A new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) approved by Southampton City Council earlier this week will put restrictions on public drinking and begging in 5 locations across Southampton. The plans went through in spite of a 38 Degrees petition signed by 1,250 people which accused the order of “criminalising homelessness” and posing “a threat to civil liberties”
The PSPO has been established as a result of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which gave new powers to local authorities to tackle ‘conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person’. It means anybody found begging in one of the 5 designated areas – Southampton city centre from Town Quay to Archers Road, Bitterne Precinct, Portswood Broadway, Shirley High Street and Woolston High Street – could be fined £100 and have alcohol confiscated.
Southampton City Council claimed the PSPO was aimed primarily at “bogus beggars“: people who are not homeless but pretend to be in order to make money. One homeless person living in Southampton, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed that these “bogus beggars” were operating in Southampton and that they should be punished for doing so.
However, he also said that the problem was being exaggerated and in particular that The Daily Echo’s claim that beggars could regularly make £200 per day were ridiculous. He told Wessex Scene that someone he knew had been begging for 10 hours the previous day, and had made only 10p.
There is also nothing in the legislation to suggest that the PSPO will not affect those who really are homeless, as anybody caught drinking or begging is liable to be fined. The human rights and freedoms charity Liberty said that the order would result in pushing more “vulnerable individuals into the criminal justice system-rather than divert[ing]them away from it.” The homeless person we spoke to said that police were already interfering with people who were genuinely at risk. One homeless person, he claimed, had £180 taken away by police. The money apparently was saved from benefits and intended for a landlord.
Begging and sleeping rough remain criminal offences under the Vagrancy Act 1824.