Southampton Council is proposing a PSPO prohibiting the following activities:
(a) The consumption of alcohol or being in possession of an open container of alcohol is prohibited within the designated area.
(b) Begging or asking members of the public for money is prohibited within the designated area.
(c) Loitering for the purpose of consuming alcohol within the designated area is prohibited
(d) Loitering with the intention of begging or asking members of the public for money within the designated area is prohibited.
There is a public consultation. Here is the Manifesto Club response:
These are extremely unreasonable restrictions on people’s public freedoms. It is incredible that council officers will have the power to fine someone for ‘loitering with the intention of begging’. This smacks of Victorian legislation, or perhaps that of an authoritarian state. If someone is committing an offence they should be sanctioned, but this law will create pseudo-offences for punishing people who aren’t actually doing anything wrong – they aren’t causing harm to others. No doubt it will be used to punish those council officers see as ‘messy’, such as street drinkers and the homeless. Such punitive actions are not the answer to the social problem of homelessness.
This will lead to the victimisation of the city’s homeless community, which already has enough problems of its own. It will also create a worrying precedent in terms of the restriction of public liberties to use public spaces.
At the end of the day, a homeless person retains their right of decision and autonomy, and should have the right to refuse an offer of accommodation. The council should not respond by effectively driving them from the streets through the criminalisation of begging (or indeed, merely looking as if they might be about to beg).
This PSPO is draconian and unnecessary. We urge the council to reconsider this measure, and to seek positive solutions to social problems.