Labour has slammed Boris Johnson’s choice of rough sleeping tsar after he said ‘many people choose to be on the streets’.
Shadow housing minister Sarah Jones said the government “is in denial about the root causes of homelessness” after minister Robert Jenrick announced his parliamentary private secretary, Tory MP Adam Holloway, is helping to “tackle the big questions of our age”.
Jones said that choosing someone who says “many people choose to be on the streets” was unacceptable.
Speaking in the Commons chamber she said: “Perhaps that’s why the Housing Secretary chose to appoint someone as his PPS (parliamentary private secretary), with specific responsibility for rough sleeping, who thinks that sleeping rough is a lifestyle choice, who claimed many people choose to be on the streets and that it’s more comfortable than going on exercise in the army.
“That is particularly insulting to hundreds of our armed forces veterans who are sleeping rough, who this government has abandoned despite their years of service to this country.”
In previous debates on homelessness, Gravesham MP Holloway spoke about the time he spent on the streets in 1991 and again in 2018 to learn more about the problems faced by those sleeping rough.
Last month, he advocated treating rough sleeping as a health issue and said “the reality is that many people choose to be on the streets”.
And in a 2018 debate, the former army captain described his own experience of sleeping on London’s streets as a “lot more comfortable” than going on exercise in the forces.
Responding to Jones, Jenrick said: “I’d politely point out that he spent over five months in the last few years sleeping rough on the streets of London, of Birmingham, of New York City.
“I don’t know, perhaps I’m mistaken, I don’t know if the honourable lady has done that. I don’t know if any other Member of this House has spent so much time with members of our homeless population.
“And I know for a fact he has members of staff in his office in this House who he has mentored off the streets and into a better life.
“He does sometimes asked ‘unacceptable questions’, as George Orwell would say. But you have to ask unacceptable questions sometimes if we, as politicians, want to tackle the big questions of our age.
“And if we want to tackle rough sleeping, we have to tackle addiction as well.”
Earlier, in a statement, Jenrick told MPs that, overall, the number of rough sleepers had fallen by 9% in the past year.