log in

Help boost radical media and socialist organisation

Join Counterfire today for a minimum of just £5

Join Now

Homeless person in bus shelter next to Windsor Castle. Photo: Amer Ghazzal/Barcroft Images

Homeless person in bus shelter next to Windsor Castle. Photo: Amer Ghazzal/Barcroft Images

We cannot turn a blind eye to the class cleansing where homeless people are moved on whilst royal wedding fans camp out unhindered

Today, a man and a woman will be getting married.

Henry Charles Albert David and Rachel Meghan Markle - more commonly known to us as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - will be tying the knot after nearly three years as a couple.

Of course, due to being of a Royal calibre, it has prevailed that their wedding is of exceptional importance to the country, and the worlds media, particularly the BBC, will be locked in and fawning unabatedly as the day unfolds, having placed the couple on the highest possible pedestal.

With the battering of Royal news and pomp coming out of every available outlet, it should be remembered that the reason for the picture that we are witnessing boils down to the simple fact that Mr. Harry faired rather well in the outcome of a National birth lottery. That is to say, he just so happened to be born into an extremely wealthy and elite family - engulfed with all its history, traditional rigmarole, and entwined relationship with the political establishment.

Who he chooses to marry is very exciting for the media perpetuating this story of the current status quo of the Monarchy.

Yet, just a few metres down the road from the great Windsor castle in which the pair will be exchanging their wedding vows, there can be found a very different picture telling a very different story.

It is one of the less fortunate, but more common and increasing number of individuals who certainly did not fare as well as Harry in the lottery of birth and who do not fare well in society as it stands today.

These are people who do not have a roof over their heads when they go to sleep at night, who do not have the physical and mental comforts that a home provides; who have no choice but to sleep outside on the streets through lethal weather conditions and who depend on the good will of others to keep themselves fed each and every day.

In contrast to an overshadowing wedding of affluence, surely the situation of these people warrants more consideration.

Yet while the presence of rough sleepers in Windsor has been considered in the run up to this day, the nature of it is odious. 

Earlier this year, Tory councillor Simon Dudley caused a stir when he expressed his concerns surrounding Windsor’s homeless community.

Writing to a police commissioner, and copying in Theresa May and the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, he advocated for legal powers to be exercised in tackling what he called 'aggressive begging and intimidation' and 'bags and detritus', i.e. their possessions, accumulating on the street.

So concerned was he of the detrimental effect that this would have on the tourists and the media presence on the day, he thought necessary to add:

The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light.

While he was widely condemned for writing this, Dudley defended the statement by mentioning that he was talking about anti-social behaviour, not homelessness.

But given that the laws he advocated using consider begging to be anti-social behaviour (notably the 1824 Vagrancy Act and the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act), it makes handling the “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy” a venomous and nauseating paradox which he still stands by.

The end result here is the criminalisation of their subsistence.

The finger of shame cannot rest solely on Dudley though, as shortly after this was picked up by the media, the Windsor council proposed a 'robust strategy' aimed at dealing with the problem of homelessness in the area by enforcing fines against those engaging in 'aggressive or proactive begging'.

Proactive begging is the very means by which these people are able to sustain themselves, for inactive begging would mean to simply go without.

After further public outrage, this proposal had to be scrapped.

Despite this, as ardent Royalists and fans gathered outside the castle last week, draped in Union flags and smothered with faces of the bride and groom grinning from ear to ear; Police were filmed taking away possessions – or the detritus as Dudley puts it - of rough sleepers sitting in the doorways, apparently being moved away from the castle.

A police spokesman explained that this was voluntarily exchange, and they were keeping their things in storage as part of a scheme with a local charity, and would be returned after the event is over.

The reason for their dispersal is said to be for security reasons, in which large items would be confiscated as a matter of protocol.

But the Union Jack cocooned people perched opposite the castle with their sleeping bags, chairs and other detritus - who had willingly taken it upon themselves to camp out for the best view, and maybe even the chance of a physical touch - have not yet received the same treatment.

It makes the dispersal of the homeless in Windsor all the harder to accept in light of the fact that similar tactics have been applied to rough sleepers throughout the U.K - long before the wedding and well away from the ceremony.

In Gloucester for example, the Tory City council run a poster campaign urging people not to give any money to people who were begging. Worst still, the posters push forward the backwards and unhelpful idea that people begging on the street are not necessarily homeless at all.

So the approach in handling this situation appears to be this:

Discourage people from choosing to giving out their change; and criminalise those who ask for it.

How on earth can this be considered helpful?

These are people who are some of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of our society, and the fact of the matter is that there is now, currently, a record number of people finding themselves in this situation across the UK.

In England, the number of people sleeping rough on the streets is at its highest level since records began, with a 170% rise since 2010.

On top of this, we know that there are record levels of foodbank use which are also increasing, and we know that there are many who are just a paycheque away from being included in this figure.

With no clear plan from the Government in dealing with the problem of homelessness - indeed with their efforts actually contributing to it, not least by cuts to various services - laying the responsibility onto charities to sort things out is not good enough.

This is why the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Conservative ideology he encapsulates is so vile and detrimental. They will create straw man arguments and stress that the state cannot possibly do everything – that there is no magic money tree - and will fixate on the necessities of charity as being 'rather uplifting', symbolic of what a 'good, compassionate country we are.'

But the majority of this compassion comes out of the pockets of those who themselves, certainly compared with his class, are borderline broke. And not one bit of it tackles the cause of the problem.

In changing this, there needs to be systematic change throughout society. Creating more affordable, social housing is certainly the right way forward in helping prevent this problem, as will reversing cuts to services and putting an outright end to Austerity. But challenging the inhumanity as displayed in Windsor is also a necessity in making lives better for the impoverished, and the criminalisation needs to end now.

Despite public interest in the Royal wedding appearing to fall significantly, with less street parties taking place than the last one in 2011, and one YouGov poll showing that 66% of Britain’s were not interested in the event at all – it’s hard to imagine the BBC toning down their royal hyper drive any time soon.

In any case, Today, in England, an extremely wealthy man and woman will be getting married inside a castle, and parading around town in a gold upholstered carriage - at the expense of around £30 million to the tax payer.

Tonight, around 4,751 people will be sleeping rough on the streets.

Where is the immediate priority here?

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS

Log in or create an account