Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Homeless veterans are victims of the information war


RECENT report in the Express made the explosive claim that 2,500 British service veterans are being left to rot on our streets whilst the Government considers housing immigrants in Ministry of Defence accommodation.

It is only partly true, however, and the reality is likely to be much worse.

To investigate this issue is to blunder into the crossfire of the information war. On the side of the ordinary British citizen are people with their phones who record the immigrant waves, a few pieces in the papers here and there, and the updates of Nigel Farage.

On the other, a highly effective operation which permeates all the major news and social media organisations, includes governments and international NGOs, and attracts lucrative funding to produce its propaganda. This movement has succeeded in establishing an alternative vocabulary and a parallel reality to rival that which we see on the ground.

The facts are the high ground of this battlespace. The base figure of 2,500 homeless UK veterans is a case in point. A 2014 British Legion report said there were only 127 homeless veterans in London, fewer than 3 per cent of all homeless cases. Reports on homeless veteran numbers are scaled up nationally from London figures, there being no overall data capture.

Even this low number is seen as perhaps excessive by the 2020 report by the London-based Combined Homelessness and Information Network, whose study suggested a drop in homeless veteran numbers from 3 per cent to 2 per cent of the London homeless population over 2018-19.

These figures do not stand up to scrutiny. A far larger issue is suggested by the work of Salford University’s Mark Wilding, who authored a study on homeless veterans in England. ‘The Challenges of Measuring Homelessness in Armed Forces Veterans’ published in 2020 found that a major factor was the London-focused nature of homelessness data. Added to this is the fact that ‘Though more homeless veterans presented to services than identified in the local authority homelessness return, veterans were predominantly self-referring into direct access hostels or accessing support through Armed Forces charities and community organisations. As such, these veterans were not going through the statutory homeless system.’

The conclusion is that many UK military veterans are simply invisible to the system, a claim which is reinforced by the British Legion’s own report, which states: ‘Glasgow Homelessness Partnership surveyed the local single homeless population and found 12 per cent reported having previously served in the Armed Forces.’

On the matter of homeless veterans and immigrants, there are clearly problems with the numbers. A brief internet search will return many results dismissing the very idea that migrants are displacing military veterans at all. The Red Cross contests whether there is a problem with mass immigration at all, whilst the Migration Observatory at Oxford University suggests the same, whilst promoting the far friendlier term of ‘irregular migration’ over the disturbingly accurate ‘illegal immigrant’. With trusted names such as this entering the fray on the side of the international bargain hunter it seems as if anyone with reservations about immigration is in bad company.

Luckily there is a solution. The reassuringly titled Full Fact is an ‘independent fact-checking service’. In a remarkable coincidence its checked facts seem to agree completely with one side and disdain the claims of the other – yours.

The usual methods are employed to undermine confidence in basic facts. Here the claim of the number of asylum seekers in hotels in 2020 is contested, with a much lower figure of 34 homeless veterans given for the whole of London. Full Fact returned to the fray last month with a piece showing that the whole issue was due to the misapplication of US statistics to the UK. This is an interesting gambit, because according to the academic research of Mark Wilding, England’s stated percentage of homeless veterans is suspiciously low when compared with the figure derived from the far more rigorous assessments conducted in the US.

Despite being lacking in the possession of the facts, Full Fact is proud of its impartiality, which is guaranteed by generous funding from Facebook and Google. It is part of a much broader campaign of information warfare which is conducted to manipulate public feeling about immigration and to obscure or reframe facts unhelpful to its promotion as a Good Thing.

Is there any truth then to the claim that immigrants are displacing our military veterans? Steven Bentham-Bates of the Rotherham-based Help 4 Homeless Veterans said: ‘Charities like ours are forced to scratch around to help veterans who have put themselves in harm’s way and now find themselves homeless.’

The numbers make a serious difference in the information war. Here are the accounts for Help 4 Homeless Veterans, showing a total income of £189,000 and run completely by volunteers. Steven also runs the Employ a Hero scheme, promoting ex-forces members to potential employers. The numbers on the funding page of Full Fact tell a different story. In 2021 they received around £700,000 from Facebook and Google alone. They are also involved in fact-checking for WhatsApp.

To return from the happy alternate reality of the fact-checkers is to be struck by the reek of scandal. There is no real interest in finding out how many of our veterans are actually homeless. There is no solution to the arrival of Albanian young men in boats. This grim numbers game fuels a housing crisis which at 2019 levels of immigration required one house to be built every six minutes, night and day. Yet it seems that an attractive solution to the government is the use of MoD housing.

The facts still have a voice, but they speak from the human scale experience of everyday life. The fact-checkers blare from mass media, from powerful institutions, trading on impressive names and parlaying this capital into a taint by association for anyone foolish enough to notice what is happening in reality.

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Frank Wright
Frank Wright
Frank Wright is a writer from the North East of England. He lives in Hampshire with his wife and young family. Follow him on Substack at .

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