Tory minister endorses making hostile environment for homeless people even more hostile

Kit Malthouse, the new housing minister, thinks that homeless people can be simply “incentivised” out of their homelessness.

The new Conservative Housing Minister has a very controversial record on homelessness, during his tenure at Westminster City Council – in that he wasn’t fond of there being any homeless people within Westminster and tried to clear them from the City. He once claimed that homeless people in the UK are “too comfortable” sleeping on the streets and suggested that “hosing them out of doorways” was the ‘right’ policy approach, it has been reported.

He’s not much of a housing enthusiast, evidently. Malthouse was previously elected to the London Assembly seat of West Central, and within days was also appointed by Boris Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Policing, a role in which he served for four years. In 2012 he was moved to become the first Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with a brief to improve employment figures in the capital.

Callous Christopher Laurie ‘Kit’ Malthouse, a former work and pensions minister, was appointed as Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by Theresa May, after Dominic Rabb was announced as the new Brexit Secretary in the wake of a rebellion and resignations over the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the EU. 

Anyone hoping for a softer and more humane approach to Britain’s homelessness crisis are likely to be disappointed, because Malthouse has a shameless history of contempt and animosity towards homeless citizens.

As Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, Malthouse was accused of being “ruthless” towards homeless people and rough sleepers, including supporting the idea of “hosing them out of doorways”, according to Mirror Online.

In April 2008 he boasted: “We certainly instituted a policy of making life – it sounds counterintuitive and cruel – more uncomfortable; that is absolutely right.”

He added: “One of the targets [I was] set was to [remove] more than halve the number in Westminster. 

“Working with a number of charities and groups across Westminster we analysed the problem, and one of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street.

“I know that sounds an awful thing to say but let me finish the argument, OK?.”

It sounds a Conservative thing to say.  The Conservatives have approached the social problems that their own policies have created, such as increasing poverty and destitution – by blaming and punishing those affected by neoliberal policies. That approach isn’t ‘counterintuitive’, it’s brutal, callous and dishonest. This approach, dressed up in the language of nudge, is an attempt at propping up a failing system, and justifying Tory dogma. It’s a government that’s fond of meaningless management jargon and boardroom psychological woo woo. 

I have yet to hear of a homeless person who stopped being homeless because they were made to face even more ordeals. The idea that gratuitously punishing (euphemised as “incentivising”) poor and homeless people ‘out of’ poverty and homelessness is utterly barbaric . Punitive and hostile policies simply present people with further barriers to escaping dire circumstances and perpetuate the misery of poverty and homelessness. 

Malthouse continued: “There were, at the time, plenty, well-funded – we managed to get quite a lot of funding – night shelters and night centres; we managed to extract a cheque for £130,000 for St. Martin’s so it could stay open all night.

“The difficulty was getting rough sleepers into those centres so that they could be interacted with, their needs could be met.”

He has also been reported as saying: “The idea that everyone begging is down on their luck is a fantasy”, and claimed in the run up to the last General Election that people who are forced to visit foodbanks do so because they ‘cannot properly manage their finances.’

Malthouse, now MP for North West Hampshire, described the council’s campaign of “positive and negative incentives” as an attempt to reduce ‘begging’ in the area. 

After 27 homeless people were arrested by police in 2004, Malthouse argued that his “zero tolerance” approach to homelessness should be adopted by other local authorities.

Alexandra Morris, Managing Director of online letting agent MakeUrMove, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the housing brief is once again the poor relation. We’re staring down the barrel of a very real housing crisis.

“The Government needs to make housing a priority, and this starts with appointing an expert on housing with a firm commitment to the role.”

Malthouse was told to resign in 2016 as patron of the MS Society, the national charity that campaigns on issues surrounding multiple sclerosis, and was no longer seen as “suitable” for the position after he voted in favour of cuts to ESA that would see people with multiple sclerosis among hundreds of thousands of disabled people to lose critical allowances.

The charity Crisis was among those to take exception to Malthouse’s approach – called  Operation Loose Change – which was enacted by Westminster Council and the Met Police.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good. 

“The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people.”

It’s worth noting that according to TheyWorkForYou, Malthouse has voted:

  • Consistently for new High Speed Rail infrastructure (HS2) (2 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently for reducing funding to local governments (3 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Generally voted against increasing powers to local government (4 for – 11 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for charging a market rent to high earners renting a council home (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions).

Malthouse’s statement following his appointment at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: “I am delighted to be appointed as Minister of State for Housing.

“Building the homes this country needs is a top priority for this government. I am keen to build on the real progress that has been made and start working with the sector so we can deliver more homes, restore the dream of home ownership and build a housing market fit for the future.”

“I’m also committed to continuing the important work of supporting those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensuring people are safe, and feel safe in their homes.”

I can’t help but wonder, given his last paragraph, what “real progress” he is referring to.

Neoliberalism is based on competitive individualism. In such a competitive system it’s inevitable that there will be a few “winners” and many “losers”. That’s what “competition” means. It means no rewards for most people – inequality and poverty for the many, wealth for a few. It’s not possible to “work hard” to change this. Inequality is entrenched because of the system of governance and policy choices. Therefore it’s hardly fair or appropriate for a government to blame and punish people for the failings of their own imposed ideology – a political and economic mode of organisation – which most ordinary people did not intentionally choose.
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8 thoughts on “Tory minister endorses making hostile environment for homeless people even more hostile

  1. I watched a couple of TV programs about homeless families in London on TV some weeks ago. It appears the problem is being solved (or not) by sending them North. They are being offered rehousing in inner city Birmingham or Manchester. It seems that removing the poor from London is a priority and sending them ever further North in the hope (judging by past performance) that they will eventually drop into the North Sea. This government is cesspit.

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