was warned by the Kerslake Commission, a panel of 36 experts, that it was not on target to meet that goal.

Instead, figures published earlier this year show the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in England had risen for the first time since 2017.

A snapshot of a single night in autumn last year found 3,069 people sleeping rough, up 626 (26 per cent) on the equivalent total for the previous year and nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) higher than in 2010 when the figures began.

The British Red Cross has also warned that since August they have seen a 140 per cent increase in the number of people with refugee status becoming destitute. They said they were having to hand out sleeping bags and tents to people who are facing life on the streets.

A report has warned the deadline for ending rough sleeping by the end of this parliament will not be met (PA Archive)
A report has warned the deadline for ending rough sleeping by the end of this parliament will not be met (PA Archive)

Matt Downie, the chief executive of the charity Crisis, said new laws to crack down on the use of tents would do little to tackle rough sleeping but risked pushing people further into destitution.

“Ending rough sleeping is absolutely possible but it requires government to step up and make the changes needed that will actually achieve it, including investing in housing benefit so people can afford their rent. Stripping people of their only protection is not the answer,” he said.

Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy said: “Even by this government’s standards, this is disgraceful. Imagine looking at the housing and homelessness crisis you’ve presided over and thinking, ‘let’s take away their tents’.”

Ms Braverman’s statement was posted alongside a link to reports she is pitching for a new civil offence to be included in the King’s Speech on Tuesday that could see charities fined if they give tents to rough sleepers, who then go on to cause a public nuisance.

The Home Office said it would not comment on what might feature in the King’s Speech. But officials pointed to the Antisocial Behaviour Action Plan announced in March, which included proposals to provide police and councils with fresh powers to “address rough sleeping and other street activity where it is causing a public nuisance”.

The plan said officers should be able to “clear the debris, tents and paraphernalia that can blight an area, while ensuring those genuinely homeless and with complex needs are directed to appropriate support”.

Energy security secretary Claire Coutinho on Monday distanced herself from Ms Braverman’s comments, saying she would “not have used those words”.

Ms Coutinho told Times Radio: "I wouldn’t have used necessarily those words, but in my experience what you have is people often with very complex needs and sometimes they might refuse accommodation and that’s often because they’ve got complicated problems in their lives - like I said, it might be addiction, it might be mental health issues.”