David Miliband to guest-edit next week's New Statesman

Issue to focus on shifts in world power.

A special issue featuring essays, columns and interviews ­— with
Hillary Clinton, Kevin Rudd, Richard Branson, Michael Semple interview with Taliban leader, Tony Blair, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Russell Brand, Ed Miliband, David Walliams, Jonathan Coe, Jo Brand, Ozwald Boateng and many others

For this 80-page edition, David Miliband has commissioned a series of articles around the theme of shifts in world power.

David Miliband said:

“For many years I have wanted to tell New Statesman readers what really matters — so when Jason Cowley asked me to guest-edit an issue it was a challenge I couldn’t resist!

“This is an extraordinary time of economic and political change around the world that is immensely challenging for the west and for the left. So I have produced an issue that tries to explain the big drivers of change in the world, and how the west and the left should react.

“The issue reflects what I care about — from South Shields to human rights to what makes me smile or laugh. And I have tried to produce an issue that is passionate without shouting and uses reason without being technocratic.”

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said:

“I asked David to guest-edit because we wanted to produce an issue exploring the great challenges facing the world in what is a period of profound and uneasy transition as power shifts from west to east and the old European social-democratic model becomes unsustainable. As a former foreign secretary and one of our most intellectually capable politicians, he was ideally placed to gather together leading thinkers and politicians in one issue of the New Statesman.

“Our guest-edited issues have proved hugely popular with our readers as well as being great journalistic successes. This one will be no different.”

The issue, cover-dated 16 July, will be on sale in London on Thursday 12 July and in the rest of the country from Friday 13 July. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at www.newstatesman.com.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

David Miliband is the New Statesman’s seventh guest editor, after Alastair Campbell, Ken Livingstone, Melvyn Bragg, Jemima Khan, Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins.

Exclusives:

Melvyn Bragg’s guest edit on 11 October 2010 featured “Last Letter”, a newly discovered, previously unpublished poem by Ted Hughes about the night that his wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide.

Jemima Khan’s guest edit (11 April 2011) featured her agenda-setting interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg – in which he declared “I’m not a punchbag” – as well as Hugh Grant’s undercover interview with a former News of the World executive which became a worldwide media sensation.

Rowan Williams’s guest edit on 13 June 2011 dominated the news agenda for several days in response to his bold leader article criticising the coalition. He wrote, "We are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.”

Richard Dawkins’s guest edit (19 December 2011) contained the last interview with the writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.