CARLISLE is in danger of becoming a “soft touch” for the beggars who have become a “blight on the city”, an independent city councillor has warned.

Councillor Raymond Tinnion branded the situation “disgusting” amid claims there had been a sharp rise in rough sleepers in doorways over the festive period, as well as aggressive begging outside shops.

He suggested a possible police crackdown might resolve the problem, also recommending that the council’s homelessness officers patrol the streets “more often”.

Speaking anecdotally, he blamed the situation, in part, on “people from Glasgow” – although it is unclear from the council report what proportion of beggars are from north of the border.

The comments came as it emerged the city had seen what housing portfolio-holder Paul Nedved described as a “little bit of an upsurge” in rough-sleeping and begging across the district.

But he also moved to assure members that audits by the authority’s homelessness prevention teams were carried out “almost on a daily basis” in a bid to tackle the crisis.

He said: “We must remember that some of these people do not fall within our statutory requirement to assist but we have assisted them anyway – and we try whenever possible to find them accommodation for those in need.”

Between April 1 and October 31 last year, 414 Carlisle households were provided with housing and homelessness advice and assistance.

Councillor Les Tickner said the figures in the report represented a “damning indictment of the impact of austerity”.

He also hit out at the controversial Universal Credit system after the report revealed that council staff had successfully supported clients to recover £901,865 in benefit claims.

He described the Government’s own policies as the “root cause” behind many instances of homelessness.

“In my view we shouldn’t be proud that we provided homelessness information and advice for 414 households: we should be ashamed of that,” he added.

Despite the spike in homelessness, the report said the council is actually leading on new countywide initiatives and local projects to improve services to target rough sleeping.

All districts within Cumbria undertook the annual official rough sleeping estimate in November and officially reported to the Government 30 rough sleepers countywide, five of whom were in the Carlisle district.

According to the council report, all the city cases were offered “immediate assistance” and emergency accommodation despite having no local connection or duty owed.

The city council has established five emergency winter shelter beds for men and women at risk of rough sleeping as part of its emergency accommodation.