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Westminster's Ebeneezers should be ashamed of this uncharitable proposal

PUBLISHED: 10:53 15 November 2007 | UPDATED: 14:38 07 September 2010

WESTMINSTER Council is already famous – or should that be infamous – for its stern attitude towards those less fortunate members of society who are forced to live on the streets (let s face it, very few people do so out of choice, even when some of the bo

WESTMINSTER Council is already famous - or should that be infamous - for its stern attitude towards those less fortunate members of society who are forced to live on the streets (let's face it, very few people do so out of choice, even when some of the borough's streets are among the most fabulously adorned in London).

Unconcerned by the knock-on effect, Westminster shocked the nation and grabbed the headlines a few years ago by rounding up and exporting homeless people to neighbouring boroughs. This purge on the lowest tier of society was faintly reminiscent of the way the destitute were bundled across county lines during the Great Depression across the Atlantic in the 1930s.

Now, just in time for Christmas, the council is turning its attention to soup kitchens and other forms of free food distribution for the homeless.

Traditionally these outlets have been seen as a lifeline for the downtrodden. Apart from the Queen's speech, one thing you could be sure of seeing on television during the festive break was a heart-warming report of homeless people being given a proper dinner, party hats and shelter at Christmas.

This was a comfort to the rest of us as we feasted, knowing that society was doing something compassionate by bringing a little seasonal cheer and Christian hope to the destitute.

Very often those television pictures were filmed in Westminster - the juxtaposition of the stately majesty of Big Ben, the House of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral giving resonance to the plight of the homeless. For charities involved in helping them all-year round, it was a rare opportunity to put the issue in front of the nation.

Not any more if Westminster Council has its way. Council leaders have drafted a clause calling for free food outlets to be banned across London. Let's hope that the other local authorities treat the move with the contempt it deserves, and give it short shrift.

Assembly member Murad Quereshi describes the proposal as one that ''Ebenezer Scrooge himself would have been proud of'' and in a damning attack Shelter's chief executive Adam Sampson describes the council's action as being against the principles of British Society. He sees an obvious an irony in the fact that this undemocratic action is being taken in the very borough where modern democracy was born.

Housing boss Angela Harvey says that the reasons for people becoming homeless are too complex to be solved by handing out free food. She's right. One of the contributing factors is the decimation of council housing stock, an exercise which was embraced by Westminster with unseemly urgency and enthusiasm. Another is the woefully inadequate provision for the homeless in a city of seven million souls. Westminster's record in that respect isn't anyhting to be proud of either.

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