Beggars set own agenda to clean up their image: Edinburgh,

Tom Boland (
Thu, 21 May 1998 11:06:34 -0700 (PDT)
=46WD  The Scotsman - 98/05/20

Beggars in Edinburgh have been told to clean up their act under a charter
that almost all are said to have agreed to support.

     Code of conduct aimed at heading off action by council to introduce
laws against vagrants


 BEGGARS in Edinburgh have come up with their own code of conduct, which
they hope will block the demand for by-laws to drive them off the streets.

 The ten-point plan, produced with the help of the Edinburgh Streetwork
Project, a voluntary organisation that gets government money to help the
homeless, is designed to give them a better public image.

 Ivor Birnie, from the Right to Beg committee, which represents many of the
capital's beggars, said most of those sleeping rough in the city had
already agreed to the code.

 Though hardly any of the homeless had ever been arrested for aggressive
behaviour, the guidelines were set up to help establish a rapport with the

 "The vast majority are very pleasant and do not harass people," Mr Birnie
said. "I'm sure people don't mind them asking for a bit of spare change.

 "But if they start following people and shouting after them, that's a
different matter. If they stick to these guidelines it will create a better
understanding with the public, and that can only be a good thing."

 The code says:

   Do not use aggressive behaviour or bad language.

   Do not behave in a racist, sexist or other discriminatory manner.

   Do not obstruct or physically stop the public.

   Do not beg on private property, which is breaking the law.

   Do not act in a way that would reflect badly on beggars or would cause

   Do not leave rubbish. Always tidy your pitch.

   Avoid being pushy or aggressive because this will put people off.

   Always try to use the same pitch.

   Do not get involved in fights, even if members of the public try to wind
you up.

Be polite at all times.

 Richard Scott, who makes between =A32 and =A310 a day begging on The Mound =
Edinburgh, said yesterday he hoped the code would be enough to persuade the
City of Edinburgh Council to drop plans for an anti-begging by-law.

 He said: "In the past we got a lot of grief because of aggressive beggars,
but not everyone is like that. I just couldn't survive if they introduced a
by-law. It is very expensive to live on the streets - you have to eat out
all of the time.

 "I get a very small amount of income support every fortnight but that only
lasts me two or three days."

 Mr Scott, 41, said he did not choose to become homeless but personal
circumstances forced him on to the streets. "I did have a job as a labourer
in Jersey but I got laid off," he said.

 "I found myself coming back to Edinburgh with =A37 in my pocket and I've
been on the streets since then. I just couldn't find work.

 "I think that by having these guidelines the public will appreciate that
an effort is being made."

 Since he begs from need, not choice, a by-law would not stop him. "At
least I would get a roof over my head if I was sent to prison," he added.

 Tam Hendry, from the Edinburgh Streetwork Project, said Edinburgh had
about 50 beggars but the number was growing. "These people are in a poverty
trap," he said. "A lot ... are either cut off from social security benefits
or they don't know what they are entitled to.

 "Many of them are incapable of working or are suffering from mental health

 "Sometimes people's perceptions of beggars are totally wrong. Hopefully,
by sticking to this code of conduct the public's attitude to them will

 The average age of beggars in Edinburgh is 20 and, according to Mr Hendry,
more and more teenagers are turning up in the city each year.

 Unable to find work, they end up relying on charity and sleeping rough.

 "We have a broad range of homeless people in Edinburgh," he said.

 "We are getting more and more youngsters each year who come up from the
north of England or from other parts of Scotland. We have seen a big
increase over the last ten years and it is a growing problem that isn't
going to go away."

 Mr Hendry believes the stereotype of belligerent beggars preying on
Edinburgh's public is a myth.

 He added: "The police have never produced any figures about aggressive

 "The whole thing has been driven from anecdotal evidence and stereotyping.
I think the police have enough laws to cope with beggars without having to
introduce an oppressive law.

 "A by-law will not stop them from begging. It will just criminalise them
and they will be back on the streets after going to prison.


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