Respect (which the poor aren't given)

02 November 2006


Sir, - There is a growing lack of respect ( News and leader comment, 13 January) or support shown by the state to people who fall on hard times. The underbelly of the ASBO regime is shameful.

A 28-year-old homeless woman was given an order banning her from begging or sleeping rough in Reading town centre for two years. A 43-year-old homeless man was jailed for three weeks for breaching the terms of his order, which he, being illiterate, could not read.

A 70-year-old, who struggles to walk, was handed an order banning him from begging for money for the next five years. Manchester City Council served an ASBO on Leonard Hockey, a 51-year-old non-aggressive beggar. He faced a two-year prison sentence if he continued begging. Hockey died three months later, having travelled to London and camped outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in protest.

Politicians of all parties have failed for decades to address the impossibility of survival in an expensive economy of, currently, one million childless adults receiving unemployment means-tested benefits of £44.50 a week, aged 18-24; £56.20, aged 25-60; and £88.15 for a couple aged 18-60. These are half the Government's poverty thresholds, but will increase by only £1, £1.25, and £1.95 in April. Incapacity Benefit begins at £57.65 and increases by £1.55.

I meet young men and women, preparing means statements in the magistrates' courts, unable to pay their fines because the Jobcentre has cancelled their benefit, or they have just come out of prison and it takes weeks or months to process it. Some don't apply because the trouble is not worth the money. Their families are poor, too. At least there were regular meals in prison.

Survival is a very powerful motivator. At these levels of income poverty, administrative inefficiency, and disrespect for the poor in a wealthy society, the state should accept some responsibility when it leads to begging, theft, prostitution, alienation, ill-health, and educational under-achievement.
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

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