Steve Barclay has become the latest senior Conservative to distance himself from the home secretary’s claim that rough sleeping is sometimes a “lifestyle choice”.
Suella Braverman claimed that rough sleeping in a tent is a “lifestyle choice” in a tweet over the weekend.
The comments came as she appeared to confirm reports that plans were being made to see charities fined for handing out tents. It was reported that the proposal had been pitched for inclusion in the King’s Speech.
Braverman tweeted on Saturday: “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.”
Asked this morning for his reaction to the home secretary’s remarks, health secretary Steve Barclay said: “We need to get the number of rough sleepers down and that’s what we’re doing. It’s down by a third and there’s complex issues.
“If there’s accommodation available I think it’s important we understand why that’s not being used, but often there’s complex reasons why people are rough sleeping”
Asked by broadcasters if the language was “offensive”, Sunak said: “I don’t want anyone to sleep rough on our streets.
“That’s why the government is investing £2bn over the next few years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. I’m pleased that the number of people sleeping rough is down by a third since the peak, but of course there is more to do.” He declined an offer to repeat her comments.
She told Times Radio: “Before I came to parliament I did a lot of work in social justice. I actually worked with people who were homeless, and I think the reasons that people get into that position are complex and very varied, so I wouldn’t necessarily use the language of ‘lifestyle choice’”.
On Tuesday, justice secretary Alex Chalk was pressed on the comments. He told Sky News he would take a “take a different approach”.
“There’s often a very significant context, which will be mental health issues, substance abuse problems, relationship breakdown, loss of a job and so on. And so I do think that that needs to be weighed in the balance.”
He added: “We shouldn’t do anything which entrenches people’s rough sleeping. Because if you do that, effectively you’re condemning and consigning people to poorer health outcomes and I’m afraid, in some cases, even shorter life expectancy”.
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