Gloucester city council’s poster implies they are not worth our compassion. This is a travesty of human decency.
Have the Tory members of Gloucester city council been busy reading George Orwell’s 1984 in their book club recently?
It seems someone has read the bit at the back where Orwell describes how the political language, Newspeak – with its restricted grammar and limited vocabulary – is designed to distort how people think and control public attitudes. Posters were put up in Gloucester showing someone wearing a hoodie, under the headline of “Are you really helping homeless people?”, suggesting that people sleeping rough are not homeless, but “in accommodation, receiving support and benefits”. This sinister use of Newspeak tells the upstanding citizenry to stop feeling bad about not helping those in need, under the pretence of educating and informing. It even offered a subtle sense of justification that – weirdly – help isn’t really help at all. That’s not Newspeak, it’s doublespeak. Orwell was writing about a totalitarian state. We should be worried.
So that’s the propaganda. What about the fact?
During the weeks I spent listening to and recording homeless people in London – first-hand accounts of their lives are in my book Four Feet Under – I met a man called Benji who said, “Come on, why are we homeless, for God’s sake? Yeah, I’m going to chuck all my gear away, empty my bank account and give it to somebody and sleep on the street. Sure. Right, I’m going to do that!”
No one in their right mind thinks it’s a clever scam to sit on a freezing pavement suffering the humiliation of asking people for a few coins. And frankly, there are many people out there who are seriously mentally ill and are chaotically struggling to stay alive. And if there are scammers? So what? They would be such an insanely tiny percentage that they are of no interest or relevance to the big picture: why are our streets starting to look like Hogarth sketches?