THE “language of the hostile environment has had a baleful and chilling effect” for homeless people, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has said.
Writing on The Guardian website on Tuesday, Bishop Bayes argued: “Its impact has been to erode trust, and, without trust, any subsequent national initiative can then be seen as a potential trick or trap.”
His article was published after The Observer revealed, earlier this month, that homelessness charities would be asked by the Government to acquire sensitive personal data, meaning that non-UK rough sleepers could be deported.
The scheme, the Rough Sleeper Support Service (RSSS), would mean that data on homeless people would be forwarded to the Home Office without their consent.
Local authorities, including the Mayors of London and Liverpool, have refused to take part in the scheme.
A London mayoral spokesman said: “Heavy-handed enforcement is not the solution to rough sleeping, and our services will have no part in it. We have made absolutely clear to the Home Office that we do not support their approach, or any other that victimises people sleeping rough.”
Bishop Bayes wrote: “I agree with the 11 councils who are refusing to co-operate with the RSSS by sharing data. I believe that no undocumented person will accept help from homelessness outreach workers if, by doing so, their details will be shared with officials who want to deport them. This is not a negligible risk.”
He continued: “I have a vision for this country — one shared by many others — that has no room for the hostile environment.
“This is rooted in my faith as a Christian, and in the long traditions of our country as a place of welcome and care for the displaced: traditions enshrined in the NHS, of care for all, of the pursuit of lawful justice, certainly. . .
“That’s why I agree with Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, and his colleagues across the country. That’s why I believe in offering care to the poorest without strings, as churches and many others across the nation do day-by-day without complaint and without reward.”
Bishop Bayes concluded: “Words have consequences. In an increasingly fractious West, where public discourse is coarsening and political appeals to ‘the base’ are increasingly crude, we need to stand up for a better way.
“In particular, here and now, we all — people of faith and of no faith alike — need to resist any talk of a hostile environment if that talk puts the vulnerable at risk.”