29/11/2013 07:32 GMT | Updated 28/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Leeds City Council Beggars Belief

Oh, hats off to Leeds City Council. ASBO'S served on four people begging for money. Well done indeed, kick a man when they are down eh? 2868 crimes in September 2013 within the Leeds City Council area but let's concentrate resources on picking on the most vulnerable, nice easy pickings.

So, serve ASBO's which says these four people can't beg on certain streets, which by default means its fine elsewhere though, doesn't it? Then, if they don't comply with their ASBO's what happens? Do they get fined? Oh well that's useful, it means the beggars will have to just beg harder and longer on the streets where they are allowed to beg to pay the fine. Very sensible idea this! If they can't pay their fines, just escalate it and make the fine even more. Can't pay this, then it has to be a short custodial sentence maybe. Warmth, free health care, three good meals a day and a safe place to lay your head, what a result. Alternatively, maybe some community service which they probably won't be able to get their acts together to complete, so then what?

A representative from Leeds City Council said that out of the four, three of them are not even homeless! Not that that makes any difference because the one who is homeless also gets the ASBO?

It is not pleasurable to sit on the street and beg in the winter time. It takes someone to hit absolute rock bottom to compromise their dignity and lose all self-respect. Even people with a roof over their heads need to eat, pay their rent and feed their children, so I am not sure why Mr Leeds Council was drawing attention to the fact that three out of the four were not homeless.

People may be begging for reasons of destitution and desperation. In many cases they may have untreated mental health problems, which actually is a huge barrier to working or navigating through the complicated benefits system.

Mr Leeds Council says "We are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to provide meaningful support to those people who desperately need it, but will not accept persistent begging in the city centre and especially from those that have absolutely no reason to be doing it. This action that we have taken through the courts sends a strong message that begging is a crime we will not tolerate."

Would any one of you reading this, sit on a pavement in the middle of winter facing the humiliation of asking people for loose change if you had absolutely no reason to do so?

So, Mr Leeds Council also says, "we are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to provide meaningful support to these people who desperately need it.. Well, this is what I know about Leeds City Council's proposed austerity recommendations:-

• Council house rents recommended to rise 6.8%

• Reduce the number of staff by a total of 3,000 by 31 March 2015. A saving of £30m was targeted for employee expenditure

• In adult social care, up to 13 buildings face closure, including at least four residential homes for the elderly and at least four day centres. More emphasis will be placed on people living at home. Stocks Hill in Armley and The Vale in Hunslet will close as mental health day centres.

• The closure of Leeds Crisis Centre, which offers counselling and support, saving more than £700,000 a year

• Two hostels for the city's homeless - Hollies and Richmond Court - will also close.

Public expenditure savings are unavoidable, I get that, but there will obviously be victims. Is the best thing to do with the victims really to slap ASBO's on them??

Homeless and desperate people do not always accept help that is offered to them for many reasons and many people would say, well they bring it on themselves, help is there if they want it. Ask anyone with experience of working with homeless people, or those with mental health problems and they will tell you that it just isn't that simple!

So....if as Mr Leeds Council says, begging is a crime, then should they not be arrested and charged with begging or, if members of the public are making genuine complaints that they are being harassed, is there not a harassment charge that can be brought? To serve ASBO's to say not on this particular street thank you, is completely and totally ridiculous! What is going to happen if they breach their ASBO's which no doubt they will.

I suppose this news story hit a nerve with me when I heard it this morning because we at Brookdale Care, know only too well about people who have a history of being described as awkward, non-compliant and oppositional. Some of our folk who come to us detained under the Mental Health Act and in crisis, have spent time living on the street and have been subject to ASBO's they didn't understand, or prosecutions for anti-social or criminal behaviour. Yet in many cases they have an autistic condition which is well known to hinder their ability to understand social rules and social acceptability. The equivalent is something like prosecuting a blind man for bumping in to people. Confused and stressed by the judicial system and the social demands placed upon them, lands them in a place where there is no option but to give them appropriate care and support. However, by the time they come to us they are requiring a high staffed, high cost placement to keep them safe. A little bit more help and understanding along their offending pathway may will have had a very different outcome. It's so frustrating.

Shame on you Leeds City Council.

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