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?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before