#Givesmart - provocative but accurate
The new #Givesmart campaign against begging in Nottingham has caused quite a stir, with its stark and provocative posters depicting drink and drug abuse coming in for some fierce criticism in the media. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t well-intentioned or accurate.
I am the Team Leader of Framework’s Street Outreach Team, which is responsible for helping people who are sleeping rough in the city. As part of our work we come into frequent contact with people who beg in the city centre. In most cases we know who they are, why they beg and, ultimately, what they do with the money they make. We also know the harm this can cause and the unintended consequences it can bring.
That’s why I am broadly supportive of this campaign and what it is trying to achieve, even though I may have taken a different approach.
This is an emotive subject. It’s certainly a very emotive campaign. People are passionate about it and don’t like being told that they are doing harm by undertaking what is essentially an altruistic act- especially in such a blunt way. It is reassuring that people are enthusiastic enough to rally round and highlight what they see as an assault on the most vulnerable. That said I think the campaign’s message (although very provocative) is accurate, necessary, and actually has the interests of the most vulnerable at its core.
If people want to give money to people who beg directly to empower them then, ultimately, that’s a choice for them, but they should do it with their eyes open and be aware of that there is a lot of misperception and misinformation around the issue.
This conflation of begging and street homelessness is by no means new, but it is problematic because it does little to combat either issue.
Begging and homelessness
It is interesting to see how this campaign has been interpreted in several quarters as some kind of attack against homeless people. This conflation of begging and street homelessness is by no means new, but it is problematic because it does little to combat either issue.
The reality is that homelessness and rough sleeping are not the same as begging.
We know that most of the people we see begging in Nottingham are not actually sleeping rough or have no need to do so. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need and deserve help of some kind (they do), but that has to be the right kind of help for the problems they are facing.
In my experience people who beg in Nottingham are living very undesirable and chaotic lives – beset by poor housing, substance abuse, mental ill-health and a lack of opportunity. They need (and in many cases are receiving) support from organisations like Framework, but cash donations from members of the public do little to help find long-term solutions to their problems. Indeed, they can actually make those problems worse.
An obvious example would be somebody with drink or drug addiction who spends the money given to them funding that addiction. Another less obvious example is that of the person who rejects the accommodation available to them because of how much money they can make if they choose to sleep outside.
This isn’t speculation or an attempt to demonise anybody; this is what we have observed. My primary concern within my job is stopping people rough sleeping because of how dangerous and degrading it can be. As has been covered in the news recently, there are more and more people sleeping rough and we expect numbers to rise further.
My opinion is that the council are proactively responding to a problem. They may have caused offence to some people but they are certainly not attempting to demonise homeless people because the campaign is for the most part not about homelessness. They are raising what I feel is a very valid point about what is done with the money that often vulnerable beggars receive from members of the public
I genuinely hope the message gets through.