ONE IN four single homeless people has served in the forces and a high proportion of them are sleeping rough, according to a study to be published this week.
Commissioned by Crisis, the homeless charity, the study shows that many of these ex-servicemen have physical or mental health problems and more than a third have been to prison. It directly criticises the Government for doing too little to ease the transition from military life to "Civvy Street".
Although they deal with homelessness rather than begging, these findings are certain to intensify the political row that has followed John Major's attack on aggressive begging as "offensive" and an "eyesore".
Mr Major insisted yesterday that he had merely said what "many millions of people in this country feel". Speaking in his Huntingdon constituency, he insisted: "There is no need for begging. There is no need for aggressive begging . . . I think that if you asked some of the people that suffered from aggressive begging in different parts of this county, they would say what I say. It is unnecessary and it is offensive."
Labour's European election campaign manager, Jack Straw, denounced the Prime Minister, saying the Conservatives had "got right into the gutter along with the beggars in their campaign tactics", adding: "What the Tories are going for is a hard core of prejudiced Conservative voters; they have abandoned the softer vote."
The Crisis report paints a bleak picture of the life some men lead after leaving the services, and Mark Scothern, the charity's director, forecast that the number of ex-soldiers on the streets would grow as the Government implements the 17,000 redundancies started in 1992 as part of its defence cuts. Like other homeless charities, Crisis has already criticised the MoD over the large number of empty properties it holds.
Mr Scothern said: "We have always known there were many homeless men with services backgrounds but we were surprised by the actual percentage. If contingencies are not established a lot of those leaving now are going to end up on the streets."
The report, entitled Falling Out, analyses data from a national study of the single homeless commissioned by the Department of the Environment last year and includes additional interviews with 73 men in hostels, soup kitchens and homeless centres in London. …