Experts criticise Blair's anti-begging campaign

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Senior social policy experts from across Britain attacked the Government yesterday for "demonising" people who beg.

Senior social policy experts from across Britain attacked the Government yesterday for "demonising" people who beg.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, almost 60 academics criticised the Government's policy of telling people not to give money to beggars as "fundamentally misguided".

The Government advertising campaign telling people to ignore beggars' pleas in the run-up to Christmas was "potentially harmful" and could force people into crime and prostitution, they warned.

The campaign will suggest people should donate money to charities, help in soup kitchens or give food and clothes.

But the experts in homelessness, poverty and begging wrote that the immediate survival needs of beggars should not be ignored. "While it is unpleasant for the public to encounter people begging it is a far more distressing and hazardous experience for the people who beg," it said.

"The proposals that charities rather then people in poverty themselves should be the recipients of public donations so they can spend appropriately on deserving cases is worryingly reminiscent of 19th-century philanthropy."

But Louise Casey, the director of the Government's rough sleepers unit, repeated her belief that giving money to beggars meant "trapping someone into drug addiction".

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