Hackney council’s shameful attempt to criminalise homelessness

Homelessness will continue to rise unless we address the policies that are fuelling it


Hackney council has recently introduced a public space protection order that could see rough sleepers and beggars fined up to £1,000.

This is my neighbourhood. Yes, I see rough sleepers and get asked for money, and yes it can be an uncomfortable experience to see the wealth disparity of this city up close and personal. But it’s not as uncomfortable as the council’s decision to impose fines on the homeless.

Under the government’s austerity programme over the last five years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of people made homeless, up 77 per cent since 2010 according to Crisis.

Cuts to benefits and mental health services (46 per cent of rough sleepers have mental health issues) as well as persistent low wages have eaten away at people’s ability to maintain a home and some stability in life. When you consider soaring house prices and rents in London, especially in Hackney, none of this seems surprising.

Obtaining reliable figures on the number of rough sleepers in Hackney is difficult. The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) collects data for 11 London boroughs, but not Hackney.

The council does an audit once a year, but homelessness organisations claim their methodology is flawed as they don’t survey areas where rough sleepers are likely to be, including parks and cemeteries. In a 2014 report, Shelter notes that Hackney has seen an increase in private rental evictions (above the London average) and that since 2005 the waiting list for council housing has almost doubled .

With cuts to public services set to deepen over the next five years, we need to find ways to address the root causes of homelessness – because it will undoubtedly continue to rise. Criminalising rough sleeping is not the way to do it.

People who can’t afford a roof over their heads clearly can’t afford a £1,000 fine – the proposal is as absurd as it is cruel.

Even if no-one is ever fined the full amount through this new order, the message it sends to the street homeless is clear: you are not our problem. This does nothing to actually tackle homelessness and will likely make things worse for those affected. People experiencing street homelessness need to be made to feel like members of society again, not a blight on it.

Hackney council is not the only one employing harsh methods to deter rough sleeping – metal spikes have been used in doorways around London; some inner-city boroughs have been accused of ‘hosing down’ people sleeping in public squares; and in 2011 Westminster Council tried to ban soup kitchens.

Oxford city council has also proposed criminalising rough sleeping but recently backed down after a campaign by local homelessness charity On Your Doorstep.

The London Assembly Housing Committee suggests that the best way to deal with people sleeping rough is to better connect health services with other local authority services. More than 40 per cent of rough sleepers come from privately rented accommodation and many were evicted or ended up homeless after a relationship breakdown.

Providing more health services, including mental health services and counselling, and introducing more rights for private tenants would save local authorities money and time dealing with homelessness.

And, more importantly, it would prevent some of the risks associated with living on the street, including violence, substance misuse and inability to escape the poverty cycle.

The only thing this public space protection order can achieve is to move rough sleepers elsewhere. Out of sight, out of mind. It is a shameful, inhuman policy and I hope Hackney council will reconsider.

Charlotte George is the coordinator of the Hackney Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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20 Responses to “Hackney council’s shameful attempt to criminalise homelessness”

  1. Torybushhug

    As ever the left posits a regulate and spend solution. Don’t you tire of being this unimaginitive?

  2. Corkboard Smith

    fuck off

  3. Nathan Dowdell

    As ever, the right suggest an approach of “not my problem” to society’s ills. Don’t you tire of being this selfish?

  4. Torybushhug

    I adore your evidence based narrative.
    Your last 3 posts for example;
    1) Fuck off
    2) lol
    3) …what?
    Keep up the scintillating contribution comrade.

  5. RoughSleeper

    Another brick in the wall!

    There should be no ability of a State to stop food, water, money, shelter, medical facilities, or fine for anyone taking a case to the ECHR against the State.

    Those of us that have been abused by the police, to coverup for, and protect, themselves, will know the importance of striving for democracy in this country, and adherence to the law, by all.

    It will come.

    (8.6160 x 10K hours expertise, Boots on the ground, @ 1.5655 pence/day)

  6. Corkboard Smith

    I will continue to treat Disqus conversations with the reverence and gravitas they deserve

  7. Torybushhug

    Whereas your own conversations and contributions in day to day life do immense heavy lifting. I salute your forensic wisdom and demand a statue in your honour.
    Can we meet tonight, I want to show you off at a dinner party?

  8. AlanGiles

    I highlighted a newspaper story about this earlier in the week. Presumably this is yet another example of the “Labour” party being more Tory than the Tories, and I have yet to hear Cooper, Burnham, Creagh or Kendall make any comment on it – or any of the London Mayoral candidates.

  9. Tom

    I was at a meeting of Hackney Labour last night. Labour Party members in Hackney don’t support it and I would be very surprised if the policy is not squashed.

  10. AlanGiles

    Unfortunately Tom, many Councillors are much like MPs, totally immune to the circumstances of real life, living in a little world of their own. I am surprised that such a proposal even got considered by a Labour controlled council

  11. Corkboard Smith


  12. RoughSleeper

    I want to know how they will expect me to pay £1000, or even £1, or 1p.

    Perhaps they want me to beg!

    (8.6160 x 10K hours expertise, Boots on the ground, @ 1.5655 pence/day)

  13. Mark Law

    This is simply not a true story.

  14. Graham Coupe

    It has been stopped as a lot of people got involved and wrote to them.

  15. damon

    So what’s Hackney’s provision for people sleeping rough?
    In much of the country councils and homeless services only cater to people from their own borough and tell everyone else to go back where they are from. They will provide one way coach tickets to take you to your home borough and inform your local homeless services that you require help. That’s it.
    If it’s the same in London it’s a great way of passing the problem on to someone else, as so many people might be from somewhere else.

  16. Keith M

    Tell me this is not just right wing propaganda.

  17. RoughSleeper

    Thankyou readers for making such a fuss for us.

    You have achieved a U turn from Hackney that would have been rolled out nationally, after the testing period, if not stopped at source.

    It just shows that when the public stand up en masse, then, together, we can get democracy.

    Best Regards


    (8.6184 x 10K hours expertise, Boots on the ground, @ 1.5650 pence/day)

    PS. I was waiting with relish for them to try to take £1000, £100, or 1 penny, from me.

  18. AlanGiles

    I assume it is yet another example of Labour trying to rove they are just as “tough” as the Tories by bullying people with no power or influence. It’s not unlike the Brown/Purnell years when both men tried to pretend David Freud was “an expert on welfare”. Did them a hell of a lot of good though, didn’t it?

  19. swat

    Louise Casey had some degree of success in getting the homeless off the streets and into a warm bed.
    Clearly something must be done.

  20. Jon Burke

    Labour Councillors never had an opportunity to oppose the PSPO. It went through cabinet and never came to Group.

    As soon as I became aware of it – around 22 May – I made it clear (publicly) that I did not support the PSPO.

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