London’s Tory Westminster council, one of the richest in the UK aims to create a bylaw making it an offence, punishable by fines, to “give out food for free” – thus banning charities from running soup kitchens for homeless people.
Westminster council also plans to make it an offence to sleep rough on the streets, while at the same time slashing £5million off hostel funding – withdrawing funds for three hostels in the borough and housing trust.
Westminster town hall Tory chiefs say soup kitchens “encourage” people to sleep rough on the streets.
The council consultation paper purports to make it illegal for people to sleep rough as well as making illegal soup runs the Westminster Cathedral Piazza and surrounding area.
Westminster City council Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Daniel Astaire – a role which covers markets, alcohol and licensing, relations with the police and tackling general anti-social behaviour across the city – said free food “keeps people on the street longer”.
Mr Astaire added: “Soup runs have no place in the 21st century. It is undignified that people are being fed on the streets. They actually encourage people to sleep rough with all the dangers that entails. Our priority is to get people off the streets altogether. We have a range of services that can help do that.”
A Tory council spokesman defended the move, saying soup runs attract up to 100 people at a time, “making it a no-go area for residents, with issues around litter, urination, violence and disorder”.
The decision has provoked harsh criticism.
Reverend Alison Tomlin of the Methodist church in Westminster said: “The proposals are nothing short of disgusting. This bylaw punishes people solely for their misfortune and belongs in a Victorian statute book, not the 21st century.”
London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said: “Only the Conservatives would try to make it illegal to give food to the homeless.
“With Tory mayor Boris Johnson cutting affordable housing to a trickle, the number of people sleeping on the streets is rising and cuts to housing benefit threaten thousands more with eviction and homelessness.”
Westminster councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, said: “Nothing illustrates the cold-hearted and callous approach of the Conservatives than this attempt to criminalise those offering help to homeless people.
“I thought this was what the Big Society was supposed to be all about, generous-hearted people giving their time to those less fortunate, at no cost to the public purse. This is a nasty, mean move from a nasty, mean party.”
During the 2010 general election, the Conservative party made great efforts to convince the electorate that they were not the “nasty party” but rather the party of David Cameron’s “Big Society” vision which would create “an army of volunteers” who would help create a better sense of community spirit and self-help.
Critics say David Cameron’s “Big Society” has been shown up as a falsehood and the idea itself is in tatters.