The myth of ‘aggressive begging’

‘Aggressive begging’ has been the target of a series of PSPOs (either the PSPO bans aggressive begging, or aggressive begging is used as the justification for a ban on begging as a whole).

But what exactly is ‘aggressive begging’?

The Oxford Council PSPO defines aggressive begging as including ‘begging near a cash machine’.

Exeter Council includes in its definition behaviour that is ‘intimidating by being passive aggressive, such as standing or sitting in close proximity (ie within 5 meters to a cash machine’.

Newport Council’s PSPO extends the range even further, defining aggressive begging as begging within 10 metres of a cashpoint.

The justification for these definitions is generally that when at a cashpoint people feel ‘vulnerable’, with their ‘wallet and cards on display’.

The reason why homeless people beg near a cashpoint is that it shows that you have money and they do not; for you, it is easy to get out 20 quid, while they have nothing to eat. By sitting there, they make this clear to you. It may make you feel ‘obliged’ to give them some money, but this is a pressure on the conscience, rather than a threat.

(If you felt that they were going to attack you if you did not give money, or if they were planning to steal your displayed purse, then this is not begging but mugging or theft.)

By calling begging ‘aggressive’, councils are making this appeal to the conscience out to be a threat and an assault. They are making someone sitting there, badly clothed with a plastic cup, into an ‘aggressive’ presence, a threat to the supposedly ‘vulnerable’ person with their wallet full of money and bank cards.

These councils’ PSPOs make the needy and destitute into aggressive actors, and so justify coercive sanctions against them. The very act of begging is being defined as aggressive in order to crack down on it.

This is very clear in some orders. A PSPO covering Pontefract would define aggressive begging as ‘A solicitation made in person for immediate donation of money or another gratuity’. By anybody else’s definition, this would just mean begging.

A member of the public gave a reality check:

‘They just sit there with a little cup. Sometimes they ask you for change, usually they wish you a good morning.’