500 signatures reached
Stop Criminalising Homelessness and Begging
We call on parliament to repeal without replacement section 3 of the Vagrancy Act (1824), to amend part 3 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) to safeguard homeless people from its discriminatory use, and for an ultimate end to the criminalisation of homelessness by any and all other laws that may be newly concocted or dug up for this purpose.
Why is this important?
Increasing numbers of homeless people are being arrested for begging around the country. In 2013-14, 2771 cases were brought before the courts, a 70% increase on the previous year. Police use an archaic law which deems those found begging to be 'idle and disorderly'. Begging was made a recordable offence in 2003 against the strong criticisms of civil rights groups and homelessness organisations.
Those prosecuted can be fined up to £1000 excluding court charges when found with just a few pennies. Those who have 'gathered alms' (that is, accepted money, food or other material goods offered to them) can be prosecuted under this same law with the same consequences. Some people are kept in cells for several nights. Although begging in and of itself is not an imprisonable offence, if the person is already on bail for another case a simple arrest for begging can lead to imprisonment. Those who are fined will inevitably have to beg more to pay off these fines, risking further arrests and fines, a punishment which stands out in its absurdity.
Punishing the destitute for trying to survive is both costly and morally abhorrent. It is a waste of tax payers' money which is spent paying police who 'catch people out' in organised undercover operations, as well as on court cases to prosecute them. The minimum cost of bringing one case to the Magistrates' Court is £1000, meaning that in the year 2013-14, bringing begging cases before the courts cost the taxpayer at least £2.777 million. This is money that could be spent helping people rather than punishing them.
Police also routinely move homeless people on under part 3 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) which gives police the power to confiscate property and exclude individuals from a particular area for up to 48 hours, with the officer also able to impose by what manner and route the person must leave. Failure to comply is a criminal offence which can result in a £2500 fine or 3 months in prison. Refusing to surrender your property is punishable by a fine of up to £500.
The two conditions needed by officers to issue a dispersal order are firstly, that the constable has 'reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person in the locality has contributed or is likely to contribute to (a) members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or (b) the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder, and secondly, that the constable considers that giving a direction to the person is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of (a) or (b)'.
Given that begging is a crime considered 'idle and disorderly', the two laws in tandem essentially give police de facto power to exclude any homeless person from any area simply because they think it is likely that the person, being homeless, might beg there.
The highly subjective definition of 'anti-social behaviour' as that which contributes or is likely to contribute to members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed reinforces this and even with the decriminalisation of begging, would still give police the power to move on any homeless person from any area simply because they believe doing so is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of members of the public being distressed by seeing them. Seeing people forced to live on the streets is distressing to much of the public for good reason, but this compassionate distress means that under this definition a homeless person is considered to be exhibiting anti-social behaviour simply by existing visibly. The anti-social behaviour that causes the public distress is not caused by the homeless person however, but by the authorities' failure to provide people with shelter in a country that has 600,000 empty homes.
As described by someone living on the street, being asked to move on when you have nowhere to go is like being asked to walk into a brick wall.
These laws and their enforcement victimize vulnerable people who are already suffering the daily struggle of life on the streets or in insecure and unstable temporary accommodation.
We believe that kicking someone for limping when it is you who cut off their leg is shameless and cruel.
We believe that the government should be providing homes for the homeless, not handcuffs.
We therefore call on parliament to repeal without replacement section 3 of the Vagrancy Act (1824), to amend part 3 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) to safeguard homeless people from its discriminatory use, and for an ultimate end to the criminalisation of homelessness by any and all other laws that may be newly concocted or dug up for this purpose.
If you have an MP who may be sympathetic, get in touch with them to push this issue to parliament.
We launched this petition at our demo at Brighton Magistrate's court on the 20th January.