Leaders: Beggars can’t be choosers but society can

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Being tough on begging doesn’t seem to work, so the next move must be to find new ways to help those involved

A major survey has recently been launched in Glasgow to establish the public’s views about beggars in the city centre.

The positively-named Operation Flourish, which is being run by Community Safety Glasgow, seeks to gauge concern over aggressive or antisocial behaviour from beggars and asks what could be done to improve the situation.

It is a difficult question to answer without looking at the root causes of why people take to the streets.

Research into homelessness has previously found that there are enough beds available to shelter folk who need them, but some choose not to take them up.

These claims should provoke serious concern over why someone would eschew somewhere warm and safe for a night on the streets, asking people for money.

It is clear that what needs to be addressed is not how we deal with beggars but why people are begging in the first place.

Very few people would choose to spend their lives begging. A night on the streets during the Scottish winter is cold, humiliating and often frightening.

It is also unlikely to generate much more than a couple of pounds from sympathetic passers-by each night.

As a society we spend huge sums of money helping vulnerable people, whether it is through healthcare, social services or charitable organisations.

It is important to address whether beggars are simply rejecting these services or if they are falling through gaps in the system.

If people are rejecting services, then we need to know why. As austerity bites and food bank use rises, it becomes more important than ever that services for the vulnerable are effective.

The survey is not a chance to demonise the less fortunate, for, as the saying goes: “There but for the grace of God go I”.

Some begging can be intimidating or fraudulent, and measures should be in place to protect the public from this.

But a line should be drawn between genuine safety fears and mere discomfort over the visible signs of poverty on city streets.

Attempts to make street-begging illegal in parts of Aberdeen and Glasgow have failed 
in recent years and politicians should be cautious about bringing such an issue back to the table. It is hardly a good use of police resources to have officers spend time and resource on stopping people from asking for our spare change.

The results of this survey could suggest a way to target resources towards those who need them most, across the whole of Scotland.

If the survey finds problems with shelters, addiction services or unemployment support, then these must be addressed with urgency.

It is unrealistic to expect that begging can ever be eradicated entirely, but there must be a way to tackle the issues that leave some people believing they have no other option.

One of the first steps towards progress is to recognise that for most of those who live on the streets, begging is not a choice. It is all they are left with.

New MSPs must look out for us all

THE first day in a new job is always daunting and exciting in equal measure.

For the new batch of MSPs there will be much to learn in the coming days as they settle into life at Holyrood.

Amid all the excitement, ambitious plans and maiden speeches, it would be worthwhile for all of the 51 new Holyrood politicians to remember that their first responsibility should be to those voters who put them there.

So when they file into the debating chamber on Thursday, all we would ask is that they take a moment to consider their august surroundings.

When the architect Enric Miralles drew up the plans for the Scottish Parliament, he wanted the politicians to see its surroundings.

The large windows in the debating chamber look out across Holyrood Park, from Salisbury Crags to Arthur’s Seat in the distance, taking in the ancient landscape from which our modern world has sprung forth.

The architect wanted MSPs to see the land of Scotland while they go about their business in the chamber so they are contantly reminded that the decisions they are taking are for this land, not for themselves or for their parties. It was a good thought.

Our politicians must pay heed to the interests of the most remote shores of Scotland, as well as its bustling cities, when they address the chamber.

It might be a simple promise now, in the heady, idealistic days that follow a hard-fought election.

But every time they look out of that window in the coming weeks and years, our new MSPs should think of what they can do to make a better, brighter and bolder Scotland for all.