From Padua to Stockholm: the penalties for begging

by Anna Madia - 2014.09.10
From Padua to Stockholm: the penalties for begging
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From Italy to France and from England to Scandinavia, the iron fist is back when it comes to begging. The latest to crack down on the activity is the mayor of Padua, Massimo Bitonci, who launched a plan this September that bans street beggers, with harsher penalties and the confiscation of money raised.

These strong measures that are currently being approved have far-reaching implications: the mayor, together with other local authorities, has got around the ban on using local authority ordinances (established by the Constitutional Court in 2008) by changing municipal police regulations. And so it's good-bye to by-laws against beggars, prostitutes and window cleaners, which are currently only used according to circumstance and in urgent cases. Issues of public safety will instead be addressed with adjusted police regulations, with the introduction of 'metropolitan security pacts', as was the case in Bologna and the triangle between Padua, Venice and Treviso.

But some officials are not happy and are calling for the Home Office minister to intervene. Local powers are too limited, they say; while there is not enough use of penalties and confiscation – especially when, behind the poverty, there is a criminal gang operating.

These opinions are widespread elsewhere too. At home and abroad, inhabitants' concerns are often based on their fear of migration. In Sweden, the nationalist Sweden Democrats party(SD) has proposed a visa for EU citizens who want to change the country. In Norway, the governing coalition has decided to delegate the power to ban begging to local governments. In the UK, a destination for considerable immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, this power has been used by many local authorities. Even Paris and Marseilles, in 2012, saw the introduction of new regulations, not without protests from citizens and associations. That same year, Manuel Valls, then Minister of the Interior, said that France “cannot take care of all the misery in the world and Europe”.

But if in France begging is a crime, as well as a public order offence, in Italy is has been decriminalised, after an intervention from the courts in 1995. Judges ruled that only the use of child exploitation or faking an illness would be considered a crime, while finding oneself in a state of penury could not in itself be considered an offence. But these recent municipal measures seem to fly in the face of that ruling. There's the ordinance in Verona, for example, which bans the distribution of food and drink to the homeless in the city centre, until the end of October, with a penalty of between €25 and €500. This hard line addresses the concerns of many people but it's likely to frustrate the work of some associations. An alternative could be to punish offences that already exist and distinguish between the exploited and the exploiters. Rather than contradicting Italy's laws and Constitution only to hit society's weakest.

Published in Homelessness.
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