The single most important point to make in response to the complaints received is that the posters are not about homelessness.
The campaign’s clearly stated objective was to discourage members of the public from giving money to people who beg as it would more than likely go towards funding life-threatening drug or alcohol addictions.
The posters certainly have a ‘hard-hitting’ message, which was necessary in order to get a vital message across effectively. But they make no reference to homelessness which is the basis of the complaints that have been made.
At the launch of the campaign, City Council Leader, Councillor Jon Collins, said: “This campaign is not about homeless people, who with local housing charities, we work effectively to support through our No Second Night Out policy and a range of housing and hostel projects.
“This campaign is about people who beg, almost none of whom are homeless but who are feeding drug or alcohol problems which in many cases can be life-shortening.
“Regrettably, the public in Nottingham are faced with a small number of people who persistently and often aggressively beg. Despite people’s best intentions, giving money to people begging does not help them, but instead feeds harmful habits. We would urge anyone who wants to help genuinely homeless people to donate to homeless charities.”
Local homeless charity Framework has already pointed out that, although some people have chosen to interpret the campaign as an attack against homeless people, the reality is that homelessness and rough sleeping are not the same as begging. Most people who beg are not sleeping rough and most people sleeping rough do not choose to beg.
A member of Framework’s street outreach team talks about the campaign in detail on the charity’s website here. You may find this helpful context in relation to the complaints that have been made:
For ease, here is an extract to provide an informative, independent and expert view on the issue and the campaign:
“We know that most of the people we see begging in Nottingham are not actually sleeping rough or have no need to do so.
“In my experience people who beg in Nottingham are living in very undesirable and chaotic lives – beset by poor housing, substance abuse, mental ill-health and a lack of opportunity. They need (and in many cases are receiving) support from organisations like Framework, but cash donations from members of the public do little to help find long-term solutions to their problems. Indeed, they can actually make those problems worse.
“An obvious example would be somebody with a drink or drug addiction who spends the money given to them funding that addiction. Another less obvious example is that of the person who rejects the accommodation available to them because of how much money they can make if they choose to sleep outside. This isn’t speculation or an attempt to demonise anybody; this is what we have observed.
“My opinion is that the council are proactively responding to a problem. They may have caused offence to some people but they are certainly not attempting to demonise homeless people because the campaign is for the most part not about homelessness. They are raising what I feel is a very valid point about what is done with the money that often vulnerable beggars receive from members of the public.”
Surveys and other supporting information
A report by Framework this year showed that of 189 individuals identified as street drinkers and/or beggars in the 12 months up to April 2016, 96% were identified as having drug or alcohol needs and nine have sadly died.
The campaign was developed in response to this and to perceptions that begging has become an increasing problem on the streets of Nottingham in recent years. It is also part of the response to tackling what is a criminal activity.
A recent survey of 2,700 residents carried out by Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership found that begging is the anti-social behaviour issue people say they are most concerned about in the Nottingham city centre.
A total of 31% of respondents said that begging was a very or fairly big problem, making it the highest ranked concern in the city centre, over drunk or rowdy behaviour and street drinking.
Another 2015 survey found that found that 11 businesses claimed they suffered disruption because of begging on either a daily basis or most days of the week.
The three case studies below provide examples of the harassment and disruption people who beg can cause and the clear link between begging and drug/alcohol abuse.
Case study 1
Complaints were made to the Council and Police about man in his thirties begging near cash machines. Of particular concern was his aggressive attitude to passers-by. On one particular occasion it was witnessed, and used as evidence in Court, that he had followed a woman for some distance along the street, harassing her for cash while heavily intoxicated.
Case study 2
A man in his 40s was found to be travelling to Nottingham to beg for the day from a neighbouring city. He had already been the subject of a Criminal Anti Social Behaviour Order (CRASBO) issued to him in in his home city prohibiting him from begging anywhere in England and Wales for 5 years due to his extensive record and convictions for begging offences throughout the UK.
When begging in Nottingham he would change out of the clothes he travelled in into clothes that helped give a homeless appearance. He carried his clean clothes in a bag which he would change back into for the journey home.
Officers reported how he would flaunt his earnings to them by waving wads of cash he had obtained from the citizens of Nottingham, informing them of how much he had gained in so many hours ‘work’.
Case study 3
A man and a woman, who had previously been the subject of a Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Order (CRASBO), were not homeless but travelled in to the city centre to beg for cash to fund their drug and alcohol addictions. The man would act as a look-out for his partner while she begged in shop doorways.
The complainants believe that the ads portray homeless people in a derogatory manner but as highlighted above, the posters make no reference to homeless people and are about begging not homelessness.
The ads are intentionally hard-hitting in order to get an important message across but, as section 4.1 of the code states: The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code.
Therefore, we do not believe the complaints can or should be upheld.
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