Banksy’s newest holiday graffiti highlights homelessness in the UK

The artist shared a video on his Instagram page showing two reindeer 'pulling' a street bench where a rough sleeper settles in for the night

A man lays on a bench next to a new mural by Banksy in Birmingham, Britain, December 9, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. @banksy/Instagram via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
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It seems Banksy’s getting into the holiday spirit as he revealed his “festive” new graffiti work in Birmingham via Instagram on Monday, December 9.

In the video post, a homeless man settles into a street bench to rest for the night. As the camera pulls away – with I'll Be Home for Christmas playing in the background – we see a spray-painted image of two reindeer about to take flight, their reins "pulling" on the bench as though it were a sleigh.

“God bless Birmingham,” writes Banksy in the caption. “In the 20 minutes we filmed Ryan on this bench passers-by gave him a hot drink, two chocolate bars and a lighter - without him ever asking for anything.”

The work has been painted on a brick wall in the Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, and a representative from the quarter's Business Improvement District (BID) has told BBC News that they intend to protect the piece. "We are very keen to make sure it is a part of our community and not something that is taken away," he said.

The mural has already been vandalised with the addition of a red dot on the nose of the one the reindeer. It has since been cordoned off and the BID has sent security to guard it.

In line with the artist’s ethos, the work sheds light on a social problem. In this case, homelessness in the UK.

Research from 2018 by housing charity Shelter states that at least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, these include rough sleepers and individuals in temporary accommodation. The numbers do not take into account what Shelter refers to as "hidden" homelessness, or those who live in sheds or cars.

Since the charity started its annual analysis in 2016, rates of homelessness have gone up by 13,000 year-on-year. Back then, they estimated that there were 294,000 homeless people in Britain.

The artist has not expressed why he chose to present this work in Birmingham, though studies show that the city is one of the worst hit by the problem of rough sleeping. This year, iTV has reported figures stating that homeless people in Birmingham are dying twice as much as the national rate. In 2018, Shelter reported that 726 people died homeless in England and Wales.

People gather round a new mural by the street artist Banksy in Birmingham, Britain, December 10, 2019.  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls  NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

With the UK general election set to take place on Thursday, December 12, the issue of homelessness has been a side note compared to Brexit, which remains the most important point of concern for voters and politicians.

However, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green Parties have all expressed their desire to end rough sleeping. Labour has proposed budgets for emergency winter shelters (£100m per year), construction of new hostels (£600m) and repair of existing ones (£200m), while the Conservatives have also promised an investment of £1.2bn until April 2020 to address the issue.

In his previous works, Banksy has also addressed social topics such as the refugee crisis, police brutality and climate change. Last year, his holiday mural Season's Greetings showed a child dressed in winter clothes appearing to catch snowflakes on his tongue. The other side of the wall depicts the grim truth: they are actually falling ash from a dumpster fire. The work was painted on the wall of a garage in Port Talbot, South Wales, considered the UK's most polluted town, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) report from that year.