Councillor John Blundell thinks the only solution is to make begging unprofitable
The fundamental principle of economics is that people respond to incentives. People make choices based upon the option that offers them the greatest incentive.
Often money is the means of incentivising people to do things they wouldn't opt to do otherwise, like work. Conversely, it is also used to disincentivise things we like to do but shouldn’t, like smoking, which is heavily taxed.
It is because of incentives that communism doesn’t work; why bust a gut when your comrades will pick up the slack and the reward is the same?
Mao and Stalin understood work must be incentivised but were fundamentally against capitalism. They turned to murdering the population as means of getting the remainder to work harder and faster.
The fear it instilled in the citizens of the USSR was also convenient for ensuring the communist dictators maintained their power. The incentive to kill their political opponents was so great they followed through with it on an industrial scale.
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.
The lack of police presence means - especially this time of year - you see people taking to the streets to make money. Many people ask why: mental health? Crime? The economy? Identifying the why will not solve the problem. Changing the incentive structure will.
In one of Sir Richard Leese's council leader blogs he urges people to not give beggars food, clothing or money. He believes that the cash will end up in an off licence or in the hands of criminals. He also reminds people a lot of begging is organised. These distraught people fear for their lives because of gang members and criminals; handing over cash finances their activities.
Suzanne Moore, writing for The Guardian, however, describes begging as 'quaintly entrepreneurial'. Quaintly entrepreneurial? I call it a disgrace, and can't believe what more and more people will turn to because of government welfare policies.
Moore's argument is based upon 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.
Giving out money might, for some, help in the short term, but I'm with Leese on this one. I feel sorry for people who beg - they clearly need our help - but I don't believe allowing them to continue in this way is the answer. They don't need our pity, they need to accept and seek help.
The police should make begging unprofitable through the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO)
The authorities should endeavour to make it unprofitable for aggressive beggars to operate in our city. One way they can do this is through the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO).
Salford City Council have been successful in deterring anti-social behaviour in MediaCity through the use of a PSPO. In Rochdale we introduced such an order so that we could clear away aggressive beggars, but mainly to clear away yobs.
Some liberals dubbed our new PSPO the ‘swearing ban’, leading people to believe that every Tom, Dick and Harry using loose language would be slapped with a fine. In reality the order is used sparingly on those people who seek to ruin our town centres.
On a very serious note, some people are forced into begging (Antislavery.org makes for some grim reading). People are trafficked and told to beg or face brutality; it is a real form of modern slavery.
There is only one way to solve this issue and that is to crack down. Fine aggressive beggars to take the money out of the system and arrest the criminal gangmasters involved. Our system should be robust enough to be able to differentiate between somebody who is taking the mick and somebody who needs our help.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the homeless or beggars in general. I’m talking about the very serious criminal element of aggressive begging that people don’t always realise is happening.
Some criminals will not stop, no matter what help we offer them, because begging is profitable. Do you think somebody who is in fear of their life will accept help and come willingly? We won’t be able to help modern slaves until they believe they are safe from their captors. They are safe with the police, not on the street.
For those reading this who can’t believe I am calling for aggressive beggars to be fined, so they can’t take the money home, the only reason we aren’t doing this already is because of public finances, not out of the goodness of our hearts. These people need our help and if we need to use our resources to lift them from the streets, so be it.
The money raised through the use of PSPOs should be given to Mayor Andy Burnham’s homeless fund or the like. This way, genuinely homeless people who fall foul of PSPOs would benefit in the long-term.
Remove the incentive to beg aggressively and the problem will subside, organised begging would be much reduced and the homeless services would be better off financially.
Giving out money only locks these people into a destructive cycle of dependency, which is good for no one, except, sadly, criminals.
While you're here... Vending machine for the homeless to be installed in Manchester
Councillor John Blundell is a graduate of economics at the University of Manchester and was elected to Rochdale Borough Council at the age of 20. He has worked as a transport and development economist both in London and Manchester.
He campaigns on trying to change the life chances of young people both through literacy and art but is now using his professional skills to better inform the debate on city economics in Greater Manchester.