Rough sleeping: ‘We need mental health teams out on streets’, says Tory MP

Nickie Aiken: Woman with maggots in legs hasn't mental capacity to make choice

Monday, 11th October 2021 — By Richard Osley in Manchester

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Nickie Aiken speaking at the fringe meeting on rough sleeping

THE Conservative MP in one of Camden’s neighbouring boroughs told a fringe meeting that key street teams working with rough sleepers had been lost due to cuts.

Nickie Aiken, the MP for the Two Cities and former leader of Tory-held Westminster City Council, repeated her calls for the Vagrancy Act to be repealed and a reassessment of how the Mental Health Act was used.

Boris Johnson’s government has vowed to end rough sleeping before the general election – but discussion and debate has surrounded how this can realistically be achieved. The success of the “Everyone In” policy during the Covid crisis – homeless people were given shelter in hotels where support services were on hand to assess their needs – has been cited as proof more action can be taken.

Ms Aiken told a packed meeting organised by the Centre of Social Justice on Tuesday that even though there were beds available for rough sleepers, that did not automatically mean they would take up the offer.

“It cannot be right that a woman living – and I say in inverted commas ‘living’ – in the Charing Cross underpass with maggots going out of her leg has got the mental capacity to say she’s fine and she wants to stay on the streets because she finds it safer.

“I’m sorry, but my humble opinion and I’m not medically trained, but I would suggest that woman has not got the mental capacity to make that decision and therefore someone else has got to make that decision for her – and maybe we need to look at the Mental Health Act and decide whether the threshold should be lowered.”

She added: “Until we do these fundamental changes, we are still going to have people on the streets.”

She told Conservative members: “We had mental health street assessment teams in Westminster. They’re no longer there because of cuts and changes of direction, but we’ve got to have those teams back.”

On the Vagrancy Act, Ms Aiken said it only served to “criminalise and demonise”, adding: “We should consider them as patients who need to be helped off the streets.”

She said she had won the support from Robert Jenrick for repealing the Act but he was no longer the government’s communities secretary.
Instead, Michael Gove is now heading up a new ministry for “levelling up”.

“I  have been working and campaigning in rough sleeping policy for a decade and I think I’m now on my fifth secretary of state,” she said.

Mr Jenrick spoke at the same meeting, joking that the reshuffle had been an “involuntary sabbatical” for him.

He said that the issue of rough sleeping still “stuck with me” and it was a “stain on the record of us as Conservatives that it [rough sleeping] rose so much after 2010”.

But Mr Jenrick added there were ways to bring it down if the government took on the challenge across all of its departments, from health to housing.

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