Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Begging - a ban could be part of the answer

Today's Evening News included this article which implies that 'city council chiefs' are looking at the possibility of  strategically situated 'giving boxes' to encourage  people  not to give directly to beggars.

In fact the source of the article appears to be a short discussion at the South Central Neighbourhood Partnership(NP) earlier in the year - which is to be discussed again at the NP meeting next Monday (9th Aug).  The relevant papers are here.   If you read them you will see that a cursory report indicates that 'giving boxes' is one of a number of options for the NP to consider.

So thus far, the issue has not progressed far.  The begging culture has two characteristics which do merit a ban. 

The first is that for many it is the means of sustaining a lifestyle not to be encouraged. For some beggars much of the money given goes on drink or drugs and for others the money gained goes to gang masters.  For some, begging may be at times be a lifeline, but nowadays there are very considerable resources and facilities available for those who are destitute.  

Secondly, there is the effect on those of us who are approached for money - either passively or more directly.  Most will not have the ability or opportunity to test or check that the money given will be used for the purpose given.   Begging often relies on a form of emotional blackmail. 

Generosity to those who are destitute is to be encouraged.  It does, however, involve more commitment than handing over money.

For my part I follow the following rules:
  • Never hand over money
  • Always engage the person begging with a greeting or a polite refusal 
  • If opportunity permits offer to buy a sandwich or a cup of tea in a nearby cafe or shop
  • If opportunity permits engage in conversation and encourage the person to seek support from one of the homeless agencies - taking them to the access point if necessary
  • Occasionally the person asking for money will claim it is because he or she is stranded.  If reasonable and not obviously possible I offer to buy a ticket 
Begging used to be banned.  I understand it is banned in England and Wales.  A bylaw should be re-introduced banning it in Edinburgh.   It encourages a lifestyle which is a trap to the majority of those who beg.

As the experiment in Aberdeen has shown 'giving boxes' are not the answer.   At least not unless they are accompanied by a legal ban on begging.   There is a good case for grasping the nettle and seeking legislation to ban it again. 

In the meantime I have recently met with local police and am reassured to know that work is currently under way to assess the nature and extent of criminality associated with begging.   If we do get to the stage of legislation (I understand the Scottish Parliament need to be involved) there will be a very considerable challenge to draft any legislation in a suitable way.

I am sure the discussion at the Neighbourhood Partnership next Monday will look to chart a way forward.   It is a public meeting and starts at 7pm.  Local people (Southside/Newington and Meadows/Morningside wards) are welcome to attend.

NB  One of the many sources of help can be found here.  Previous coverage in the local press can be found here.

1 comment:

paul said...

since members of the public wont to and are giving to beggars and belive they are genuine The council shpuld operate a beggers licence, only regestered homless persons can have one,make begging without one illegal, and attach tidy up conditions that they must clean the street/pick up litter they are begging in, sounds draconian but..........

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