Back in the days before social media, the Murdoch Sun went after The Big Issue, the magazine sold by those who have fallen on hard times as a means of getting them back on their feet. The paper claimed that some of those who sold the magazine were raking in as much as £1,000 a week. This was denounced as “The Big Earner”. Big Issue sellers were subsequently abused, verbally and even physically.
Hence today’s headline, “Scandal of ‘homeless’ beggars conning £43k to live it up at home on booze and drugs … Vagrant fakers ‘intimidate’ shoppers out of as much as £120 a day”. Note the use of quotation marks around “homeless” and “intimidate”. But do go on. “A GROUP of beggars are raking in up to £43,000 a year each by pretending to be homeless, a police chief warned last night … Cops said 13 vagrants get as much as £120 a day from victims in two towns”. Really?
Let’s take the “Police Chief” first. There is only one quote from anyone fitting that description, and it is here: “Inspector Steve Wood, of Gloucestershire Police, said most of the beggars ‘don’t live on the streets but have some form of accommodation’”. Not only is that not the same thing as not being homeless, it says nothing about what they make.
The Sun’s shock horror earning figures are then used to generate outrage. “Another local, Pete Clark, 33, said he has two jobs and works 70 hours a week but earns just half the amount the beggars get … He said: ‘It’s disgusting. They need to get real jobs. The problem is you just don’t know who’s genuine … There are some people out there who really need help’”. That assumes they all make over £40K.
It gets worse. The Sun claims “Officers added that most are not homeless and are blowing the cash on booze and drugs”. Does this mean Police Officers? If it does, why does the article not say so? Otherwise, this is just hearsay, such as “Dad-of-four Richard Angell, 51, who owns a pet shop in Gloucester, said: ‘They are earning a darn sight more than me’”. How can he be so certain? Did the Sun pitch its £40K assumption to him first?
Yes, some beggars can be aggressive. And no doubt some have the odd day when they make a few quid. But the more this article is raked over, the more holes appear in it. And when the Sun’s significant previous is taken into account, it becomes worrying. Those who beg on the streets are inevitably vulnerable people. Putting out stories claiming that they are all making more money than those in work will have only one consequence.
That is more of the abuse that came from the Big Issue smear. That’s not good enough.