Belfast Telegraph

The Government must step in now to tackle the 21st century scourge of begging in our towns and cities

No longer just a nuisance, the problem has turned into a daily menace that needs to be confronted head-on once and for all

By Chris Moncrieff

The scourge of beggars - both bogus and otherwise - is rapidly becoming an increasing and serious nuisance on the streets of urban Britain. It is now difficult to walk down the main streets of many towns and cities without being accosted, often belligerently, by beggars, many of whom have aggressive-looking snarling dogs. To some people, it is positively frightening.

Yet, there was outcry when it was suggested beggars should be removed from the streets of Windsor for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. You would hardly think so, but the practice of begging is illegal, although this law is very rarely exploited. Why on earth not?

At least in Torquay, the fake homeless have been driven out of town, but 'legitimate' beggars, it seems, remain untouched to enable them to continue to ply their illegal trade. Similar action has been mooted, but not executed, in Ely. And now we even hear of gangs of beggars taking over town centres. Surely it is now time for the Government to step in?

This has become much more serious than a mere local nuisance - although that is bad enough - but a national problem which needs to be stamped out.

Some of these people are not bereft at all - they can make three-figure sums on a daily basis.

I was once accosted by a beggar in London, who accidentally pulled out of his pocket a fat wad of banknotes - far more cash than I possessed myself.

A few years ago, the London Underground system was, for a period, infested by Eastern European begging women carrying babies.

Fortunately, the Tube management took a tough line, ordering them off the trains, while passengers resolutely refused to hand over their cash. The result was that this menace disappeared. A decade or so ago, beggars on British streets were a relative rarity. Now they are everywhere.

The Government may be transfixed with Brexit, but it cannot just sit back and let this anti-social and aggressive practice continue.

Let's see some action.

Yawnerama. That was the strange word used by a political spokesman when he denied - yet again - a rift between Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister over Brexit.

Yet, it is plain for all to see that these two people, if not at daggers drawn, have a somewhat different approach to a problem which has overwhelmed Government activity for some two years now.

Theresa May's problem is that, though she delivers speeches full of good sense, they are not inspirational; there is nothing of the Churchillian oratory about them, whereas Johnson knows precisely how to work an audience.

He is the only politician I know who can use long and obscure words and yet still retain the animated interest of his audience.

It is hard enough for the Prime Minister to have to deal with the stubborn Brussels negotiating team, without the pinpricks from one of her senior ministers.

The one short message to these two is: get your act together - and fast.

President Trump makes no secret of the fact he hates the media.

Yet - and he may not realise this - he has, ironically, been their best benefactor for years.

Every single day, there is a new and major story for White House reporters, and journalists elsewhere, to get their teeth into. It might be more sackings in the tumultuous White House, new and massive tariffs put on imports, furious personal onslaughts on celebrities, who've had the temerity to mock him, or outraged tweets to all and sundry, including the boss of North Korea.

For journalists, it could hardly have been better. While the rest of mankind sees him as a menace, the journalistic fraternity take a different view.

That is, of course, so long as he keeps his fingers well clear of the button.

The 'what the butler saw' attraction on many of Britain's seaside piers is positively tame in comparison to what politicians see and hear while out knocking on doors trying to drum up support.

Whole volumes could be written about that.

For instance, when the Prime Minister was canvassing at the last General Election, she actually burst in accidentally on a couple having sex in a caravan.

She hastily withdrew, assuming that was not the right moment to be telling the amorous couple about the advantages of a properly negotiated Brexit.

That reminds me of the case of the late Labour MP Martin Flannery, who was canvassing in Sheffield when he was confronted on the doorstep by a highly agitated and noisy small dog.

"Don't worry, Mr Flannery," its owner reassured him. "Tiddles won't hurt you."

"Madam," retorted Flannery, "Tiddles has already embedded its fangs in my thigh."

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