Edinburgh study finds mental health issues affect most beggars in the city

A major study into the lives of beggars in Edinburgh, described as the first such research conducted in any UK city for 20 years, has been published by Shelter Scotland.

The work, commissioned by City of Edinburgh Council’s Community Safety Partnership, sought to improve understanding of the complex issue of begging.

The study was compiled from a range of data from homelessness services in the city and it found at least 420 people engaged in begging on the streets of Edinburgh between November 2016 and October 2018 – but the actual number is expected to have been much higher.

The majority of people found to be begging were men (78.3%), and most were aged between 30 and 49.

Poor health was cited as a major factor in the lives of beggars, with 80.6% indicating they have suffered from mental health issues and 62.4% were recorded as having experienced physical health problems.

Almost half of those identified (54%) were reported to have experienced both mental and physical health issues, with only 10.5% not having experienced either.

Substance misuse was also found to be endemic amongst people who beg, with analysis suggesting between 50% and 70% of them are affected.

Fiona King, Shelter Scotland, said: “Behind these statistics are real people who have often survived significant trauma and hardship and they need a compassionate response.

“Most of them are suffering from ill-health, often including addictions.

“What gives us room for optimism is the evidence that support services, especially those with kind, empathetic staff and volunteers, offer people the best chance to move on from begging.”

Councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan, chair of Edinburgh’s Community Safety Partnership, said: “Street begging is a hugely complex issue and if we’re going to address it effectively we have to improve our understanding of it.

“That’s why we commissioned this important and long overdue research in partnership with Shelter Scotland – the most detailed research done on this issue in the UK for two decades.

“This is the first step in producing a long-term strategy to fully understand and respond to the complexities of street begging. We’ve set up a working group to analyse the findings and develop an action plan.

“All of us in the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership are 100% committed to finding ways to support all of Edinburgh’s residents, especially the most marginalised in our communities.

“I look forward to seeing this vital research put to good use to help people to move on from begging.”

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