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Begging ban proposed for Scotland’s streets

December 09 2011
Scottish charities are sceptical about former Conservative candidate’s idea


Radical plans that could see on-the-spot fines given to members of the public who offer spare change to homeless people, have been proposed by an Edinburgh-based political activist in a bid to bring an end to street begging.

Mev Brown, a former Conservative candidate at the 2005 Westminster election, has started a petition calling on MPs to debate and support new measures to end begging.

They include fines to stop what he sees as a new trend of child begging, encouraged and supported by organised gangs working out of Romania.

Brown believes that prohibition is the only option available due to packed prisons and a shortage of social workers.

The proposals are inspired by an October episode of BBC’s Panorama, ‘The secret lives of Britain’s child beggars’, that highlighted an alarming rise in the number of child beggars currently working in some of London’s best known retail and tourist districts.

Although such incidents have not been reported in Scotland’s towns and cities, Brown predicts it’s only a matter of time before children are used to take advantage of the benevolence of the Scottish public.

Mr Brown also hopes that politicians will debate the need for street begging, stating that “British and most EU beggars are entitled to benefits” and that many who give away their small change do not understand the term homeless.

In a blog on the subject, he notes that: “Homeless means you don’t have a home, and councils have a duty of care to the homeless. It doesn’t mean they have nowhere to live”.

The former homeless project worker also claims begging is a “skill” that puts a talented few at an unfair advantage where they have the potential to double what is received from benefits.

Similar proposals have been put forward before, including a leaked and heavily criticised Home Office white paper in 2003 which sought to issue on-the-spot fines to beggars.

Those plans never came to fruition and were lambasted by the charity Crisis who said: “Begging is wrong, not because it is a crime but because it is dangerous, damaging and humiliating to those who beg... [trapping] them in a cycle of poverty and deprivation”.

Scottish charities were equally sceptical of Brown’s proposal, though for different reasons.

Iain McPhie, Marketing and Fundraising Manager, of the Glasgow City Mission encouraged people to think about the root causes of begging and not to see it as a cynical con trick. “Many people that are begging are doing so because they are in desperate situations with a whole range of complex problems, making them feel like there is no alternative,” he added.