Six things from the last few weeks you should be really angry about

Forget Snowden.

For those people who prefer to live their lives in a state of permanent opposition to pretty much everything, Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified information through The Guardian newspaper about US and UK government internet surveillance techniques has been manna from heaven. No matter the rights and wrongs of Snowden’s actions it keeps the idea going that there is another ‘Watergate’ moment out there if only we could find it.

But to me, if you really do want to live your life in a perpetual state of internet-based emotional froth, then there is plenty enough truly shocking information out there, released every day, to have you bouncing up and down on your chosen hand-held or desk-based device whilst punching the air and exclaiming "I told you so!!!!" without you necessarily having to go down the road of believing that the moon landings were fake. 

So here are six things from the past two weeks you should really be puce with indignation about, but probably aren’t.

  1. Venezuela is falling to pieces Inflation is nearly 50 per cent, driven mainly by food prices, and President Nicholas Maduro is slipping back into old school South American Marxist language. ‘Yankees go home’ he proclaimed in a television broadcast last week. Rich Venezuelans have reacted to the lack of US dollars by going to the US and borrowing currency on credit cards and bringing it home to buy goods. The economic chaos is worsening as Venezuela increases its dependence on oil – a suicidal policy in itself.  But it is the urban poor who have been hit hardest as food prices rocket. The last time this happened, in 1989, 2,000 people died in the ensuing "Caracazo".
  2. Follow the Yellen Brick Road Job creation in the US is trundling along at a predictable pace and by the end of April 2014, at the current trajectory, all of the jobs lost in the 2007-2008 melt down will have been regained. Should Janet Yellen survive the process of becoming the Chair of the Federal Reserve then her first task may be to consider whether to signal the end of US pump priming known as Quantitative Easing. It may have already occurred by then of course but given the appalling mess that the Fed made of their last attempt to test the water in the disastrous May/July period this year, sending mortgage interest rates up by 1.5 per cent and stopping bank lending in its tracks, you would expect them to be a bit clearer next time.
  3. The financial crisis has moved to its fourth stage It started in personal finances, moved into the banks, caused local government to contract and now finally it is reaching national governments. Watching the US go through the ritualised partisan wrangling over increasing the debt ceiling reminds us that the loudest echoes of the financial crisis have not faded, we have just been deafened to them. This new form of democracy – one with a gun to its own head – seems to be saying "Give me what I want or I’ll shoot" to the financial markets. One day someone will miscalculate and this will go very wrong. 
  4. The markets are calmer when there is no information being released It’s been rather pleasant doing this job in the past couple of weeks. Days go by and nothing major happens because many of the data gathering and releasing departments in the US are shut. Stock markets, bond markets and currencies still move but with nothing like the ferocity seen in the past. It is a reminder of how reactionary markets and news sensitive the system has become. It almost feels like an argument to reduce news flow rather ‘increase transparency’ which is the modern mantra and one that appears to do little but "increase anxiety".
  5. Help to Buy has nothing to do with helping people to buy houses The UK needs another housing bubble like it needs a hole in the head. The fact is the UK banking system is shrinking and no capitalist system based on borrowed money can propel itself without a fully functioning banking system. If you add together the outstanding loans of Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds then you can see that although deposits continue to rise, the value of loans is declining. To be fully functioning, systems like ours need both trust and confidence which just so happen to be the two major ingredients missing from our society. Help to Buy is a psychological scheme designed to get people back into the idea of borrowing money from banks.
  6. The Bank account of China swelled to USD3.7trn last month Whilst we have been tightening our belts as part of the latest of our episodic crises, China has continued on with its 30-year plan.  Their collective bank account swelled by another $165bn last month. UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced he is going to relax visa application rules to make it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK  - you can understand why given our own collective bank account is empty.

I shall now return to my hollowed out volcano somewhere in the South Pacific to discuss the future with John F Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffer and Lord Lucan and hope the US and UK governments aren’t hacking my router. It would be embarrassing to know they can see me catching up on "Strictly – it takes two’".

Photograph: Getty Images

Head of Fixed Income and Macro, Old Mutual Global Investors

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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.