Rise in begging ‘suggests homeless service failing’

An increase in begging has prompted concerns about the city's services for homeless people. Picture; Greg Macvean
An increase in begging has prompted concerns about the city's services for homeless people. Picture; Greg Macvean
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AN increase in begging on city streets suggests council services for the homeless are not working properly, a senior Conservative has said.

Former Tory group leader Iain Whyte called for a review to find out where the problems lay and said police should also be involved in tackling begging.

He said: “The other day I saw someone begging immediately outside the council’s advice shop in the High Street.

“It gives the impression that either our services are completely ineffective or the council doesn’t care. I certainly know there are many councillors in all parties that care. We should be doing something to make things more effective.”

He said he had noticed an increase both in begging and rough-sleeping.

“People have said to me anecdotally there may be more begging by organised groups of possibly Eastern Europeans. I don’t know the accuracy of that.

“I also hear anecdotally that some of our services are not working as well as they should and I’ve heard criticism from within the voluntary sector of some of the ways street work is working and how that fits with council services.

“There is a whole host of things there, but it needs some kind of review because street begging is on the increase and I’ve started to see more evidence of people sleeping rough in the city centre which I haven’t seen to any great degree for a number of years.

“I think the police have a big role here. While we don’t want a heavy-handed approach, they should be signposting people to the right kind of services. And if there is a thought that people are part of organised gangs, I would have thought there was a real danger of people trafficking and other forms of coercion and they should be investigating that too.”

In July, the Evening News revealed that a report commissioned by the council from housing charity Shelter had warned the number of people sleeping rough in Edinburgh had increased and would rise further unless action was taken.

It found a total of 1976 people had slept on the Capital’s streets during a two-year period and said spending cuts meant vulnerable people would not get the help they needed.

Last year the council claimed less than three per cent of Edinburgh’s official 3980 homeless total were sleeping rough and boasted the Capital had fewer people on the streets than any other Scottish city, but the Shelter report said many people sleeping rough did not register with the council because they did not think that it would be able to help them.

Council leader Andrew Burns said he would be raising the question of begging with council officials. But he said: “It is a very complex situation. There are lots of reasons why people end up begging on the street. Edinburgh has a long record of dealing with the situation robustly but compassionately.”

ian.swanson@jpress.co.uk