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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory