The BBC asked charities to respond to the ASA’s banning of Nottingham anti-begging posters – Read our thoughts below.
Nottingham City Council recently ran a poster campaign advising people not to give money to beggars, claiming that the money would be spent on drugs and alcohol, and that many beggars actually are frauds. The Advertising Standards Authority decided to ban this campaign, as it was reinforcing negative stereotypes and were likely to cause offence.
The BBC asked homeless charities for their views on this matter in this article.
While homeless charity Crisis gave a balanced response, placing the rising homelessness into the context of lack of housing, economic recession and government policies, the views expressed by another charity could actually be directly harmful to many vulnerable people out on the streets. They stated that “Giving to people who beg is not a benign act. It can have fatal consequences.” and that “This is almost certainly to fund a serious drug habit. There is no need to beg on the streets in 2016.”
Of course the best thing would be if no one was homeless, and the next best thing that all homeless people were helped into secure housing. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world and regardless of some opinions about the need for begging, people still do, because they have no other options. Rough sleeping has been steadily rising since 2010, and every person has a unique story of how they ended up sleeping in the street. Because people’s stories are so varied, a strong generalisation on the need for begging or rough sleeping will hurt the people that have their lives depending on the money they can scrape together in a day. Should everyone be punished because of the possibility that some might buy drugs?
Another problem with this generalisation is that it can be used to question the need for help at all: “if there is no need for people to suffer in 2016, then why should we give to charity?” By denying the problem, you are damaging the solution.
The reality is that Trinity and other charities exist because we have to. We do our work because people still need help and support.
Those who are sleeping rough and have to resort to begging, are not all at the same stages in life, or the same stages toward recovery. Even if someone is using drugs or is alcohol dependent, and the money you give them is partly used for this, an act of kindness and recognising someone as a fellow human being can mean the world to a person in a desperate situation and be the first step toward a better life. We have to keep giving people as many chances as it takes to get their lives back. It is our community’s problem that some of its members are homeless or forced to beg, and it is our community’s responsibility to help those of us who are suffering.