Beggars yearn to live 'normal' lives: The charity Crisis has carried out the first detailed survey of people who beg in London. Simon Midgley reports

MANY PEOPLE who beg for a living are desperately keen to have their own homes, find a job and lead 'normal' lives, the first detailed study of beggars reveals.

Often, however, they are handicapped by coming from broken or unhappy homes, being poorly educated, in poor physical or mental health and suffering from alcoholism or addiction to drugs.

Crisis, a charity working for homeless people, interviewed 145 beggars in central London last autumn in an attempt to find out who begged and why. The research took place before John Major's infamous description last May of beggars as unnecessary and unacceptable 'eyesores'.

Mark Scothern, director of Crisis, said yesterday: 'While there may be a few people who want to beg, our study shows that the vast majority of beggars are leading a bleak hand-to-mouth existence.

'Begging is usually taken up very reluctantly to get money to survive a shortage of money. While begging they face violence, abuse, depression and isolation.'

The study suggests that the majority of beggars are male, that almost 80 per cent are homeless, either sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation such as hostels, and that nearly half had been in care as children or had experienced a disrupted or traumatic childhood. A quarter of those interviewed slept rough before they were 16.

One in three of those interviewed had a history of mental problems - 17 per cent having been in a psychiatric hospital, one- third had a drink or drugs abuse problem and three-fifths of those spoken to had no educational qualifications. The study says that beggars are 'generally homeless and impoverished, in poor health and low on morale, with a long history of difficulties and problems'.

It claims the recent explosion in street begging is a consequence of inadequacies in the benefits system, both in the level of benefit and the way it is administered. The report says many young people began begging after income support for most of those under the age of 18 was abolished in 1988.

The majority of those interviewed (54 per cent) were of white English or Welsh origin, 21 per cent were white Irish and 14 per cent were of Scottish origin. Two per cent identified themselves as Caribbean. While 15 per cent felt they would always beg, the rest regarded begging as a temporary phase in their lives prompted by bad luck. The report says that while a small minority of beggars are bogus, commuting from their homes into the capital after donning scruffy clothes, 80 per cent are genuinely homeless and poor.

Those sleeping rough, as opposed to sleeping in hostels, tended to be older and were much more likely to be Scottish or Irish. Most of those interviewed had once had a home of their own but had lost it, frequently after the break down of a relationship. Just over half were single, a quarter were separated or divorced and 16 per cent were in a relationship. Fifty-four per cent had children.

More than 90 per cent had worked at some time in their lives. More than 20 per cent of the sample had formerly been in the armed forces. Sixty-three per cent said they wanted to work - only 9 per cent said they did not - 44 per cent had applied for a job during the previous year and 17 per cent had earnt money from selling the Big Issue magazine produced and sold by homeless people.

A beggar's income fluctuated widely from day to day but averaged pounds 10 to pounds 20 a day. The money was generally used to top-up state benefits. Eighty per cent of those interviewed were in receipt of one or more social security benefits.

The study concludes by calling for benefits for young people to be restored in full, benefit rules to be changed to make it easier for people to do casual work, and for government funding for day care centres to enable them to open longer.

Crisis also suggests that travel warrants, food vouchers and phonecards could be issued to the homeless as a more effective way of helping them to manage their resources and calls for the abolition of the 170-year-old Vagrancy Act, which outlaws begging.

We Are Human Too. A Study of People Who Beg, is available from Crisis, 7 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1DU: pounds 8.

Leading article, page 13

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral