UK Police Forces Spend Millions Criminalising Rough Sleepers

Michaela Whitton
February 11, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) United Kingdom — Police forces throughout the U.K. are being accused of needlessly criminalising rough sleepers by using plain-clothes officers to catch people begging on the streets. In 2015, Sussex Police arrested more than 60 people in the coastal city of Brighton, while arrests for begging in Birmingham jumped by more than two-thirds as part of a mass crackdown on those desperate for small change. Critics have questioned the ridiculous system that costs taxpayers thousands and sees people who have nothing being fined hundreds of pounds.

The vintage legislation used to clamp down on beggars is Section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 that states that it is an offence to beg in a public place. This archaic law was introduced nine years after the Battle of Waterloo to deal with jobless soldiers discharged following the Napoleonic War, and states:

“Every petty chapman or pedlar wandering abroad, and trading without being duly licensed, or otherwise authorized by law; every common prostitute wandering in the public streets or public highways, or in any place of public resort, and behaving in a riotous or indecent manner; and every person wandering abroad, or placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms, or causing or procuring or encouraging any child or children so to do; shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.”

Police in the U.K. also use part 3 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) to routinely move people on. This gives officers the power to confiscate property and exclude individuals from a particular area for up to 48 hours. Failure to comply is an offence that can result in a £2,500 fine or 3 months in prison.

While governmental policies drive people into poverty and homelessness, arresting and fining desperate victims of the system does nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem. A new report by Crisis shows that homeless people are twice as likely to be sanctioned as other benefit claimants. In addition, it points to an emerging body of evidence which suggests that as well as exacerbating the problems that homeless people face, sanctions increase the risk of homelessness.

As the counterproductive policing tactics continue to scapegoat rough sleepers, campaigners claim the minimum cost of bringing one case to the Magistrates’ Court is £1000.  Based on this figure — the number of begging cases brought before the courts in 2013-14 cost at least £2.777 million — a vast amount of money better spent helping people rather than punishing them.

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