There has been a lot of media attention today following a report in the Daily Mail that suggested that there are “beggars on £20,000 a year” and that “many have a home and a job”. Closer reading of the article, based on a report by Leicestershire Police, suggests something different. But, hey, why stand in the way of a sensational headline.
I was asked to comment on BBC radio during the afternoon. Here are a few points I made:
In this day and age we shouldn’t be seeing people begging on the street. Begging should have become a thing of the past with the arrival of the Welfare State in 1948. Unfortunately, some (a small minority of those who beg) have been left destitute by a measure introduced by the last government that denies any state support to failed asylum seekers (or the right to work) who are not deported because their country of origin is too dangerous. They have to beg or rely on handouts from churches or charities.
Begging is not about homelessness. The Leicestershire report says that 60% of those begging are in accommodation. Yes, there may be some people who are homeless, but (again according to the Leicestershire research), 70% of beggars in that area tested positive for Class A drugs. Begging is the symptom, addiction the cause. If we really want to deal with begging, we must address addiction. That is why I welcome the direction given by the coalition government to the National Treatment Agency that it should ‘champion’ abstinence. This is a U-turn from the policy of the previous government.
Should you give money to beggars? That must be a personal decision. I, personally, don’t. In the late 1990’s I did research into drug-related deaths in Brighton and Hove. It was not uncommon for the deceased to have bought their last ‘hit’ from money begged. As a result I don’t give to those who beg.
However, I regard most of those who beg as more honest that Chuggers – those young people who accost you in London Road or Western Road. At least with those who beg you have a clear idea of where your money is going. With Chuggers, there is no transparency about how much they will receive, or the company who employs them. It can be just 5% that ends up with the good cause. Give me an honest beggar any day!