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The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"Britain's biggest homeless charity accused the government of over simplifying the issue"
 real 56k

Director of the Rough Sleepers Unit, Louise Casey
"A wonderful way for the public to help homeless people"
 real 56k

Chris Holmes, director of Shelter
"The priority must be to find alternatives for those begging"
 real 28k

Monday, 6 November, 2000, 19:35 GMT
Government defends anti-begging campaign
Beggar
The public will be urged to give to charity not beggars
Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam has defended a government campaign to discourage people giving cash to beggars.

Ms Mowlam's defence of the government's latest initiative on homelessness comes after it was criticised by Shelter, the charity for the homeless.

The charity said the new campaign was unhelpful as it encouraged "negative perceptions" of beggars.

But Ms Mowlam said it was important to give the homeless quality support through recognised charities, instead of casual cash handouts to those living on the streets.

Change a Life

The Change A Life scheme, launched on Monday, involves asking the public to donate money and time to homelessness charities rather than giving cash to street beggars.

The aim is to direct more funds into frontline work for the homeless and find more volunteers for local projects.

Rough Sleepers facts
1,180 people sleep rough in Britain every night
10,000 in a year
Around a quarter are aged 18-25
6% are over 60
Family breakdown is most common cause
Around 30% have been in care
Nearly half have a mental health problem

Louise Casey, the government's "homelessness czar", says the latest initiative by the Rough Sleepers Unit is not an anti-begging campaign.

But Shelter says the strategy could inadvertently make life worse for vulnerable people.

Shelter director Chris Holmes said: "However carefully communicated, this initiative could increase the stigma of homelessness and make life even worse for people who are already subject to high levels of abuse and violence."

Drug abuse

The Change a Life scheme follows new research commissioned by the government which looked at street beggars in Manchester, London, Bristol, Leeds and Brighton.

The results suggested that 86% of those asking for cash were abusing drugs, many of them with a serious addiction.

Homeless man
The Government believes giving money to beggers is counter-productive

Shelter's criticism is that the scheme is being pushed through in advance of developing broader solutions to begging.

Mr Holmes said: "The priority must be to find alternatives for those on the streets whether homeless or not."

The campaign comes a year after Ms Casey sparked anger by describing handouts to beggars as "misplaced goodwill".

The government's Rough Sleepers Unit aims to reduce the number of people sleeping on the streets from 1,850 in 1998 to 620 by 2002.

The current figure is said to be 1,200 although some experts warn that the true level of rough sleeping may be much higher as homeless people can be missed in "audits".

Think again

Ms Mowlam defended the campaign: "What we are saying to people is if you want to give - and I can understand when you see somebody that is homeless, wet, wrapped in a blanket on the street, you wouldn't have a heart if you didn't - but what I'm also saying is just think again."

Speaking on BBC radio she continued saying: "Because if we really want to help that person, what we must do is try to get them into a hostel.

"If we can get them into a hostel, we can help them with the addiction, be it drugs or alcohol."

  • The government campaign was backed by Glenda Jackson MP, member of London Mayor Ken Livingstone's "cabinet" with the homelessness brief. Ms Jackson is planning to publish her proposals for London's homeless before Christmas.

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