Posts Tagged ‘ law ’

The “worthless” demographic: beggars, buskers, Big Issue sellers and students


I recently read an Independent article regarding the homelessness problem in Bournemouth. The article itself is dated 1994, but the issues raised in it are ever current and, according to the Council’s reports, on the rise. The article, however, is written in a biased and inflammatory manner and carefully omits certain things. For example, when describing the increased incidence of hotels having to take in people receiving social security and housing benefits, the article doesn’t elaborate on the two such hotel guests who didn’t live like pigs or become violent,

Former guesthouse landlady Janet: ‘I was facing having the place repossessed. I took in four, just to tide me over. Two of them lived like pigs, not like people. The place was filthy, windows and furniture were broken. They were always drunk. Then they stopped paying regularly. I went in to get my money and one of them just hit me across the face. I had to call the police to get them out.’

Yet the article does include the vitriolic bile of people who choose to throw university students in with smack addicts as a demographic.

‘We don’t want any of them,’ said one tight-lipped elderly resident. ‘Not the scroungers, and not the students – they’ll only go on the dole themselves when they finish their courses. Bournemouth is marvellous – but it needs to be saved from all these layabouts.’

Not all students are lazy, nor are all homeless people scroungers. This particular tight-lipped elderly resident may speak for many, but certainly not for everyone. By the same token it could be said that all elderly people are crabby, pessimistic, resistant to change, hating of young people and ensnared in the haze of bygone ‘golden years’. Also not true.

Golden years are those in the past that people prefer to see through rose-tinted glasses, not that were particularly any better as a matter of fact, e.g. Jack the Ripper was murdering people when the streets were still lit by gas lamps and the first half of the 20th century was riddled with wars. Yet these eras were no doubt viewed by many nostalgics as ‘golden days’.

It’s a mater of perception. Mine is that there were/are no golden days, only recollections with the gristle and grime omitted or the viewpoints of sheltered, cotton wool-wrapped individuals who haven’t seen enough of the real world to be able to offer a balanced view.

But I digress…

The point is: do the exceptions prove the rule when it comes to lazy students and drug-taking homeless people?

The following is a truncated version of a feature article I wrote for my degree concerning homelessness [‘lazy’ students is another issue].

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Thirteen years ago I held a steak-knife to a man’s throat. I told him to leave me alone to sleep. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed, but neither was I. He had somewhere to stay. It was nearly October, it was cold and I was about to sleep on the beach. I had a car blanket, he’d had other ideas. He left issuing threats, but fortunately I didn’t see him again.

There are many myths and assumptions regarding homeless people, some of which possess an element of truth and others that do not. I spoke to Jo, Dave and Pepsi about their experiences of homelessness and it is their words with which I hope to elucidate some of the notions surrounding what is becoming an ever more prevalent aspect of life in ‘sunny’ Bournemouth.

Myth 1: Homeless people will disappear if you ignore them

People avoid the homeless for several reasons, such as them being ‘dirty’ or wariness of ‘catching something ‘. It is possible to be clean when homeless, but it’s a catch-22 situation. The public expects a certain appearance of homeless people, otherwise they question or disbelieve that they are homeless at all. Being unwashed, unshaven and wearing stereotypically travelleresque garb is part of this expected image. Clean shirts and white trainers are a no-no. The worse I dressed, the more (Big) Issues I sold and I know others, including Jo, Dave and Pepsi, have found the same. The public wants scruff, but when it gets it, it recoils.

Myth 2: All homeless people are junkies, crack addicts or alcoholics

Some of the homeless who are addicted to hard drugs such as heroin, crack and alcohol often seem ‘out of it’, are ruder, pushier and sometimes abusive when asking for money. It is this kind of behaviour that gets noticed, not the quiet, polite people just trying to scrape their next meal together. This behaviour doesn’t just extend to the public either. There’s a rule on the street: Don’t beg off a beggar. It’s etiquette. The few people that breach it tend to be the ones who are quite far along the path of addiction. It’s important to point out that —though there are an awful lot of addicts who are homeless— many homeless people do not even use drugs. moreover, stereotyping to the contrary leads to a lot of negative and abusive behaviour towards them.

Myth 3: It’s their own fault homeless people are on the street

This blanket assumption is what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error, which, put simply, means that we attribute our own errors to external factors others’ errors to internal factors. It’s never our fault, but it is theirs.

Granted, with some people it is; for Jo her relationship with her parents became irreconcilable as a result of “teenage stupidity and stubbornness” and there are people who get into drugs and lose their homes for not paying the rent, but since the recession —and before that when industrial and unskilled work started being outsourced abroad—  jobs have been evaporating. [Not to mention the people whose home life is abusive and they have no where left to turn]. This leads to a vicious circle: no job = no address, no address = no job. It’s worth remembering that next time you hear someone shout ‘get a job’ at busker, beggar or Big Issue seller.

This is another point of contention. Selling the Big Issue is not begging. A product, bought at wholesale price, is being retailed. There is an exchange. Indeed, standing on the high street prey to people’s contemptuous, pitying looks and occasional abuse is not an easy job. Being a Big Issue seller can make you a sitting duck. They know where to find you and they know that no one is going to come looking for you. The murder of Westbourne vendor Ralph Millward last year is testament to that.

Some people, however, choose homelessness. Pepsi and her boyfriend have been vending the Issue for a couple of years in Bournemouth centre. She said, “I did get a flat a while ago, but I felt trapped in, so I left. I like the open air and I earn my own way selling this so I don’t see the problem.” Life on the street is different for everyone, it can be both unbearable and enjoyable and often alternates between the two.

Myth 4: Homeless people are lost causes

Sometimes this is true. A man on the street at the same time as me, Zeb, had collapsed most of the veins in his body through injecting heroin into them and had resorted to his jugular, which is, in the long-term, fatal. Zeb hasn’t been seen for years, but his companion has. Thirteen years later he is still begging, still lying and still hooked.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way, not for everyone. I was on the street for eight months, Jo for six. I built a career in retail before going to university, Jo has been a happy employee of the post office depot for nine years. A man I knew, Mac, was on the street for years selling the Issue between Bournemouth and Ebbw Vale (in Wales) and is now the manager of a fishing shop. There are success stories from the street.

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ID cards, privacy & hope for a UK Bill of Rights


The increase in surveillance of the British public has long been on the up, but a new state of the nation poll (reported in the Guardian) shows that the country has hit its tipping point.

One such aspect that has come under public scrutiny is the ID card. In July 2009, the home secretary, Alan Johnson, said the card were a ‘no brainer. They would allow easy travel between EU countries— passport free, only terrorists wouldn’t have them, and so on.

“The identity card is a safe, secure and simple way for people to protect and prove their identity and to travel around Europe but leave their passport at home,” he said. “Given the growing problem of ID fraud and the inconvenience of having to carry passports coupled with gas bills or six months worth of bank statements to prove identity, I believe the ID card will be welcomed as an important addition to the many plastic cards that most people already carry.”

And then a UK newspaper hired a hacker to test the ‘unhackable’ cards out. With a phone and a laptop, the card was hacked in minutes and cloned, with new information put on it. Not so fraud-resistant after all. Besides which, even if they were, it only takes one corrupt/breakable/bribable individual on the inside to screw the whole system. On the surface a good, all-inclusive, ‘no sensitive info‘, easy idea. On the inside, deeply flawed and unlikely to go down well in a country where trust in the government is at best tenuous.

The last state of the nation poll showed only 33% of people opposing ID cards. Now 53% perceive them to be a [very/]bad and 63% of people– up from 53% – worry about the government holding information on them.

The state of the nation poll shows the rights that the sample believed should be included in a Bill of Rights:

81% – the right to know what information government departments hold on you

79% – the right to privacy in your phone, mail and email communications

76% – the right to join a legal strike without losing your job

75% – the right to obtain information from government bodies about their activities

72% – and the right to free and peaceful assembly.

Which just goes to show that the UK still wants to be a free society.

This information was released by Power 2010, which asked the public to choose its top five priorities for political reform, the poll revealed that

80% agreed with the need for a bill of rights, 52% strongly.

The British public seems to be rejecting the idea of massive centralised power over which they have no control.

56% thought government power was too centralised, with

88% saying that local communities should have more say over decisions that affect them.

And that’s what democracy is all about… Right?

UK whore tax could help plug a gap


Also known as:

The case to have brothels  legalised, standardised, pasteurised (well, not quite), regulated and taxed.

Why?

The short answer:

Firstly, because the workers could be medically screened and physically and legally protected.

Secondly, the tax the government could/would reap would be massive,  comparable even to that of smokers’ and drivers’ taxes.

Simples.

The longer answer?

It could be argued that ‘no one’ wants a brothel on their doorstep and this is fair enough. Put them in industrial parks. Not sexy enough? Neither’s an alley (although something resembling an alley could be constructed on premises with an outside area).

Is this heinously commodifying women? I never said brothels should only be worked in by women; men are fair game too. Don’t like the commodification of sex? Here’s some news: it’s the oldest trade in the world, it was commodified long before any of us were born and with a country strapped for cash (and the government dipping into the pension funds etc.) we might as well stop being prudish and wilfully ignorant. Legalising this area of the black market could generate masses of revenue, plugging a gap in the economy, at the same time as all-importantly looking after the health and safety of the workers – not to mention the peace of mind of the patrons.

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