WHAT POLITICS SHOULD BE ABOUT

A book titled “Women in Labour” might contain political biographies or relate to child birth. Only an examination of its contents will determine which. The same detailed scrutiny is required of street beggars and the homeless. Without identifying the cause of a problem, the proper remedy can’t be applied. It’s senseless sentimentality to regard street beggars on a par with the rough sleeping homeless.

The writer waiting for a tram at Grand Central in Birmingham was in as many minutes accosted, in turn, by three beggars. They all had the same spiel. They’d run out of money to buy a ticket home. Different sums were requested ranging from 21p to 78p to “a couple of pounds”. The last had obviously come furthest or was travelling first class. But that was the only difference between the three. What they had in common was age, (all appeared under 30), dress, (each was appropriately clad and cleanly presented) and approach. All were polite, coherent and articulate (no sign of drink, drugs or mental impairment) and able bodied. On rejection, each energetically bounded off to buttonhole another likely looking mug. The only thing they all lacked was pride and self-esteem. But heck, what’s self-respect worth if you’re coining it.

This experience is now commonplace in local towns and cities. Town centre streets need to be cleared of these pests. If they are not footfall will further decrease and trade will suffer more as ordinary families shun town centres to avoid running the gauntlet from scroungers.

There is a solution. The Vagrancy Act 1824 provides for the arrest of street beggars. The laughable Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, with a show of misplaced sentimentality, wants that Act repealed. We say it should be enforced.

Real rough sleeping homelessness is an entirely different matter. Those who live on the streets and trail their pathetic bundles of possessions from doorway to doorway to sleep deserve sympathy, but more than that, action is needed to deal with their problems.

Since he became West Midlands Mayor, Conservative Andy Street has shown a real concern for the homeless; researching the solutions adopted in other countries to the problem and advancing practical solutions.

£9.6 million has been secured for the Housing First scheme aimed at eliminating rough sleeping. Already over 80 homeless people have been housed and, importantly, provided with a support package in their new homes. Now, as part of the programme, 40 properties in Conservative run Walsall (more than the yearly rate of social housing being built in Sandwell) have been earmarked to house the homeless.

This practical, effective and properly caring approach to the real difficulty is the needed solution.