Blair wants beggars off the streets

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It is right to be "intolerant of people homeless in the streets", Tony Blair says in an interview in the current edition of the Big Issue, the magazine distributed by the homeless.

The Labour leader wants to clear the homeless off the streets, but says that the right way to make sure people "come off the streets" is to provide them with somewhere to go.

His remarks are likely to cause anger among rank and file Labour supporters who have always associated Labour with help for the downtrodden. Mr Blair shows that New Labour may be caring, but it will be no soft touch.

Mr Blair says he does not give money to beggars. "I don't, no. I do buy the Big Issue occasionally, but I don't put that in the same category.

"I don't want to make a big thing of it, but I make certain donations to charities."

The Labour leader also says he supports the "zero tolerance" policies pioneered in crime busting in New York now being tried in King's Cross, an area of London notorious for prostitution and crime.

"I'm saying we do have to make our streets safe for people. Obviously, the way to do that is to tackle the reasons why those people are sleeping on the streets, why they're homeless or they're begging. If we end up ignoring that dimension then you really do yield territory to those people who say `just kick them out of town'."

He said: "I think the basic principle here is to say: yes it is right to be intolerant of people homeless on the streets.

"But the way to deal with that is you make sure that when those people come off the streets that you're doing the other part of the equation. You're providing them with somewhere to go."

He says that taxpayers will want to know they are getting a "something for something deal" in return for higher spending on welfare.

"It's like crime. If you've got an old lady who gets her door battered down and she's mugged by a gang of youths, it's not enough to say ` wait until there's a decent society'. She wants something done, to be protected.

"And she wants those people to be caught and punished. That, I'm afraid, is just the only way the world can work."