Expert Link responds to Vagrancy Act consultation

“Focus on how to support, not criminalising”

People with direct experience of begging have shared their wisdom on the underlying drivers of begging, why people aren’t engaged in services and what police should do in response.

“I sat at a cashpoint and I used to go up and down the trains begging. And I used to beg to get money for heroin and crack. I didn't really use to eat, or if I did it would be out of a dustbin. But it wasn't because I really enjoyed taking heroin. It was because of a lot of childhood trauma. And I ended up taking these substances to make myself feel better. And then, if you don't have them, you feel really ill. So that's personally why I used to beg.”

“The reason they beg is because they can’t get into rehab, and they can’t get a script.”

“The services need to be trauma informed, the police need to be trauma informed.”

“Different services have different understandings and different ways of working, and a lot of it really traumatizes people, it pushes people away. Why are these services not meeting the need? What are the barriers for social workers to go out on the street and do Care Act Assessments? What are the barriers for mental health services to be more flexible in terms of when someone requires mental health support? … The services do not meet the need, but then there's an expectation for that person to conform to what services expect to them.”

“When I was battling addiction, the compassion from [A POLICE OFFICER]. I'm getting emotional now. It made such a difference to my life, for someone to see me and go, ‘I’ve seen you clean, I hope you get it again. Please try. Do you need me to do anything for you? Do you need any help?’ You know, and now I'm 6 years clean from heroin and crack, just because them few words and then the couple of bits of help he gave me. It's that, it's just someone who understands, and wants something for you, and has the authority to get it. Or maybe not the authority to get it, but that bit more… [HE SAID] ‘What do you need, I’ll make it happen,’ and it did, God bless him, it really did. I’ve been clean now from heroin and crack, and I was 24 years in the doorway, and I was bad on it. When I got clean this time, I was five and a half stone. I was virtually dying in the doorway. I could not stop the addiction. I could not stop thinking about the addiction. I sit at a table and I cry all over my heroin and crack, just watch it dissolve because I could not stop myself, and just [to] have that one guy, just believe in me. That was good for me, it was just unbelievable.”

Expert Link strongly believes that forms of criminalising people who are engaged in begging does nothing to solve the root cause of the problem or do anything to increase access to support that meets their needs. Worse still, as many people engaged in begging have experienced childhood trauma, an approach that focuses on enforcement risks re-traumatising individuals which in turn will have negative effects on recovery.

Read our full response here