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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 17:54 GMT
Plans to outlaw begging attacked
Man begging on the streets of London
No-one needs to beg in the UK, says the report

Plans to give beggars criminal records have been attacked by homeless charities and human rights campaigners.

They spoke out after reports that the government would target beggars under proposed measures to crack down on petty crime and nuisance behaviour.

A Home Office White Paper seen by the Independent newspaper said the homeless are entitled to benefits and stated: "There is no need for anyone to beg in this country."

Homeless charity Crisis said plans to tackle begging through the courts were "inappropriate, ineffective, costly and will not work".

The measures are also said to include imposing fixed-penalty fines on children as young as 10 for anti-social behaviour.

'Misery and distress'

The Home Office report said: "The behaviour of a persistent minority can sometimes ruin whole communities.

Begging is wrong, not because it is a crime but because it is dangerous, damaging and humiliating
Shaks Ghosh - Crisis
"No-one should have to put up with behaviour that causes misery and distress. It is time to support the majority against the minority."

The 65-page report, Winning Back Our Communities, said members of the public feel intimidated by people begging and that many were simply trying to feed their drug habit.

"Beggars are also very likely to be caught up in much more serious crime", it said.

'Damaging and humiliating'

Crisis chief executive Shaks Ghosh said many beggars were affected by mental health, drug and alcohol problems and the solution lay in providing them with adequate treatment services.

She said it was not the first time that enforcement had been tried and that it would not be "the first time that it fails".

Ms Ghosh said: "Begging is wrong, not because it is a crime but because it is dangerous, damaging and humiliating to those who beg and traps them in a cycle of poverty and deprivation."

She warned: "Dragging chaotic and excluded individuals through the criminal justice system will damage them still further whilst doing little to address the problems that lead them to beg in the first place."

'Knee-jerk'

Ben Jackson of homeless charity Shelter said: "It is true that some people who sleep on the streets and beg have an alcohol or drug dependency problem.

Woman begging
On-the-spot fines were a bad idea for adults - they will be no better for 10-year-old children
John Wadham - Liberty
"However, rather than criminalising them, Shelter believes the government should ensure more support services are available to homeless people and they get the help they need."

Martin Barnes of the Child Poverty Action Group said he would be dismayed if the government went ahead with such "knee-jerk, headline grabbing tactics".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "It is extraordinary that a Labour government is thinking of criminalising beggars when they simply haven't done enough to tackle the causes."

Criminal damage'

Under the plans there would be a big extension of the 40 or 80 fixed penalty notices currently being piloted for offences such as being drunk and disorderly, the Independent said.

These would be extended to cover extra offences - including truancy, criminal damage, cycling on the pavement and urinating in the street.

The fines will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds on a trial basis - and may even reach children as young as 10, with parents made responsible for paying.

The fines could also be handed out by authorities other than the police, the paper suggests - without stipulating who.

A Home Office spokesman said it would not comment on leaked documents.

'Bad idea'

Director of civil rights group Liberty, John Wadham, said the government was pursuing a "hopelessly wrong-headed approach".

He said: "On-the-spot fines were a bad idea for adults - they will be no better for 10-year-old children.

"To enforce criminal penalties you need more policemen - our police are already stretched too far and absent from the beat too often."

But former social security minister Frank Field told BBC News said the idea of stopping child benefit for young perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, should also have been included.


SEE ALSO:
Beggars barred from city centre
03 Feb 03 |  England
Crackdown on begging
30 Aug 02 |  England
Police round up city beggars
17 Feb 03 |  England
Queen unveils Blair's crime blitz
13 Nov 02 |  Politics
Police praise 'spot fine' trial
16 Sep 02 |  England


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