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Begging ban in Southampton: The right thing to do?

PUBLISHED: 16:21 03 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:21 03 February 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Archant

While you were unwrapping presents and feasting during Christmas there were people sleeping rough in a town near you. Now there are controversial new plans to ban begging in Southampton, but is this the right thing to do? Alice Cooke asks

The chief executive of Hampshire homelessness Society of St James (SSJ) says that he opposes the tough new plans to tackle begging in Southampton, as he says “threatening people with legal action is not an appropriate response to dealing with complex social issues”.

Under new plans, begging will be banned in five areas of the city and beggars fined or arrested. The measures are designed to crack down on “bogus” beggars, who Labour council chiefs allege are not homeless and make up to £200 a day on the streets of Southampton.

The Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are under consideration at the moment. If imposed they would see begging and drinking on the street banned in the city centre, Shirley High Street, Bitterne Precinct, Woolston High Street and Portswood Broadway. Local police would be given new powers to fine or arrest people breaking the conditions of the ban.

Council housing boss Cllr Warwick Payne defends the move, saying “this isn’t about cracking down on rough sleepers, this is about begging - and the two issues are different.”

However Trevor Pickup, chief executive of the SSJ (www.ssj.org.uk), which works with homeless people in the city, has written a letter voicing his opposition to the move. He says: “We understand that the issues are complex and that many of the people who have been begging are not homeless. Equally, there are also people who are homeless and sleeping rough who are not begging. SSJ undertook a survey in the summer and spoke to 51 people who were begging. The most common reason given for begging was to get money for alcohol and drugs, with 75 percent of them saying they were dependant on drugs and alcohol.

“Another issue that was raised was that of problems faced by people trying to access welfare benefits, due to the tougher demands faced by claimants.”

He says issues should be addressed by offering “more effective” outreach services to help get homeless people attending alcohol and drug treatment programmes and “educating the public not to give to beggars but to donate to charities and local agencies instead.”

He went on to say that both approaches are being considered by the council.

“Begging is a symptom of complex problems in people’s lives and criminalising this cannot be seen as a humane response in the 21st century.”

What do you think… are we the problem? Is it our fault that people continue to beg in the first place because we give them money? Or should we stop them from being there, so we don’t have the option? In your opinion, do you think there is a local problem with people pretending to be homeless and taking advantage of our kindness, or is this an excuse that the council have come up with so they can push ahead with their plans? Are homeless people a prevalent enough problem in Hampshire that we need to introduce such seemingly harsh measures? Or are they actually needed and a justifiable reaction to a growing issue? Let us know what you think by emailing elizabeth.kirby@archant.co.uk. 


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