What happened to caring about the homeless during the pandemic? Why am I seeing people sleeping on the street in this bitterly cold weather, leaving them open to infection and to infecting others?
During the first lockdown, many people were put into hotels, hostels or other forms of accommodation, saving hundreds of lives and fending off a coronavirus outbreak among the homeless population that could have spread into the wider community. The Everyone In strategy was such a success you couldn’t help wondering why it wasn’t happening anyway. Now homeless charities and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, are asking for a repeat of the scheme. While extra government funding has been allocated to help especially vulnerable homeless people, the charity Crisis says this will run out quickly and anyway the money is less than was given in March.
The government is being asked (yet again) to lift the “no recourse to public funds” rule that means migrant workers with leave to stay can’t access certain welfare benefits, frequently leaving them without adequate funds. And post-Brexit legislation, announced last month, means that foreign nationals (almost half of rough sleepers in London) could be deported from the UK if they’re suspected of sleeping on the streets.
Many of these people will have been working in restaurants, bars and shops, losing their income directly because of the pandemic, but right now it’s impossible to sofa-surf. There are concerns that people could be lured into forms of modern slavery out of desperation to avoid being deported for sleeping rough.
Winter weather makes it much harder to sleep outside. This leaves homeless people with a stark choice: to take their chances on the street or try to find shelters, which, even if they’re open, would leave them highly vulnerable to infection.
This puts all the talk of “saving Christmas” into perspective. This is the time of year when we are urged to think of homeless people and make donations (which can still happen). With the pandemic, however, these people are in danger of being sidelined when their situation is worse than ever.
It’s not just about what’s happening to the homeless, it’s about what’s not happening for them. It makes no sense that they and those who help them are receiving less funding now than in March. It’s unconscionable that, at a time like this, people are struggling to access their rightful benefits. It’s inhumane that anybody is terrified that, if they’re forced to sleep rough, they could end up deported. It’s already November and the government must act decisively to save lives and stave off the spread of infection in the homeless population and beyond. If we cared about homeless people in March, we should care just as much today.
Lewis Hamilton alone can’t drive Saudi Arabia out of F1
Can Lewis Hamilton be expected to solve all the ethical problems of Formula One? Saudi Arabia is to host its first F1 race in 2021, in a reported decade-long £38.7m deal, condemned as “sportswashing”. Human rights groups have pointed out Saudi Arabia’s appalling record, with Amnesty International UK’s Felix Jakens calling on Hamilton, a supporter of Black Lives Matter (BLM), to speak out, adding: “(The) onus is not just on star drivers but the whole industry to be aware of what is happening in Saudi Arabia.”
Quite. How much could one famous driver, even several, expect to achieve? Hamilton’s halo rather slips out from under his helmet and crashes to the tarmac when you hear that he’s a Monaco tax exile. Still, he has cut a brave and lonely figure speaking up for BLM and general inclusivity. Some at Formula One support him; others do not.
More importantly, the sport can’t seriously pose as enlightened and inclusive, launching “we race as one” initiatives, then make deals with a regime that views women’s rights, homosexuality and atheism as “extremist ideas” punishable by imprisonment and flogging. If Hamilton makes a stand against Saudi Arabia, it would be welcome, but still not enough. Formula One needs to own its contradictory, money-grubbing behaviour.
Lockdown or not, Strictly always keeps us on our toes
Two weeks in and it’s time to assess socially distanced/bubbled Strictly Come Dancing. All those killjoys who don’t care for a weekly dose of fake tan, bleeding feet and bruised celebrity egos, look away. Strictly fans may agree that it’s going great. At times, it’s slightly empty and eerie, with no studio audience, like a kind of Imaginary Friend Strictly or Ghost Story Strictly. (“I hear people clapping.” “But of course. Come with me. You shouldn’t be in the East Wing.”) The contestants have to do most of the whooping and applauding for “atmosphere”, so I hope they’re getting paid extra or, it being lockdown, a parcel of quilted bog roll and slightly dented tins of baked beans are sent to loved ones.
One thing that’s turned out to be great is the first same-sex pairing, of boxer Nicola Adams and professional dancer Katya Jones. Astonishingly, the world did not burn down and God did not send plagues of frogs and locusts. In fact, going by my cultural stopwatch, it took about 1.5 seconds, possibly less, for Nicola and Katya to look just like any other Strictly competitors.
Sadly, the “more mature contestants” are failing to deliver. Generally, older contestants are there to make people like me feel less blimpy as we slump on sofas, contemplating ordering a second round of Deliveroo. Caroline Quentin and Bill Bailey are screwing that up by being nifty on their feet and looking rather dangerous.
Thankfully, former home secretary Jacqui Smith slid manically across the floor as if her feet were attempting to play a brutal game of ice hockey without the rest of her. Not even a Zoom pep-talk from Strictly’s foremost political spangle-whisperer, Ed Balls, could save Jacqui from being ditched first in the second major Labour-themed voting calamity of recent times. All in all, bravo, Lockdown Strictly, from where I’m sitting, the show goes on.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist