Newcastle and Sunderland – the crackdown on the homeless continues

Two particularly objectionable PSPOs are currently out for consultation.

Newcastle Council seeks to create a series of wide-ranging new crimes. There is a ban on ‘aggressive begging’ – a commonly used but questionable phrase, since begging is not a naturally aggressive act. When spelled out in practice in other PSPOs, ‘aggressive begging’ is defined as when members of the public feel pressured or obliged to give money, such as in cases as when the beggar is sitting near a cash machine. Yet the PSPO goes much further than this already problematic definition: it also prohibits anyone to ‘have in their possession any item for holding, inviting or receiving money for the purpose of begging’, which means that someone would be criminalised for possessing a hat or a cup which may be used for begging. It also criminalises anyone who ‘visibly have in their possession or deposit any materials used or intended to be used as bedding’. That is, it criminalises homelessness per se (since every homeless person would be in possession of bedding), but also presumably criminalises anyone carrying bedding home from the shops, or back-packers passing through the city with a sleeping mat visibly strung to their rucksack.

Newcastle also prohibits anyone from approaching another person with the intention of asking for charitable donations – including not receiving donations there and then, but also providing ‘any information to assist in that other person being contacted at another time with a view to making arrangements for that person to make any payment for the benefit of charitable or other purposes’. This is presented as a crackdown on ‘chuggers’, but the implications of this measure strike at the heart of the public sphere. We responded to the Newcastle Council consultation saying:

People may not always like all fundraisers, but charity collectors are a long-standing and traditional feature of public spaces. Members of the public have perfect right to appeal to other members for support for their cause. It is not the council’s right to decide which causes are legitimate and which are not.

You can respond to the Newcastle consultation here.

Sunderland Council also has a consultation out on a PSPO that would prohibit begging in the broadest sense (‘Begging includes any passive and active methods, including but not limited to, non-verbal signs, hand held out, written notice, or verbal attempts to exhort, press, pressure, urge the giving material help, assistance, food or money’). It would also prohibit people searching in bins, which the council appears to view as an unpleasant lifestyle choice rather than a response to social destitution (‘Bin raking is the searching and taking of any items whatsoever from rubbish bins, bags or items clearly left to be disposed of or belonging to another’). The Sunderland consultation is here.