Adam Sampson: Begging for common sense

From a speech by the director of Shelter, given at the Crisis Innovations Fair in London
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The Independent Online

Let me give you some facts. In its seminal report on rough sleeping, the Social Exclusion Unit found that more than a quarter of those on the street have been in care. Around 50 per cent of rough sleepers have mental health problems.

With the Government taking an increasingly punitive approach to these issues, I believe there is a danger that we will create a new underclass of excluded people with nowhere to go and no means of support.

The Government's antisocial behaviour strategy is, predictably, strong on enforcement and weak on prevention. Shelter opposes proposals to dock housing benefit from those who commit antisocial behaviour. Not just because it will increase homelessness. But because it won't work. Taking away housing benefit will do nothing to tackle behaviour. What it will mean is that households - many of who are very vulnerable - will run up rent arrears and will be evicted.

Where will they go? Some will be rehoused by local authorities in temporary accommodation. Others will end up in poor-quality private rented accommodation. And some will end up homeless and, ultimately, on the streets - undermining the Government's efforts to tackle homelessness and reduce rough sleeping.

Ten years ago, the Labour opposition opposed a crackdown on begging by the Conservative government of the time. Tony Banks, then a Labour spokesman on home affairs, said: "Suddenly, it has become the thing for Tories to pick a group of people or a very small problem, inflate it out of all proportion and use it a smokescreen to cover their failure to deal with the many social problems afflicting this country."

It is striking, although the Government has changed, how little we have moved on.