Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) hit the headlines in May 2018 when the Guardian reported that hundreds of homeless people in England and Wales are being fined and imprisoned. PSPOs give local councils the powers to prohibit or require certain behaviours to take place within a defined geographical location. Under the Home Office remit of improving the quality of life for the ‘law abiding majority’, many councils have created PSPOs with prohibitions that target behaviours associated with street sleeping homeless people, such as aggressive begging, loitering and remaining in a public toilet without a reasonable excuse. The Guardian rightly highlights this punitive response to homeless people; however our new article suggests a possible reason why the Government are not taking the necessary action to stop how this vulnerable group are being treated – they simply do not know how PSPO legislation is being used.
We submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office to determine if they were holding local councils to account by monitoring the creation, use and modification/amendment of PSPOs. The Home Office stated that ‘we do not monitor the use of anti-social behaviour powers introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which includes the Public Spaces Protection Order’. So not only is there a worrying lack of oversight of the types of PSPO prohibitions being created given the nature of those enacted so far, there is a complete lack of scrutiny of all the new powers introduced in 2014. Furthermore, they also confirmed that ‘the Home Office has not required the police or other local agencies to report on the use of these powers. We did not want to burden frontline practitioners with data requests to require them to tell central Government each time they use the anti-social behaviour powers’. This lack of oversight essentially gives local councils free reign to employ any prohibitions they choose, without fear of reprisal.
Therefore, PSPOs provide the opportunity for councils to cleanse public spaces of those who do not conform to the local social or spatial norms they create. This divides communities between those who are considered deserving of inhabiting those spaces and those who are not. By decreasing the tolerance of difference in public spaces, those least in need are prioritised above those who need society’s help the most. Consequently, PSPOs counteract efforts to integrate marginalised groups into society and reinforce differences in local communities.
By Dr Vicky Heap Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University and Jill Dickinson Senior Lecturer in Law at Sheffield Hallam University
For further information see: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/SC-02-2018-0006