Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Controversy over fines on rough sleepers in Manchester

Thu 14 Feb 2019
By Cara Bentley

Liberal Democrats at Manchester City Council said this week that rough sleepers in the city were being fined £1,000 for begging, calling it "part of Labour's social cleansing plan".

Former Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester Withington, John Leech, who now leads the opposition on Manchester Council, said: "Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester Council, described Christmas as 'peak begging season', the council claimed soup kitchens organised by communities and outreach teams are a 'bad idea' whilst fining and trying to sue the homeless, spending £10,000 on one-way tickets to get rid of rough sleepers, refusing to build affordable and social housing and claiming the only way to tackle 'offenders' is to fine them".

Premier contacted the Labour council in Manchester about these claims, who responded by saying: "There is absolutely no proposal to prohibit rough sleeping, or indeed begging, and it is wholly misleading to suggest there is.

"Our absolute priority remains to support anyone who is in need and connect them with the services which can help them move forwards in their lives, while making clear that certain very specific behaviours will not be accepted.

"What is proposed is to address aggressive begging and certain anti-social behaviours associated with a small minority of people which have a direct detrimental [affect] on the quality of life of people living in the city centre, for example, obstructing the entrances or stairways of their homes or carelessly discarding used needles and syringes."

The main criticism made by the Lib Dems regards the Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), which prohibit specific behaviours in public.

A breach of a PSPO is a criminal offence enforceable through a fixed penalty notice of £100. If prosecuted in court, it can involve a fine of up to £1,000 but cannot carry a jail sentence.

Will Dyer, an executive member for Lib Dem Christian Forum told Premier: "We see in the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus instructs everyone to help those that need shelter, food and a stable environment.

"What Manchester council is currently doing totally goes against that. We applaud local Lib Dem councillors standing up to a Labour council that feels like it is easier to fine those without the money to pay for shelter than helping those in need.

"Liberal Democrats nationally are fighting to bring an end to this draconian practice. Lib Dem MP Layla Moran is campaigning to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, a law that makes homelessness illegal.

"Liberal Democrats demand better for those that are homelessness and are in desperate need of our help."

Labour has now launched a public consultation on whether the PSPOs should be implemented.

One of the behaviours that is being consulted on is "aggressive or intimidating begging", as well as "occupying a tent or other temporary structure in a manner which is likely to create a health and safety risk for other people" and "continuing to obstruct a building entrance/exit, stairwell or highway after being asked to move".

The Labour-led council told Premier that the proposals reflect concerns which have been raised and they were drawn up after evidence-gathering and consultation exercises.

They added that the proposals are designed to target specific behaviours, not particular groups of people. They cited other acts that could be included, such as littering, the disposal of commercial waste and drinking alcohol in non-licensed public space.

Labour Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council said: "It must be stressed that our absolute priority remains to support anyone who is in need, to connect them with services which can help them improve their lives.

"We have listened and are continuing to listen. No decisions have been taken. This consultation will be crucial in shaping whether we proceed with proposals, and if so in what form.

"Your contributions are essential to help us build up an overall picture of the issues and their impacts so I'd encourage people to take part."

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