Rory Stewart praises ‘radical’ scheme of handing thousands in cash to homeless

Giving unconditional cash directly to homeless people has been “completely transformative” in other countries, a former politician has argued.

Speaking on his latest The Rest is Politics podcast, former Tory minister Rory Stewart proposed the concept of giving thousands of pounds directly to homeless people following the “compelling” results this has had in Canada.

Referring to the New Leaf Project, which saw the charity Foundations for Social Change (FSC) give people in the Vancouver area who have been homeless for less than two years a one-time deposit of $7,500 in Canadian dollars (around £4,400), Mr Stewart said: “Most exciting though, for me, is what’s happened in Canada.

“They did an experiment by giving £4,400 of basically unconditional cash to rough sleepers. So really radical. Give directly. Give directly. And it was completely transformative.

“They didn’t spend it on drugs and alcohol. Almost all of them got into accommodation, began earning enough money to start supporting friends and family, and in quite a quick period of time, began saving the Government money. The evidence from Canada is absolutely compelling.”

READ MORE: Braverman wants to stop the ‘nuisance and distress’ caused by homeless tents

According to the FSC’s published findings, those who received money spent less days homeless than the others, moved into stable housing in an average of three months, and 67 percent became food secure in one month.

The people who received the payments typically spent them on the necessities. Around 52 percent was spent on food and rent, 15 percent on other items like bills and medicine, and 16 percent on clothes and transportation. Spending on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs dropped an average 39 percent.

Mr Stewart continued: “There are brilliant programmes that I’ve seen in the Midlands where you can provide incredible wraparound 24/7 support and help people into housing, mentor them, and sit with them.

“But that’s very, very expensive and you end up spending an incredible amount of money, £40,000 to £50,000 per person on the mentoring and the wraparound support. The Canada approach is much more radical, costs a tenth as much and is having astonishing results.”

Mr Stewart said one of the things they found during the Canadian project was giving direct cash to people “freed them up” and revealed much more about what specialist support they need.

He explained: “So actually, it turns out that not everybody requires the same support as you can imagine. And the great thing about the cash is it gets people into accommodation and sorts out their finances.”

At that point, Mr Stewart said it becomes “much easier” to identify who needs what support. For example, while one person may need extra mental health support, another may need educational support.

He continued: “But starting with the cash – and that actually is going to be quite controversial for some of the charities. Many of them will hear this and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. We know these people. If we give them £4,400 of cash, they’re going to abuse it’.

However, Mr Stewart said: “It’s not true. The evidence from Canada is very compelling. So I would encourage people to take risks.”

Responding to the suggestion, co-host Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street director of communications and strategy, said: “On the rough sleepers, the principles that we put at the heart of it, one was this focus on trying to rehabilitate and give people a sense of their own future. The second big thing was mental health support.

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“And I think if Suella Braverman actually did go around and talk to some of these people sleeping in tents on the streets being helped by these charities, then I think she’d discovered that mental health and mental illness is a big, big, big part of this.”

Describing homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” in a series of recent controversial posts on X, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been pushing for restrictions on the use of tents by rough sleepers.

In her statement, Ms Braverman said the Government would support those who are “genuinely” homeless, but added: “We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.”

While the proposal, which has received backlash, was not outlined in the King’s Speech, a source close to Mrs Braverman has said the idea has not been dropped.

The Criminal Justice Bill, which was announced in the King’s Speech, does however include proposed new powers to tackle “persistent, nuisance, and organised begging”.

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The Bill is designed to replace the dated 1824 Vagrancy Act, which makes begging and rough sleeping a criminal offence in England and Wales.

Its introduction to the Commons, which was due to start on Wednesday, has been delayed by discussions about whether to include Mrs Braverman’s tent restriction proposal.

Mrs Braverman also wants to include fines in the bill for homeless people who have been warned by police about causing a nuisance, such as refusing to move their tents from shop doorways.

Critics have described the idea as “cruelty dressed up as policy” which would only push people into further destitution. Meanwhile, Labour MP Lisa Nandy posted on X: “Even by this Government’s standards, this is disgraceful. Imagine looking at the housing and homelessness crisis you’ve presided over and thinking, let’s take away their tents.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he does not want anyone to be criminalised for not having somewhere to live, but declined to rule out a restriction on tents.

Asked if there will be a restriction on tents involved in the Criminal Justice Bill, he told reporters: “I don’t want anyone to have to sleep rough and I’m proud of the Government’s track record over the past few years in tackling that.

“We’re investing £2billion and the number of people rough sleeping is down by a third since the peak, and thanks to our Homelessness Reduction Act, which is a piece of legislation we passed a little while ago, over 600,000 people have had their homelessness or rough sleeping either alleviated or prevented, but there’s always more that we can do. That’s why we’ll keep working at it.

“We said earlier in the year that we didn’t want anyone to be criminalised for not having somewhere to live and that’s why we were going to repeal something called the Vagrancy Act, which is an outdated piece of law from the 1800s.

“At the same time as part of that plan, we want to make sure that intimidating or violent conduct, that the police do have the powers to tackle that.”

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