Friday, 13 August 2010

Life and death - part 2

In an opinion piece in the Evening News today (not online) Mev Brown, who works with the homeless, examines several key factors relevant to begging including
  • begging as a means of income
  • begging as a response to homelessness
  • begging associated with addictions
About begging he concludes:
 I see no justification on the basis income, homelessness or the public funding of substance abuse.

And I can see no reason why our politicians continue to allow socially dysfunctional behaviour on the streets of our city.

Many see begging as an emotional issue.   Well, possibly - but I don't.  I see the job of politicians and government as promoting and rewarding good behaviour, whilst preventing bad behaviour.  Not the other way round.
Here are three misconceptions which need to be dealt with in this debate.
  1.  Moving on beggars harms vulnerable people.  On the contrary begging is predominantly a means of sustaining a destructive lifestyle.  What is often regarded as kindness is, in fact, the kindness that kills. 
  2.  A firm line on beggars shows a lack of compassion.   There may be occasions when that is true but the issue is not 'either or'.  Compassion and intolerance of antisocial behaviour should go hand in hand as twin track responses which support each other.
  3. If the authorities did more we wouldn't have beggars on the street.  That argument, often expressed in a self guilt kind of way, has two flaws.  It reflects a hopelessly rosy and unrealistic view of human nature. Secondly, it reflects an over ambitious view of government and what it can do. Some people do not want to be reformed and, in any case there are limits to the reforms a government (or council) can bring about.
Nonetheless there are things which can be achieved with public policy.  The resources available for those who are homeless or feel the need to beg on the street are now probably greater in Edinburgh than ever before.  Those resources need to be complemented by a firmer line on both anti social behaviour and begging.

Mev Brown in on the right track.  A firmer line might have achieved more with Kevin sooner.

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