Concerns raised over police clampdown on street begging in Cardiff
A police operation to clamp down on street begging in Cardiff has been criticised for potentially risking the further criminalisation and isolation of some of the most vulnerable members of society.
South Wales Police is leading on the introduction of a new begging protocol based on the Operation Luscombe model, which encourages signposting homeless people to appropriate support to reduce the level of begging on streets.
First introduced by the City of London Police in 2018, the system operates on an escalation model where those found begging or rough sleeping are initially invited to attend an intervention hub which is held every week, but if they do not attend this can then be escalated to a community Protection Warning, followed by a community Protection Notice (which may include fines) and could then face arrest for a further breach.
The model was used in London and Peterborough, where police enforcement was aimed at encouraging individuals to access support.
Operation Luscombe has also been running in Merthyr Tydfil.
Cardiff Council confirmed it’s support for the clampdown on Thursday, prompting concern from the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who say fining people experiencing homelessness and engaging in begging has been shown to have a detrimental effect and should be ruled out, and have warned it disproportionately impacts non-British citizens.
The Leader of the Cardiff Lib Dem Group Cllr Rhys Taylor said: “I am extremely concerned about the plans by Cardiff Labour to use the threat of fines and use of fines to tackle begging and street homelessness in the city.
“Evidence shows issuing fines to those rough sleeping is often detrimental to ending homelessness and can cause harm to vulnerable people.
“There is also evidence that it skews towards non-British citizens. 39% of those from the original London pilot were non-British citizens.
“The Liberal Democrats successfully led the campaign for the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which criminalized rough sleeping and begging in England and Wales, to be repealed earlier this year.
“The last thing we want to see is punishment for being homeless being reintroduced through the back door. There needs to be clear safeguards to keep people safe.”
Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, Cllr Lynda Thorne said: “In terms of the questions about begging and the Luscombe approach, I can confirm actually that the police take a trauma led approach to everything they do.
“The intention really is to make sure that we are not criminalising individuals and it is about the police trying to encourage people to engage with the support.
“It is not about forcing people.”
The teams “do everything they can to bring people in,” she added.
“But, they also respect peoples’ views if they say they don’t want to come in, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep working with them to try and encourage them to come in.”
Local policing lead for South Wales Police, Temporary Superintendent Tony Williams, said: “South Wales Police continues to work closely with local authorities and the voluntary sector in supporting vulnerable people on our streets.
“Operation Luscombe has been running in Merthyr Tydfil Town Centre since December 2020.
“The force is now looking to implement the operation force-wide, including Cardiff and Swansea.
“The operation formalises the referral process and support given to vulnerable people and ensures consistency across the region.
“It involves multi-agency teams working together to signpost individuals found, or believed to be, begging to support agencies to provide emergency accommodation, assistance with financial support, alcohol and substance misuse support and help with physical and mental health issues.
“We encourage vulnerable people to engage with the many support agencies and outreach services that are available.”
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The Council’s homelessness services works very closely with the police to support vulnerable people in the city.
“We offer wraparound services to help individuals get their lives back on track, including accommodation, support for mental health issues and substance misuse, counselling and other support.
“So, while we recognise the individual circumstances which can lead to begging happening, our message to people who find themselves in these distressed circumstances, is please let us help you and please take up the services which are available.
“We encourage anyone with concerns about someone they see on the streets to let us know by texting REALCHANGE to 80800 with the person’s location and we will send our outreach team to help them.”
Additional reporting by Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter.
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