An obvious point of controversy surrounding all societies with an evident class hierarchy is whether those who can should give money to those who beg. The Festival of Debate, in association with Roundabout, hosted the discussion with panelists of differing viewpoints to challenge our reasoning. The four panelists included Jason Marriot (Framework), Tracey Ford (Sheffield City Council Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team), David Ford (Expert Link) and Peter Sephton (Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group). With an array of perspectives, debate was rife.

To start, various statistics were given by the panel. These started positively: from October 2017 to February 2018 the number of reported begging incidents in Sheffield had fallen from 401 to 191. However the facts soon turned dark; for instance Sephton claimed ‘giving £1 to someone would shorten their life by 1 hour.’ As can be expected, members of the audience soon questioned this and the tone was set for some lively debate that continued throughout the evening.

Sephton’s coining of the word ‘drugaholics’ to describe people suffering from addictions was an obvious point of controversy and paved the way for a discussion on the labelling of people in our society, and the need to see people as individuals without stereotyping. Discussion dominated the idea of whether giving money facilitated the cycle of addiction. Ford spoke passionately about the power of substance abuse and suggested that begging can enable people to avoid turning to crime to finance their habit. Others spoke out equally as strong on how giving money can cause people to disengage with services.

More so, Marriot stated from experience, ‘begging is not a consequence of homelessness, but it may be a cause’. He then went on to describe a situation where occasional begging increases until people are fully dependent on it as a means to live.

Emotion peaked halfway into the debate, when a member of the audience stood up to share her experiences of the daily struggle she faced on Sheffield’s streets. Others spoke powerfully about the incredible resilience and strength needed to survive. I don’t think anyone left the event thinking that begging is an ‘easy option’, even if that had been their original point of view.

This debate is so complex, it cannot be summed up by the use of labels or statistics. Dramatically different views exist, but I don’t believe that there is a strictly right or wrong answer. I would still encourage people to help in alternative ways, by volunteering or donating to local charities who are doing some amazing work with the street community in Sheffield.

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