Beggars dismiss PM's attack as rubbish: John Major says there is no need for 'eyesores' on the streets. Simon Midgley reports

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE of Mr Major's offensive eyesores were huddled under a dirty blue double sleeping bag in a doorway off a flight of steps leading to Charing Cross station yesterday afternoon.

Paul, 23, originally from Sheffield, and Lisa, 17, from Newcastle upon Tyne, (these are not their real names) are homeless, jobless and penniless. They sleep on the pavement behind the Savoy Hotel, beg outside the Heaven nightclub in Villiers Street at night and wash and eat in the day centre at the rear of St Martin's Church in the day.

As the commuters streamed past them early last night, neither was actively begging. They were both staring straight ahead of them, not talking, cadging the odd cigarette and shrugging off the occasional stream of obscenties from a lurching Tennents Super drunk.

Paul, sporting a mohican haircut and a battered leather jacket, left home at the age of 17 after fighting with his father who had a drink problem. After spending five months on the streets of Liverpool, he moved to London where he lived in squats in the Oval, Elephant and Castle and Brixton for three years.

He returned to the streets after the police and Lambeth Council started getting tough with squatters.

Lisa left home at the age of 15 after fighting with her mother and sisters. She went to London where she met Paul in May last year. They have been together ever since. Paul is unable to claim state benefit because he has no home address. Equally he is unable to get a job because would-be employers say 'come back when you've got a fixed address'.

Lisa is too young to claim state benefit. She has also tried to get a job, variously as a waitress, shop assistant and fast-food assistant. She has been turned down because she lacks a home address or is considered too young.

On a good day they can make pounds 20 begging, on a bad day pounds 10. Their worldly possessions consist of a rucksack for the sleeping bag and another bag with a change of clothes and some toiletries. Neither left school with any qualifications.

Paul says that the Prime Minister is talking 'a load of rubbish. I cannot sign on because I have no address. Even if I had an address I don't have any identification - no birth certificate, driving licence.'

They would like to live in a hostel together but have not been able to find one that accepts couples. They are on the waiting list for the Thames Reach housing association but there is a seven months waiting list. Paul said: 'We have no other way of making money. What would the police rather we do, beg or go out and rob somebody?' Lisa said: 'We have all got our reasons for being here.'

Since Paul has been on the streets he has been picked up by the police seven times. He has been convicted of begging five times and spent five days locked up in Bow Street Police Station because he was unable to pay the pounds 10, pounds 20 or pounds 50 fine. Two weeks ago Lisa was arrested for begging and spent seven hours in police custody.

There are hundreds of empty buildings throughout London, Paul said. Homeless people should be allowed to decorate them and squat in them.

Mr Major, he added, is wrong. 'Out of order. He should try living on the street for a week. Give him no money, just rags to live in, a sleeping bag and stick him on the Strand and then see how he feels about homelessness. In the same week let us live in Downing Street.'

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