Rough sleeper gives birth to twins outside wealthiest Cambridge college

Woman delivered premature babies in front of Trinity College on Monday

A homeless woman gave birth to premature twins while sleeping rough outside Cambridge University’s wealthiest college.

The woman, believed to be about 30, gave birth outside Trinity College. She was helped by members of the public, who called an ambulance, according to reports.

A witness told Cambridge News she had seen the new mother and her two children wrapped up in blankets inside ambulances when she cycled past at about 7.15am on Monday.

“They were all in the ambulances by the time I cycled past,” she said. “My workmate was first on the scene, and luckily Sainsbury’s was open early that morning and she ran in there for help.

“I’m hoping she gets given somewhere to live and the babies are ok. With what people are doing right now with Corbyn’s Christmas Challenge [a social media fundraising effort in response to Labour’s election defeat] what happened is very relevant to many people.”

Is rough sleeping getting worse?

The government claims rough sleeping in England fell for the first time in eight years in 2018, from 4,751 in 2017 to 4,677. But the body that oversees the quality of official statistics in the UK has said the number should not be trusted after 10% of councils changed their counting methods. Rough sleeping in London has hit a record high, with an 18% rise in 2018-19.

The numbers of people sleeping rough across Scotland have also risen, with 2,682 people reported as having slept rough on at least one occasion.

Shelter, whose figures include rough sleepers and people in temporary accommodation, estimate that overall around 320,000 people are homeless in Britain.

What’s being done about rough sleeping?

The government’s Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which places new duties on state institutions to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness has been in force for more than a year, but two thirds of councils have warned they cannot afford to comply with it. In 2018, James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, announced a one-off £30m funding pot for immediate support for councils to tackle rough sleeping.

How does the law treat rough sleepers?

Rough sleeping and begging are illegal in ENgland and Wales under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes ‘wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon, and not giving a good account of himself or herself’ liable to a £1,000 fine. Leading homelessness charities, police and politicians have called on the government to scrap the law.

Since 2014, councils have increasingly used public space protection orders to issue £100 fines. The number of homeless camps forcibly removed by councils across the UK has more than trebled in five years, figures show, prompting campaigners to warn that the rough sleeping crisis is out of control and has become an entrenched part of life in the country.

Is austerity a factor in homelessness?

A Labour party analysis has claimed that local government funding cuts are disproportionately hitting areas that have the highest numbers of deaths among homeless people. Nine of the 10 councils with the highest numbers of homeless deaths in England and Wales between 2013 and 2017 have had cuts of more than three times the national average of £254 for every household.

What are the health impacts of rough sleeping?

A study of more than 900 homeless patients at a specialist healthcare centre in the West Midlands found that they were 60 times more likely to visit A&E in a year than the general population in England.

Homeless people were more likely to have a range of medical conditions than the general population. While only 0.9% of the general population are on the register for severe mental health problems, the proportion was more than seven times higher for homeless people, at 6.5%.

Just over 13% of homeless men have a substance dependence, compared with 4.3% of men in the general population. For women the figures were 16.5% and 1.9% respectively. In addition, more than a fifth of homeless people have an alcohol dependence, compared with 1.4% of the general population. Hepatitis C was also more prevalent among homeless people.

Sarah Marsh, Rajeev Syal and Patrick Greenfield

East of England ambulance service told Cambridge News that paramedics went to the scene just before 7am on Monday. The woman and her children were taken to Rosie hospital, a specialist maternity hospital on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Research by the Guardian last year identified Trinity as the wealthiest of all the colleges in both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, with published assets at the time of £1.3bn.

A crowdfunding campaign set up to raise money for the woman decried Cambridge as a place of “extraordinary inequality”. Jess Agar, who started the fundraiser, wrote: “Imagine giving birth alone on the pavement, in the shadow of the richest college in Cambridge.

“Whether we are religious or not, many of us will be familiar with the Christmas story of a mother who gave birth to her child in poverty, seeking refuge in a stable. This is the reality for many people living on the streets.”

Contributors have so far donated more than £9,000.


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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