An anti-begging campaign launched on the 20th June under the moniker of ‘Begging for Change’ has been met with outrage. The campaign – supported by several charities and state agencies – aims to discourage people from engaging in one of the most basic acts of compassion.
Billboards and posters emerged across Belfast urging people not to give to people begging on the street, but to ‘responsibly’ donate to charities instead. It states that giving to people on the street can feed addiction. Of course, services to provide support for those with addiction problems – such as the now defunct FASA on the Shankill Road – are being cut to the bone thanks to Stormont austerity. This campaign – perhaps unwittingly – feeds into the demonization of beggars and homeless people and into the Victorian narrative of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.
It is disgraceful that this campaign is being supported by the Housing Executive, the very body which is meant to be helping people get off the streets and into permanent housing. Decades of sell-off and underinvestment have created a housing crisis, with over 40,000 families on the housing waiting list.
Rather than attacking some of the most vulnerable people in our society, state agencies should be investing in social housing, as well as treatment and support services for those with mental health issues and those struggling with addiction. Unfortunately, this flies in the face of the neo-liberal austerity agenda of the Stormont Executive.