Labour-led Exeter City Council’s new ‘Public Space Protection Order’ (PSPO) will give the police and council officers the power to criminalise activities that they deem to be ‘antisocial’ such as rough sleeping, begging, or even busking. Those who breach the order could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £100 or a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record. The order also gives the council the power to seize and destroy the bedding and personal possessions of homeless people (A measure, which, especially during winter could leave them incredibly vulnerable to adverse weather).
Please take a moment to complete the online consultation about these measures after reading this article by clicking on the link below:
Exeter City Council online PSPO consultation
Homelessness has risen by 50% since 2010 under the current government and a recent study demonstrated that nearly 100,000 children in England alone are homeless, a figure that the chief executive of children’s charity Barbados Javed Khan called ‘a national embarrassment’. A measure that effectively criminalises rough sleeping and associated behaviours in Exeter city centre will only increase (already high) levels of stigma surrounding Exeter’s homeless population.It privileges the appearance of Exeter over its’ citizens’ wellbeing, and risks treating rough sleepers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings. We already know that homeless people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and are already victims of exceptionally high levels of violence, crime and victimisation which is often committed by the general public and largely goes unreported.
These proposals could also see some of the most impoverished people in the UK facing criminal charges and unpayable fines of up to £1000 just for refusing to remove their bedding when ordered to by a council official, or busking ‘without authorisation’. The PSPO would also give council officers the power to order any person, or group of people to leave the city if they thought it was ‘likely’ that they might behave antisocially, a power that is wide open to abuse and misuse. Taken together, these powers are not only an attack on the cultural life of Exeter’s public spaces, they are also an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of association as well as an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
When Hackney Council introduced similar proposals, over 80,000 people signed a petition causing them to abandon their plans. When Oxford City Council introduced similar proposals over 72,000 people signed a petition asking them to think again and Liberty issued a legal challenge calling on them to abandon their unlawful attempts to criminalise homeless people and buskers. Liverpool City Council abandoned similar proposals at the consultation stage after a public outcry. Chester City and Cheshire West Council also abandoned their plans to criminalise busking and rough sleeping after a petition was signed by nearly 16000 people.
As Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty rightly pointed out in their legal challenge to Oxford:
“If somebody is forced to beg or sleep in a public toilet, that’s not antisocial behaviour – it’s poverty. Oxford City Council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable people in their city, not slapping them with a criminal record and a fine they can’t possibly afford to pay”
The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which advocates for public spaces which are open to informal offerings of art and music and other community uses. We are calling on Exeter City Council to abandon their PSPO proposal. The council and police have strong existing powers to deal with the small minority of people who cause genuine antisocial behaviour, they have no need for the proposed sweeping and arbitrary measures. We have seen public pressure prevent similar measures being adopted in Oxford, Westminster and Hackney and know that public pressure can stop this from happening in Exeter too. Let’s make sure that councils like Exeter and policy makers deal with the causes of homelessness such as lack of affordable housing rather than making the lives of the most vulnerable even harder.