Street begging : a capabilities-based exploration of causal pathways, conduct, and consequences
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Begging has been a feature of towns and cities across the globe for millennia and yet has been the explicit focus of surprisingly little scholarship. Limited understanding regarding the reasons people beg and the impact that begging has on them has impeded the development of effective policy responses. This study set out to add to the evidence base regarding the causes, conduct, and consequences of begging. It has done this by, firstly, moving beyond a focus on immediate triggers to explore factors over the life course that contribute to begging behaviour. Secondly, the techniques and strategies adopted by individuals when begging, and factors influencing these, were critically examined. Finally, the research considered the consequences of engaging in begging for the individuals who engage in it, specifically in terms of how begging enhances or diminishes their capabilities. Employing a qualitative design that used semi-structured interviews as the data collection method, this research analysed the insights of 26 professional stakeholders and 22 people with experience of begging across two case study sites in England, Leeds and Lincoln. Drawing from critical realism as a metatheoretical framework to guide the research process, the study was primarily framed using the capabilities approach and enhanced by theoretical contributions from scholarship on stigma. These theories highlight how the opportunities that people have and the choices that they make in life are influenced by their experiences and the context in which they are located. The findings demonstrated how routes into begging lie in the clustered experiences of compound disadvantage that can often extend back to childhood. Certain disadvantages had a particularly corrosive effect on the capability sets of some individuals, such as a history of insecure housing, experiences of trauma, and problematic substance use. At the point when begging was first engaged in, individuals were typically experiencing financial pressures from their problematic substance use but significantly had a highly constrained capability set which limited the opportunities available to meet their proximate needs. Begging was therefore an activity engaged in by people because it was viewed as the least worst option to meet these needs given the lack of viable alternatives. My analysis found that the reasons to continue begging were at times different from the motives first driving the decision to beg. Different people experienced unanticipated outcomes of begging such as having a daily routine or self-reliance which made begging difficult to desist from. I devised a new tripartite typology of begging conduct (survivalist, occupationalist, and opportunist) to conceptualise different patterns that were influenced by different primary motivations and had different temporal and spatial characteristics. The patterns were also affected by the balance between the risk of negative outcomes (e.g. abuse) and positive elements (e.g. maximising income). In addition, performative elements were found in begging conduct with people using different props or verbal techniques to engage with passers-by and elicit donations. This study considered the consequences of begging concerning the six different capabilities that were found to be impacted most, including: planning for the future; valued social interactions and relationships; physical security; access to public and private space; good physical health; and good mental health. Notably, the consequences of begging were often extremely negative across all the capabilities that were analysed, with physical health, mental health, and physical security amongst the areas most detrimentally affected. Where positive experiences did emerge through certain interactions or reducing isolation, they were fleeting and had no lasting or significant impact on capabilities. Moreover, in many instances, these outcomes fostered the continuation of begging which produced feedback loops whereby begging further degenerated individuals’ existing and already highly constrained capabilities. These findings have several implications for policy and practice, especially as regards prevention through early intervention and identifying people at-risk of begging; addressing the needs of people who beg to remove the need to begging; and influencing public perception through less stigmatising communications campaigns.