Last year Sussex Police arrested more than 60 people in Brighton for begging under a 192-year-old law originally intended to cut the number of “incorrigible rogues and vagabonds”, most of whom were ex-soldiers, discharged after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Very few people are ever given prison sentences for vagrancy, but fines are often handed out increasing poverty amongst some of the most impoverished people in society and preventing them from ever saving enough to remove themselves from the streets.
The law fails to distinguish, in any meaningful sense, between those who aggressively harass passers by for money and those who simply sit on the ground and accept money when it is offered. What is worse, the cost of arresting these people, charging them, and putting them through the courts, is never mitigated by the pennies which can be retrieved from them when the fines are imposed. They are left in debt, the public purse is depleted, and the problem of rising rates of homelessness is never actually addressed.
If the money spent on prosecuting each homeless person for vagrancy was simply given to that person instead, they would be able to afford to get themselves off the streets and homelessness might actually decrease. The current approach just makes the problem worse.