Rishi Sunak to crack down on begging in anti-social behaviour measures

Rishi Sunak will say he wants people to feel ‘safe in and proud’ of their communities - Leon Neal/Getty Images
Rishi Sunak will say he wants people to feel ‘safe in and proud’ of their communities - Leon Neal/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak is to launch a crackdown on begging as he announces a war on anti-social behaviour.

The Prime Minister will unveil a series of new powers to allow police to move on beggars causing “public distress”. This could include blocking shop doorways and asking for money at cashpoints.

Under the powers, police officers and local authority workers will be able to confront “nuisance” beggars and order them to move on while encouraging them to make use of accommodation services and mental health support.

Another new offence will be created for criminal gangs organising begging networks, something Whitehall officials believe is often used to facilitate illegal activities.

The move is part of a wider crackdown on crime being announced by Mr Sunak on Monday, including a ban on laughing gas and a requirement for offenders to begin cleaning up graffiti within 48 hours.

It comes weeks after Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, launched a number of policies aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour.

The Tories have been narrowing Labour’s lead in the polls in recent weeks following announcements on Brexit and small migrant boats.

Private research by the party indicates that its reputation on law and order remains one of few potential trump cards to win over swing voters ahead of the next general election.

The new laws are designed to ensure the police act on beggars where they are causing nuisance to the public.

The Georgian-era Vagrancy Act, which they will replace, criminalised all rough sleeping but meant that, in practice, there was little to no law enforcement.

Launching his new policies on Monday, Mr Sunak will say: “Anti-social behaviour undermines the basic right of people to feel safe in the place they call home.

“The public have rightly had enough, which is why I am determined to restore people’s confidence that those responsible will be quickly and visibly punished.

“This action plan maps out how we will tackle this issue with the urgency it deserves and stamp out these crimes once and for all so that, wherever you live, you can feel safe in and proud of your community.”

It comes a week after the Metropolitan Police was pilloried for being homophobic, sexist and misogynistic. But senior Tories believe the public is equally concerned by a perceived lack of action on anti-social behaviour.

The Government’s annual rough sleeping statistics found an estimated 3,069 people to be on the streets on any given night in autumn last year, up by 26 per cent on the previous year.

The figures, released last month by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, also showed that 99,270 households were staying in temporary accommodation at the end of September.

At least 130,000 households in England were made homeless during the first year of the Covid pandemic despite the Government’s ban on evictions. The most common triggers were no longer being able to stay with friends or family, losing a private tenancy and domestic abuse, according to the charity Shelter.

Charities such as Crisis have criticised the Vagrancy Act for criminalising homelessness and begging, arguing that people on the streets should be offered support rather than facing the criminal justice system.

The Act was formally repealed last April as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but remains in place until its replacement comes into force.

Offenders wearing jumpsuits will be made to wash police cars under the new crackdown, which will begin in 10 areas before being rolled out across England and Wales next year.

Victims and local communities will be given a say in what sort of punishment is given to people who engage in anti-social behaviour.

Laughing gas will be banned and police patrols in crime hotspots will increase, while landlords will be given fresh powers to evict unruly tenants who disrupt their neighbours.