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MEAN STREETS; Tory council bans charities from feeding the homeless.

Byline: JASON BEATTIE

THEY spent much of the run-up to the election trying shake off their image as the nasty party.

But a heartless group of Tories have revealed their true colours by banning charities from running soup kitchens for the homeless.

Conservative Westminster council in Central London also wants to make it an offence to sleep rough - while slashing pounds 5million of funding to hostels.

Astonishingly, town hall chiefs claimed soup kitchens only "encourage" people to sleep on the streets.

We s t m i n s t e r council, one of the richest in the land, wants to bring in a bylaw making it an offence to "give out food for free", punishable by fines.

The twisted move blows apart David Cameron's Big Society boast that an army of volunteers will flock to help those worse off.

And it sparked a s t o r m o f criticism. Reverend Alison Tomlin of the Methodist church in Westminster said: J"The proposals are nothing short of disgusting. This bylaw punishes people solely for their misfortune and belongs in a Victorian statute book, not the 21st century."

Labour's London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone added: "Only the Conservatives would try to make it illegal to give food to the homeless.

"With Tory mayor Boris Johnson cutting affordable housing to a trickle, the number of people sleeping on the streets is rising and cuts to housing benefit threaten thousands more with eviction and homelessness."

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour Group, said: "Nothing illustrates the cold-hearted and callous approach of the Conservatives than this attempt to criminalise those offering help to homeless people.

"I thought this was what the Big Society was supposed to be all about, generous-hearted people giving their time to those less fortunate, at no cost to the public purse. This is a nasty, mean move from a nasty, mean party."

A consultation paper says rough sleeping and soup runs would be banned in the Westminster Cathedral Piazza and surrounding area.

Labour said the cruel move comes as the council withdraws funding for three hostels in the borough and housing trust.

But Westminster's Daniel Astaire risked provoking further fury by declaring free food "keeps people on the street longer". He added: "Soup runs have no place in the 21st century. It is undignified that people are being fed on the streets. They actually encourage people to sleep rough with all the dangers that entails. Our priority is to get people off the streets altogether. We have a range of services that can help do that."

A council spokesman said soup runs attract up to 100 people at a time, "making it a no-go area for residents, with issues around litter, urination, violence and disorder".

TORY councillor John Fareham has apologised after calling opponents of Hull council's pounds 65million cuts "retards" on Twitter. He said: "I got it wrong."

THE BYLAW

In Westminster it will become an offence, punishable by a fine, to: "Sleep or lie down, deposit materials used as bedding" and to "give out, or permit another to give out, food for free"

CAPTION(S):

ANGER Rev Tomlin hit back STARVING Homeless girl
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:528
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