Gina Davidson: Some folk just beggar belief

I THOUGHT I had gone back in time this week – specifically back to 1995. PJ & Duncan had a hit, there was still snow on the ground in March and on the front page of this newspaper was a story crying out for beggars to be banned from the city centre.

Retro is always a fashionable idea, but it can be taken too far.

Until Essential Edinburgh raised the suggestion of a ban on the poorest in our society from the streets of central Edinburgh, I had thought this unpleasant idea was so long buried that Indiana Jones would struggle to
excavate it.

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In 1995, the then Labour administration was on the warpath when it came to drunken, violent beggars. There were plans, reports, surveys, consultations galore – all in a bid to introduce a by-law to help the police deal with those trespassing on polite society.

It got nowhere. The Scottish Office told the council in no uncertain terms that there was legislation available to deal with the matter.

And there must have been. Remember Kaiser? The beggar with the green mohawk who became the face of the need for a begging ban?

His nasty behaviour – including urinating up the walls of the National Gallery of Scotland – was dealt with through the courts, and, as far as I’m aware, little was heard from him again.

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Even eight years ago, the idea raised its hoary head again, to be knocked into touch pretty damned quick.

However, here we are again. The poorest, most vulnerable in our city are being targeted by the richest.

I’m quite sure that it must be annoying for a store to have a homeless person park their cardboard sheet at the door and ask those who still have disposable income for a few quid before they buy their designer clothes, Pret à Manger sandwich or Costa coffee.

So, perhaps beggars are an issue for city centre businesses and they are looking to Essential Edinburgh to do something about it. Then again, perhaps this is more to do with Essential Edinburgh’s concern for its own survival. Its existence has to be voted on next month by the businesses which pay it a levy. It is upping its profile – and the ante.

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Yet it has done some great work. Its management of St Andrew Square Garden, the events it schedules each year such as Spa in the City, its cleaning patrols, its rehab of Rose Street . . .
all of these things have made a great difference. And it will be in charge of the £1 million campaign to reinvigorate Princes Street once the tramworks finally stop.

Moving into social politics though is a step too far for an organisation which exists solely to help business – and it’s a step it cannot promise to deliver.

Of course, it can and should represent its members’ views, but to attempt to resurrect failed policies when people are suffering from austerity, homeless numbers are rising and begging for some is the only option to supplement reducing benefits – and to do it under the pretence of wishing to highlight the issue of how we should help beggars – is just self-preservation – which is what really stinks.

There may well be a problem with begging in Edinburgh. Undoubtedly, there are “gangs” of such of Eastern European origin. Apparently, they send women out on to the streets to beg and help fund a lavish lifestyle miles away from the city’s streets. However, if these beggars are here illegally, if they’ve been trafficked from other countries, then these are issues which can readily be dealt with by the police.

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If businesses are really interested in helping these beggars there are organisations and charities which would bite their hands off for their backing. If the concern is just that it’s putting people off coming into their shop, well that also stinks.

Perhaps Essential Edinburgh needs to ask why people give money to beggars even when they have doubts about their sincerity and have concerns that it will be spent on drugs or alcohol.

The answer is that it has almost bred into us to care for our fellow man. It’s an essential human value that business could do well to replicate.

It’s cathartic

MANY people are down on their luck because of the recession and the austerity policies being driven through by the coalition government.

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However, after all the government rhetoric branding the disabled and unemployed as scroungers and skivvers, Iain Duncan Smith was lucky, during his Edinburgh visit, to get away with as mild a heckle as “ratbag”. You can never win an argument by name-calling, but I hope the bedroom tax protester who yelled it, got a certain satisfaction.

A gender agenda

DAVID Miliband is quitting Westminster to work for an American charity. I just hope he gets as much flak for leaving his constituents high and dry mid-term of a parliament as former Tory MP Louise Mensch did.

I’ve no time for her politics, but by putting her kids and husband before her political career, she was castigated by various sections of society and the media – even sparking debates about whether women are really suited to be MPs. Will there be scoffing about his motives to work for a charity? Will questions be raised about whether an ambitious man is suitable to be an MP? I doubt it.

Going back in time indeed.