Do you give to someone begging? For centuries, the figure of the beggar has caused public fear, sympathy and confusion. In this book, criminologist Joe Hermer explores how the dilemma of giving to someone begging today has become an unusual site of regulation, public inquiry and law reform. This book investigates why handing pocket change to someone begging is now widely viewed as a gift crime, one that attempts to make the giving public complicit in the policing and control of visibly poor people.
Drawing on the historical insight that public feeling is a central problem of policing the vagrant beggar, the author examines how a quirky provincial experiment to stop people giving to beggars morphed into an unlikely movement across England. Hermer ranges widely in his analysis, with discussions of 'diverted giving' schemes, specialised police operations, activist efforts to repeal the Vagrancy Law, and begging-like activities such as busking, Big Issue vending and flag day collections. The author pays particular attention to the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the historic reforms enabled by gift crime regulation to this storied area of criminal law. The consequence, this book argues, is the continuing abandonment of some of the most vulnerable individuals in society through direct appeals to compassion and kindness.