Labour Councillor says the only way to tackle begging is to fine offenders

Campaigners have hit back at a Labour councillor who says the only way to tackle begging is to fine offenders.

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A Labour Councillor has said the only way to tackle begging is to fine offenders.

The controversial comments follow Labour’s Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council, who described Christmas as “peak begging season”.

In his blog post, the Labour giant urges people not to give beggars food, clothing or money saying that the cash will end up in an off-licence or in the hands of criminals, claiming the majority of begging is organised.

In a post titled “Manchester’s aggressive beggars should be fined”, Labour Councillor John Blundell said: “The point here is: if the incentive is great enough people will do virtually anything. This is why aggressive begging is rife in our city centre.

“There is only one way to solve this issue…crack down. Fine aggressive beggars and arrest them.”

Blundell continued: “…the idea that there is no other choice for some… that we should let beggars get on with it, they aren’t doing any harm.

“Codswallop.

“Giving out money might, for some, help in the short term, but I’m with Leese on this one.”

“There is only one way to solve this issue…crack down. Fine aggressive beggars and arrest them.”

Councillor John Blundell

The comments have been widely condemned by the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Greater Manchester Housing Action, who slammed Blundell’s comments as “encouraging indifference and fear.”

Councillor John Leech

Former Manchester MP John Leech, who has campaigned extensively on affordable housing, also condemned the article adding: “Blundell’s comments are dehumanising, divisive and frankly just ignorant, only exposing his lack of knowledge and experience on the issue.

“The solution to begging, rough sleeping and homelessness isn’t fines, intimidation and social cleansing – the typical Labour way. It is fixing our broken housing system once and for all, ending luxury developments, guaranteeing genuinely affordable housing, getting people off the streets and preventing the initial causes.

“I will never understand why the Labour party seems to have such a problem with rough sleepers and homelessness – it’s just baffling.”

“Blundell’s comments only expose his lack of knowledge and experience on the issue.”

Councillor John Leech

Recent disagreements over affordable housing, rough sleeping, begging and homelessness in Manchester town hall caused tensions to completely boil over, with Mayor Andy Burnham being forced to step in after Mr Leech accused the council of “social cleansing”.

His stinging attack came after the council approved the construction of more than 2,500 homes – not a single one of which they could guarantee would be affordable.

Earlier in 2016, Mr Leech hit out at the Council after they effectively evicted and tried to sue a group of homeless people who had pitched tents in the city centre.

Opposition councillor John Leech (top) and council leader Richard Leese (bottom) have publicly clashed over the issue many times.

Issy Patience, the Green Party’s candidate for Whalley Range, slammed Blundell’s comments as a “diatribe” using “intentionally divisive language to create a ‘them and us’ tone throughout.”

She also claimed it, “in no way added to a sensible discussion around the very real issue that Manchester faces this Christmas.”

Patience continued: “An increase in neighbourhood begging has happened over the course of the last 18 months, particularly in Whalley Range, which councillors will happily ignore as this is easier to hide from lucrative London CEOs.

“Encouraging donations to homelessness charities is the one thing I can condone from Councillor Blundell’s diatribe.”

Issy Patience, Green Party

Greater Manchester Housing Action responded to Blundell’s call for fines saying, “The idea that homeless people are being driven to ask for change by a profit incentive is a distortion of reality.

“By seeing the street homeless population as individuals seeking economic opportunity, he is willfully ignoring the structural forces that have led to an explosion of street homelessness.

“Using language in this way obscures these wider systemic issues and feeds into the othering of homeless people, encouraging indifference and fear.”

The group also hit back at Labour Leader Richard Leese’s “clumsy” comments adding: “We need to show compassion for people who have been heavily impacted by the housing crisis and ideological austerity measures, not throw around clumsy phrases like “peak begging season”, or back draconian calls for fines.”

But, Richard Leese, who is coming up to 22 years as leader of Manchester Council, insisted: “Giving to people on the street, money, food, clothes, just helps ‘keep’ them there.

“Most of the money given just ends up on drugs or alcohol.

“That kindness, compassion and generosity is really appreciated but if you want to help through giving, do it to the Big Change campaign and help our voluntary sector partners help people into a better life.”
 

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