THE number of rough sleepers has skyrocketed by more than five-fold since 2010 (The Reading Chronicle 1 February). This distressing fact comes as no surprise to any of us who walk through town regularly and witness this very public evidence of seven years of Tory austerity; the housing crisis, benefit cuts, drastic reductions in services that support vulnerable people - the list goes on.

Yet the two main agencies in the borough responsible for helping such people appear to want to blame the victims or deny their needs. Launchpad CEO, Ian Caren, claims an “alarming number of people who will sleep on the streets in the middle of winter simply to fund their addiction”. Addiction is not simple Mr Caren, it’s an illness that often causes homelessness and needs support to cure and if you don’t understand this, then perhaps you’re in the wrong job.

Councillor Liz Terry tells us (again) that “aggressive begging has become an increasing problem in the town centre and a lot of people have complained about feeling intimidated and harassed as they go about their business”. Can this really be true? As somebody who passes through town several times each week, day and night, I have never encountered any behaviour that could be remotely described as ‘aggressive begging’ - what evidence is there for such a phenomenon? In my experience people ‘begging’ are meek in manner and generally proffer a polite response when I (always) refuse to give money - never, ever aggressive.

Is it more likely the case that those being asked simply feel uncomfortable? Uncomfortable being presented with the inevitable consequence of the way policies (many of them voted for) have created such dreadful inequity in our society?

National charity, Crisis, described the situation in Reading as a ‘catastrophe’.

Instead of our local homelessness charity and the council engaging in victim blaming, is it not also their responsibility to highlight the impact of government policies, educate the public, defend the victims and call for change - not be complicit in seeking to sweep it away and cleanse our streets so we can all forget and carry on shopping without conscience spoiling the experience?

Paul Harper, Caversham