What is begging?
Begging is the solicitation of money or food, especially in the street. There is a close relationship between begging and homelessness and homeless charity Crisis estimates that over 80 per cent of beggars are homeless. People who beg are among the most vulnerable in society, often trapped in poverty and deprivation, and it is regarded as a risky and demeaning activity.
Begging is visible on the streets of many British towns and most of the public report seeing someone begging in a public place at least once a week. Research carried out by the University of Glasgow found that begging was overwhelmingly driven by need rather than greed, although the apparently increasing prevalence of begging is coupled with an increasing perception that beggars, rather than being homeless and hungry, use the money they receive to support their addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Although begging is illegal it does not carry a jail sentence under the Vagrancy Act 1824.
Many people begin to beg because they are not receiving benefits when they first start to sleep rough. There has long been a strong relationship between begging, substance misuse and poor physical and mental health.
Beggars have generally experienced a disruptive family background, substance abuse, exclusion from the labour market and institutionalisation and often have an acute lack of self-esteem. Many beggars have at some time found themselves victims of violence and harassment from the public.
Begging was made a recordable offence in December 2003 as part of the Government's drive to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. The Government claimed the change would "help tackle the anti-social behaviour of some aggressive beggars, which can intimidate the public, leading to increased fear of crime".
It would also, they said, allow the police to identify repeat offenders and make it easier for them to deal with beggars involved in more serious crime.
But the move was strongly criticised by civil rights groups, the Liberal Democrats and organisations dealing with the homeless. The charity CRISIS warned that moves to make begging a recordable offence and tackle it through the criminal justice system were "inappropriate, ineffective, costly and will not work as they do nothing to tackle the root causes of begging".
Coventry police arrested five people during the first three days of a begging crackdown.
On 30 July a 31 year-old man was fined £65.
On 31 July a 30 year-old and a 31 year-old man were given two nights in custody. On 1 August a 27 year-old woman and a 24 year-old man were arrested and charged.
All five people arrested tested positive for heroin and crack cocaine use and were referred to the Coventry Drugs Team.
Source: West Midlands Police - August 2010
"While we do have people who live on the streets of Lincoln, with serious personal and financial problems, there are also some who are simply using this as a way of making money - and sometimes they are threatening and intimidating to achieve their aim.
"For example, we are aware of one man..who begs in the City Centre, who is not homeless, but regularly makes more than £50 a day from passers by. For me, this is tantamount to theft. If you have genuine problems then we are here to help you; if you are simply using begging as a way to extort money from people, then you are not welcome in Lincoln".
Inspector Mark Garthwaite, Lincolnshire Police - August 2010
"Begging is an emotive issue as there are people who live on the streets of Wolverhampton who have serious personal and financial problems. We speak to these people when we first encounter them to try and get help when they genuinely have no shelter and no money.
"However, there are also some who use begging as a way of making money - and sometimes they are threatening and intimidating to shoppers. We refuse to tolerate this, so we use all the powers open to us to stop them from harassing visitors to the city centre."
Sergeant Steve Edwards, Wolverhampton City Centre neighbourhood policing team - September 2010.
"On occasion we have seen begging become aggressive and frightening for some people. This behaviour will not be tolerated and we urge people not to give to beggars in Chester. People who wish to help the homeless can help by giving to local charities or buying the Big Issue from legitimate sellers."
Sergeant Ian Stead, Cheshire Constabulary - August 2010