In my time helping to run a weekly soup run to central London during 1993 I talked to many people who begged and slept on the streets. There is a tiny, tiny minority of people who may choose this lifestyle outright, but most are left with no alternative, except to starve. The benefit system discriminates against the 16- to 18-year-olds and denies the existence of those with no address. The people I met on the streets had been driven to begging and sleeping rough as a last resort.
Some had left care at 18 with no support, others had suffered redundancy, marriage breakdown and house repossession. A significant proportion had some degree of mental illness, with very difficult access to doctors and treatment. Hostel places were scarce and hostel life is harsh, with many people together with little money, little to do. The most sensible contribution to the problem in recent years has been the Big Issue, but so many people sell it I wonder if it is possible to earn enough now.
It is time for the Government to come up with a long-term and wide-ranging policy to help those who are driven to beg and live rough, not punish them.
28 MayReuse content