One of the campaign's bench designs. Image: RainCity
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Vancouver’s homelessness benches were part of a charity ad campaign

But they’re still better than anti-homelessness spikes.

So, while London is making life as horrendous as possible for homeless people, Vancouver is being all lovely and stuff. That, at least, is the gist of reports such as this, from the Independent:

When the management of a block of luxury flats in London felt they had an issue with homeless people sleeping on the doorstep, their solution was apparently to install a set of spikes... Perhaps [London] could look to the work of a charity in Vancouver for inspiration. RainCity Housing, which provides specialised accommodation and support services for homeless people in the Canadian city, has set up instant pop-up shelters that take the form of an ordinary park bench.”

They’re not the only publication to draw this contrast. Actually, though, it turns out that the benches aren’t part of any great leap forward in facilities for the homeless. They were part of an ad campaign.

Over two months last autumn, RainCity modified seven benches, as a way of promoting its services. Three were adorned with photosensitive type which lit up with the words “this is a bedroom” at night; four with a foldout rain shelter marked “find shelter here”. All seven were emblazoned with RainCity’s office address to encourage rough sleepers to seek housing help.

Bill Briscall, the charity’s communications manager, says they weren’t trying to make outdoor sleeping a more attractive proposition: “We see the benches as a conversation, a reminder that people really do sleep on benches.”

This may have backfired slightly. People from as far afield as Los Angeles, New Zealand and the rest of Canada have contacted RainCity saying they are keen to have similar benches installed in their cities, too.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.