New research reveals hardships of those begging in Edinburgh

The lives of people begging on the streets of Edinburgh are characterised by poverty, poor health, addiction and abuse, according to hard-hitting new research.

Researchers commissioned jointly by the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership and housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland found evidence of at least 420 people begging on the streets of the capital over the two years to October 2018.

New research reveals hardships of those begging in Edinburgh

The people were found by the researchers to suffer from deep, often lifelong poverty, poor mental and physical health, addiction and the constant threat of abuse.

The study is the first detailed piece of research into begging in any UK city for 20 years and is described as a first step in finding ways to support people out of begging in Edinburgh.

It found that 89% of people begging were Edinburgh and UK nationals, with 73% having a local connection of accommodation or last settled address being in Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership includes representatives of public agencies such as NHS Lothian and Police Scotland as well Essential Edinburgh which represents city centre businesses. The Partnership has agreed that a united effort will be required to help people move on from begging.

Councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan, chair of the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership, said: “Street begging is a hugely complex issue and if we’re going to address it effectively we have to improve our understanding of it. That’s why we commissioned this important and long overdue research in partnership with Shelter Scotland – the most detailed research done on this issue in the UK for two decades.

“This is the first step in producing a long-term strategy to fully understand and respond to the complexities of street begging. We’ve set up a working group to analyse the findings and develop an action plan.

“All of us in the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership are 100% committed to finding ways to support all of Edinburgh’s residents especially the most marginalised in our communities. I look forward to seeing this vital research put to good use to help people to move on from begging.”

At the heart of the research is information gathered in interviews with more than 50 people who were begging in Edinburgh. It sheds light into the reasons behind their begging, what their lives are like and the struggle to move on from begging. The report confirmed what has long been known; that not all rough sleepers beg and not all those begging are sleeping rough. However, the report’s authors stress that this should never be interpreted as people having access to a safe, warm or even furnished home.

People used the money made from begging for food, heating, accommodation and while some said they needed to beg to feed addiction they also reported resorting to begging for things like children’s clothing. The findings did not support the idea that those begging were bringing in high incomes to support a high standard of living and found most were barely sustaining themselves.

Of those interviewed, more than 80% reported that they had mental health issues including anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than 62% had physical health problems. More than half suffered from both. Almost 80% said they were taking either drugs, alcohol or both. Half were in treatment.

Fiona King, national campaigns and policy manager for Shelter Scotland, said: “Behind these statistics are real people who have often survived significant trauma and hardship and they need a compassionate response. Most of them are suffering from ill-health often including addictions. What gives us room for optimism is the evidence that support services, especially those with kind, empathetic staff and volunteers, offer people the best chance to move on from begging.

“We’re pleased to have been able to work with Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership on this research. At its heart it identifies a need for sustained investment for effective support services and good quality affordable housing which are essential to helping people move on from begging and preventing others from starting to beg in the future. We look forward to seeing the Community Safety Partnership’s response to this complex issue.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “Throughout the consultation process ahead of our renewal ballot last year, our businesses expressed concern about homelessness and begging in the city centre, realising that improving security for all in our area means working to help those most vulnerable.

“Such complex issues don’t need a short-term fix; they require a considered and sensitive strategy for real and lasting change. Essential Edinburgh already fund an expert Homelessness Case Worker as part of the Cyrenians Navigator Project and additional Police Scotland support with our own ‘BID Cop’, both of whom are part of the Community Safety Partnership (CSP).

“Expert knowledge and understanding is essential; Shelter Scotland’s research enables CSP to have a baseline with which to work from and will help with understanding the causes and influence the support that is needed.

“This research is the first step towards forming a strategy but it cannot be done in isolation. Only by working together can local government, law enforcement, expert third sector partners and the local business community make a significant difference.”

Share icon
Share this article: