This pilot project will examine the intersection between begging, work and citizenship in the European Union. Requesting private persons for cash, food or other basic necessities of life by calling on emotions of pity, justice or fear has been a feature of societies in many parts of the world for centuries. In Europe, welfare states have seen the diminution – but not the extinction – of the phenomenon, and increasingly anti-begging legislation is being used across Europe to control the mobility of poor migrants. Whilst there has been considerable research on poverty, homelessness and the working poor, there have been remarkably few contemporary studies of begging. This is in stark contrast to the rich historical literature on vagrancy and begging. Studies that do exist focus on small scale city research and there has been no comparative European study on contemporary begging.
The project aims to explore and assess research questions such as: What is the definition of begging and its relation to work/the labour market and citizenship? How is begging gendered and racialised? What is the relation between mobility and begging? How are the deserving and the undeserving beggar imagined?
Through analysis and development of these and other questions, the project aims to develop at least two further research proposals, one comparative project examining begging in a minimum of four EU member states (UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain), and another on begging in the UK with a particular focus on mobile EU citizens.
Begging is a phenomenon that is culturally specific but also international. It may be seen as both calling on and threatening community. The beggar is a liminal figure that traces the boundaries of belonging, as such begging is central to the scope of citizenship and the nature of belonging (Dean and Gale, 1999). As a socially excluded group consisting of both citizens (national and EU) and non-citizens, beggars are a fascinating site for the examination of citizenship.
The past decade has seen an increase in the governance of the behaviour of the public poor and enforcement actions (Fitzpatrick & Johnsen, 2007; Blomley, 2010). Historically, the policing of poverty was regarded as a necessity because of the perceived connection between forms of ‘disorderly’ behaviour such as that between begging and crime (Neocleous 2000). The 1824 Vagrancy Act was implemented in England in order to control the mobility of the poor and their labour, focusing on the figure of the ‘valiant beggar’ or the ‘sturdy rogue’, idle and workshy, the undeserving poor. In this way the vagrant is one of the ancestors both of contemporary ‘failed citizens’ and ‘migrants’ (Anderson, 2013). Indeed, the 185-year-old Vagrancy Act is still in force in England and is regularly used against homeless beggars. Across the EU, mobile EU citizens who are not engaged in the labour market and who are a ‘burden’ on the host state, may lose their right of residence and become subject to removal. Those who are visible beggars, like vagrants in the past, may be ‘moved on’. Increasingly anti-begging legislation is being used across Europe to control the mobility of unwanted populations, such as poor migrants (Fekete, 2014; de Coulon et al. 2015).
A focus on the key intersecting axes of mobility and welfare benefits can shed light on the ways in which ‘citizenship’ is both a legal and a normative status, that is, how formal in/exclusion is related to ideas of deservingness and ‘Good Citizenship’ (Anderson, 2013). Not having ‘work’ can mean a person is a ‘not-quite-good-enough citizen’ (ibid.) – and certainly not quite good enough to be an EU citizen in terms of freedom of movement. This study will draw on theories of belonging, welfare and migration in order to explore constructions of ‘others’ and how these are contextualised as well as ways in which citizen/non-citizen binaries and ideas of deservingness may also be replicated amongst socially excluded populations.
The project is comprised of two main activities, each of which is geared towards developing and fine-tuning the research design and methodology for two future interdisciplinary research projects on begging and citizenship.
The first is a scoping study (Arksey and O'Malley, 2005) that will be guided by the research questions. This will be developed into a more focused literature review that will identify gaps in the field. This will examine work on begging across a number of different countries. We will examine existing policies and laws on begging across the proposed partner countries, with a city-level focus providing some of the data necessary for case selection and international comparison. Finally we will identify, form links, and interview key actors in the field of homelessness and begging (e.g. Big Issue staff, outreach workers, local authority homelessness and community safety teams, police), focusing on a London borough with high rates of rough sleepers. This will enable us to develop contacts with ‘gatekeepers’ who can facilitate access to people engaging in begging in preparation for the larger projects. Additionally, it will allow us to examine the origin and impact of local policies to combat begging and the roles of local professionals who work with beggars. In this way, we will gain initial insights into the theories of work and citizenship that underpin local policy and practice, which will aid the development of our research questions for the larger bids.
The second will be a workshop held with interested European participants and other key stakeholders on citizenship and begging in January 2016. It will provide a forum to launch the pilot research report and to test our initial findings with participants from across Europe in order to finalise and focus our draft grant proposals.