24 December 2002

Giving beggars the Bird.

Conflicting reports came out regarding comments made by John Bird reported in the press. His comments were in an article by rightwing thinktank Politeia. The thinktanks advisory group includes notable liberal thinkers Michael Howard, Francis Maude and David Willets.

Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, is said to have argued that giving money to people who beg perpetuates the problem, and cannot offer it a solution. Instead he argued for the resources to be made available to address the problem and, when required, coercion be used to prevent people rough sleeping and begging.

John Bird rose to his current position, some would argue, through the legitimised giving that is the Big Issue. And with the Big Issue's lack of move on provision, some would also argue that the Big Issue serves much the same pupose as begging - and with the same problem of entrapping people in a lifestyle.

A few people might even have the timerity to note that staff at the Big Issue enjoy sick leave and paid holidays unlike the vendors, on whose endeavours the Big Issue is propped.

But only the truly cynical would note that with sales in decline, the failure of the Big Issue in LA, and staff redundancies at the Issue, driving people off begging and onto the issue could be the sales boost that they need.

Readers should also remember similar statements made by, amongst others Louise Casey. This heralded the start of the "Begging for Change" campaign, where people could give to charities rather than people who beg. And again the same arguments were used about how people would spend the money on drink and other drugs.

In an ideal world, people would not beg to buy heroin. But with restrictive prescribing practices, people punitively excluded from services, and lack of access for people who are homeless, it is more than understandable that some people will spend some of what they earn on substances.

People are more than entitled to choose to give to people who beg, or choose to give to charities. And, especially at this time of year, I'd rather give to the person on the street than the one in the office.

So happy humbug to you all.