The Observer, seriously, and The Sunday Telegraph, flippantly, both report that Tory housing spokesman Grant Shapps is to sleep rough tomorrow night to highlight the growing problem of homelessness in Britain.
The sleep-out will be dismissed by many as a stunt but Mr Shapps hopes it will serve to highlight the growing problem of homeless children. This is what Mr Shapps recently told the Press Association:
"For 130,000 homeless children in England, this Christmas is unlikely to be much fun. These children are being forgotten and left behind. Lack of permanent accommodation can have a grave impact on a child’s health and development with devastating consequences. The fact that the number of homeless children has doubled over the past 10 years highlights the Government’s dismal record in creating more social housing. It is hard to escape the conclusion that their policies have been a dramatic failure in this area."
Mr Shapps follows in a great line of Tories escaping the Westminster village for some ‘real life experience’…
- There was Michael Portillo’s time as an assistant at ASDA;
- David Willetts sleeping on a council estate in Birmingham after the launch of Iain Duncan Smith’s badly-named Help The Vulnerable campaign;
- David Cameron staying with a Muslim family in Birmingham;
- Nigel Evans recently slept out in Parliament Square as part of a Burma protest;
- And a whole series of Tories – including Ed Vaizey – committing to spend weeks with voluntary organisations as part of a Centre for Social Justice initiative.
The CSJ initiative is the hardest to dismiss as a stunt. It involves our MPs spending serious time with a charity – getting to know their work and challenges. Over the last two years a number of MPs have got to know much more about the problems of homelessness, addiction and debt because of these ‘immersion weeks’.
PS ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie can claim to be one of the first Tories to do this work. In 1994 he lived as a ‘single parent’ for a week for BBC2’s Lifeswaps programme to see if he could survive on benefits (picture above). He did just about manage!