This afternoon I was writing a no doubt worthy item for this blog on BHT’s preparation for the digital inclusion challenges relating to the introduction of Universal Credit when I saw the tweets by Aideen Jones, the Chief Executive of Southdown Housing Association, regarding members of the Bullingdon Club who allegedly burnt a £50 note in front of someone begging on the streets of Oxford. (26/02/13: Please note I have removed a link to the original article on another blog which has itself been removed).
Aideen is right to point out that £50 could have bought 40 pairs of thermal socks for homeless people.
Of course people will make a connection between this obscene flaunting of wealth by a group of rich boys. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Mayor of London, all were members of the Bullingdon Club during their misspent youth, but I imagine Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Johnson will today share the outrage felt by most reasonably minded individuals over this incident.
The thing that upsets me most about this incident is what it says about how homeless men and women are dehumanised by society. If the allegation is true, these Bullingdon Bullies are merely an extreme example, and are the rightful targets for the contempt of decent people. But this dehumanisation goes much wider, from the groups of lads who think it is funny to give someone sleeping rough a kicking on a Saturday night, or a drunken reveller relieving himself on someone sleeping in a doorway, or the security guard who pours a bucket of cold water over someone sleeping in a car park.
More extreme examples lead to the violent death of homeless people through assault or setting fire to a sleeping bag when the individual is asleep in it. Dropping a paving slab on the head of someone asleep on the beach or in a park is likely to do serious damage.
Yet this happens. What we need to do is to put an end to homelessness. A grand objective, but one that should be seen as historically important as the abolition of slavery or the ending of apartheid. This week, Homeless Link will be launching a manifesto aimed at seeing the end of homelessness in the UK by 2023. My colleague, Nikki Homewood, will be at the launch of this manifesto in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
But individually we can do something. In response to Aideen’s tweet, I will buy £50 of thermal underwear for homeless men and women who use First Base Day Centre. You, too, can help, either by buying something from Amazon using the First Base wish list on this link or for those of you who don’t wish to use Amazon, donations can be made direct to First Base through our Just Giving page.
But there is one other thing we can do. We can stop using the term ‘the homeless’, a phrase that dehumanises people. They are men and women, they are someone’s son or daughter, husband or wide, brother or sister, father or mother. They have names. They have hopes and aspirations, feelings and fears. I always try to refer to “homeless men and women”.
In South Africa, where I grew up under apartheid, the white rulers referred to “the blacks” who had second class status, and whose lives were valued less than those of white people. The murder of a black man and woman rarely attracted media attention, more rarely warranted a police enquiry. In the white community, black people had become dehumanised. Hopefully in Britain in 2013 we won’t allow the same to happen to homeless men and women.