Oxford city councillor John Tanner has been forced to apologise after deeming homeless people “a disgrace”.
A formal complaint has been launched by East Oxford Conservative Association.
Speaking on BBC Radio Oxford on Monday morning, discussing Oxford’s homelessness crisis the Labour councillor said: “I would like to go to some of these rough sleepers and say you are a disgrace. I don’t think it would do any good but they ought to have more respect.”
These comments led the Green Party in Oxford to threaten launching a Standards Board complaint against him for allegedly breaching the code of council member conduct.
In response, the Councillor issued a public apology on Tuesday: “I unreservedly apologise for the remarks I made on local radio about beggars in Oxford. It is a disgrace that we have beggars on the streets of Oxford but I do not blame the beggars for this situation.
“My comments were very ill-advised and do not reflect what I really think. Beggars often have mental health, drug or drink problems and deserve our support. I am sorry for the offence I have caused by my remarks.
“Oxford City Council plays a leading role in helping the street homeless on the streets. I recognise that only some beggars are also street homeless. I encourage everyone not to give money directly to beggars but to support charities like Oxford Poverty Action Trust.”
These comments come amid a homelessness crisis in Oxford, where numbers have risen by 50 per cent from 2014-15, when the council counted 39 rough sleepers.
Oxford City Council currently works with St Mungo’s Broadway on Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (SPOT), a seven-day service helping Oxford’s homeless by providing assessments and reconnection, as well as emergency shelters.
However on Wednesday an official complaint was launched against Tanner by Oxford East Conservative Association concerning formal code of conduct complaint to the city council.
The complaint, submitted by Conservative Association Deputy Chairman Councillor Alex Curtis commented that Councillor Tanner’s remarks were “deeply concerning.”
“Not only are they insensitive, they betray an appalling lack of compassion and concern for vulnerable residents the council are supposed to be protecting. I believe Oxford’s residents have the right to demand answers for this attitude. The Labour-led city council, of which Cllr. Tanner is a leading member, has not led the way with constructive solutions to the substantial numbers of rough sleepers in Oxford.”
Alex Curtis further commented: “Measures to criminalise rough sleepers with on the spot new of £100 demonstrate a shocking lack of regard for the plight of the homeless. The city frankly deserves better leadership on this issue than Cllr. Tanner and his party colleagues have provided.”
John Tanner is a Councillor for Littlemore parish, near Cowley.
Neo, a homeless man who works to improve the lives of people living on the streets in Oxford commented that the Councillors “do not have a clue about why people do what they do. People need to be educated more in the different types of homelessness”.
The issue of homelessness in Oxford has been brought to increased attention in recent weeks, following the public campaign by a group of squatters to continue using a former garage owned by Wadham as a homeless shelter. Around 20 people are believed to have been living in the space since New Years Eve.
The group—Iffley Open House (IOH)—have been ordered by Wadham to vacate the site by the end of the month. An eviction notice was issued at a court hearing last Friday. The college intends to go ahead with pre-demolition work to turn the site into student accommodation.
An open letter and petition, calling on the University and Wadham not to evict IOH residents until they have found alternative accommodation and to make available vacant university buildings to the homeless, were published this week by the OUSU homelessness campaign, On Your Doorstep. It reads: “Oxford—please don’t stand on the wrong side of history.”