Council's poster campaign banned for offensive depiction of beggars

Nottingham City Council has been rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority after using a series of posters that made generalisations about beggars.

Council's poster campaign banned for offensive depiction of beggars

The posters, seen during May and June and designed to discourage giving money to beggars, carried the following messages:

  • BEGGING: WATCH YOUR MONEY GO UP IN SMOKE. Begging funds the misuse of drugs #givesmart
  • BEGGING: WATCH YOUR MONEY GO TO A FRAUD. Beggars aren't what they seem #givesmart
  • BEGGING: WATCH YOUR MONEY GO DOWN THE DRAIN Begging funds the misuse of alcohol
  • IT’S YOUR CHOICE: GIVE MONEY TO SOMEONE BEGGING AND FEED A HARMFUL ADDICTION … OR GIVE TO A CHARITY WHICH PROVIDES TREATMENT AND SUPPORT. Find out how www.endingalcoholharm.co.uk
  • PEOPLE WHO BEG OFTEN HAVE SERIOUS DRUG OR ALCOHOL PROBLEMS. PLEASE GIVE TO A CHARITY, NOT TO PEOPLE BEGGING. Find out how www.endingdrugharm.co.uk

The posters featured images of a person smoking a roll-up, a homeless man begging, a discarded lager can (on two), and discarded syringes, respectively.

Seven people complained to the ad watchdog that the posters portrayed homeless people in a derogatory manner and implied that all homeless people were engaged in criminal and antisocial behaviour, and suggested the ads were likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Nottingham City Council, in response, said that the posters were not about and did not refer to homeless people, but to beggars – most of whom it said were not homeless.

It cited a blog post by a local homelessness charity that it believed supported the objective of the campaign, and a report by the same charity suggesting that people who had been seen begging in the area were overwhelmingly likely to have support needs for alcohol or drug misuse.

But the watchdog said that the language in the first four posters was "absolute in nature" and implied that any money given to beggars would be used in an irresponsible way, and that people who begged had dishonest intentions to deceive members of the public. It ruled that they were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and ordered that they no longer be shown in their current form.

On the final ad, the ASA said the language used was "conditional and objective" and it did not uphold the complaint.

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