Beg, get arrested, go to court, get fined, repeat. This is the pattern that vulnerable people across the country caught begging find themselves caught up in, all thanks to an archaic law called the Vagrancy Act.
This 196-year-old law criminalises homeless people for rough sleeping and begging in England and Wales and has been branded outdated, with many calling for it to be repealed on the basis that it does nothing to tackle the root causes of homelessness.
Of course, not everyone begging is necessarily homeless. But they are still a highly vulnerable group of people and need help and support regardless of their accommodation arrangements.
In the past few years, Greater Manchester Police have been at pains to justify arrests by pointing to beggars’ drug and alcohol addictions. But public consultations have communicated that city centre residents would rather see people offered real help instead of being locked up.
So now Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council are trialling a new approach in the city centre – forgoing arrests and, instead, offering people access to help from a range of services that can all be accessed under one roof.
Police and council officers have been referring people known to be begging to a building called the Street Engagement Hub since November.[…]