Aggressive beggars are to be cleared off Britain's streets as part of a controversial new push against anti-social behaviour, reported The Observer (p3).
In an announcement expected in the next few days, prime minister Tony Blair will say that begging is part of a growing problem that needs to be tackled. Thirty 'intervention programmes' will be announced in cities and towns across the country aimed at clearing beggars from the streets and offering them hostel accommodation. The government will back local authority campaigns which say that giving money to beggars merely helps them buy drugs.
But groups helping the homeless and others say Mr Blair's language is demonising the poor.
'The term 'anti-social behaviour' is often used as a catch-all for all sorts of seriously punitive measures often directed at the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society', said Shelter director Adam Sampson.
The action against begging will be the centrepiece of a raft of measures to be announced in an Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan to be launched personally by the prime minister.
The government will also announce the results of the first-ever survey into the number of anti-social behaviour incidents counted by police forces and local authorities across England and wales in one 24-hour period. It is expected that the survey will show that on 10 September more than 50,000 incidents were recorded, ranging from street begging to drunkenness, kerb crawling, noise, rowdy behaviour and 'vehicle-related nuisance' - the use of many council estates as race tracks for cars.
Senior police officers said that while the figures were useful, there wer e huge discrepancies in collecting crime statistics across the country. Home Office sources admitted the figures were 'not scientific'.
Mr Blair will urge local authorities to make more use of fixed penalty fines of between £40 and £200 which can be used to curb intimidating behaviour without the need to go to court.
...AND TEENAGERS NAMED AND SHAMED
In a unique experiment, seven local youths, the youngest just 15, were named and shamed in a leaflet posted through doors in Neasden, north west London, as members of a gang that had been terrorising the neighbourhood, reported The Observer (p15).
In the first mass Anti-Social Behaviour Order in Britain, all seven were banned from streets in the Chalkhill area of Neasden, where they were said to have waged a campaign of harassment for two years.
'The Anti-Social behaviour of these individuals has caused misery for residents in the Neasden and Chalkhill Area', said the leaflet. 'TOGETHER THEY HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF OVER 100 OFFENCES'.
The names and photographs of all seven were printed, along with a map outlining the areas from which they were excluded. In a dramatic attempt to cut crime in Brent LBC the glossy, full-colour leaflets were distributed to every house in the exclusion zone, inviting residents to call the police, a local council helpline or Crimestoppers if the young men were seen in the area. The leaflets explained that the ban has been put in place for at least five years and any breach invited an immediate prison sentence. They were also banned from 'acting anti-socially' anywhere in England and Wales.
Parents of the seven are mounting a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act to have the leaflets and laminated posters in local pubs withdrawn. They claim their right to privacy and family life has been infringed by the leaflets, which have made the gang outcasts in their community. If successful, the challenge could stop ASBOs in their tracks. They already cost about £5,000 each to set up , and few counc ils would be prepared to foot the cost of lengthy appeals.
However, most people in Neasden who spoke to the newspaper had little sympathy for the group. Police figures show that crime has fallen by 25% in the exclusion zone since the ASBOs were issued.