Begging Row: Bishop and Blair lead chorus of disapproval: Major 'trying to deflect attention from own problems'

CHURCH leaders yesterday joined senior Opposition politicians in a chorus of outrage and criticism of John Major for refusing to back down from his attack on street beggars.

The Rt Rev David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, said there was no justification for attacking society's most vulnerable elements, as Tony Blair, favourite to assume the Labour leadership, condemned Mr Major for seeking to make political capital out of the issue.

Dr Sheppard, chairman of the Church of England's Board of Social Responsibility, told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme: 'I find it a very unlovely feature of public life when people in power pick on the most despised groups in society rather than asking what the causes are.'

He claimed that much of the recent rise in begging was due to the decision in 1988 - when Mr Major was a minister in the social security department - to cut benefits to 16 and 17 year-olds who did not participate in government training schemes.

With the controversy heightened by a forthcoming report from the homeless charity Crisis - leaked to the Independent on Sunday - suggesting that one in four homeless people had served in the armed forces, ministers went out of their way to stress yesterday that the homeless and those begging were largely different groups.

But fears of a growing overlap between the two groups will increase in London with confirmation that three hostels with 33 beds in all are due to close in the next few weeks as part of the Government's policy of replacing temporary accommodation with one- bedroom homes.

Although the Department of the Environment insisted that the occupants of the hostels would not be driven on to the streets, hostel staff fear that alternative accommodation will not be ready.

Most of the new 3,500 flats intended for the homeless will not be ready until 1996. The row is also likely to be fuelled by current activity in Whitehall aimed at fulfilling the long-held objective of Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, of curbing the increase in housing benefit - which has doubled to pounds 9bn in the last six years.

Mr Blair, speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend, said: 'There is an element of those people out on the streets who are homeless and destitute for reasons that are tragic rather than reasons they have caused themselves.'

Saying that recent reports suggested 70 per cent of the homeless were physically or mentally ill, he added: 'The real criticism of what the Prime Minister has done is not only its vindictiveness against some who will be genuinely destitute, it is the notion that this is what we should be concentrating on. It is the pettiness and small- mindedness of it which will affront people and bewilder them when there are such massive problems to tackle, and when the Prime Minister appears oblivious to them.'

Leading article, page 11

Letters, page 11

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable