Following the municipal decisions on prohibiting panhandling in several Swedish municipalities (Vellinge, Eskilstuna, Sölvesborg, Katrineholm, and Staffanstorp) the council of Lidingö, becomes the first to adopt such measures in the Stockholm county, forbidding the act of begging on 10 public spaces (see map), with a tight vote of 26 against 25 with the support of The Moderates, Christian Democrats, Swedish Democrats and the local Lidingö Party.
Lidingö Municipality is characterized for being one of the administrative areas of Sweden with the highest income as well as one of the most economically right wing municipalities. In this scenario, it is easy to imagine the level of material abundance, where seemingly everyday life worries such as shelter, and food are not top-of-mind for the median citizen. Nonetheless, for those who are in the need of panhandling, these needs are very much real and banning this practice has an impact in their livelihood, creating a new burden for people who are already marginalized.
Before this year, Sweden was the Nordic country with the ‘softest’ approach to panhandling, compared to Denmark where it is penalized with jail since 2017 or Norway where a regulation was banning panhandling until was dropped in 2015. Nonetheless, the local governments seem to have started an anti-panhandling trend during the last year.
The criminalization approach does not address the complexities behind panhandling and homelessness and it does not respond to the swedish reality, where issues such as housing -where in Stockholm only- officially the housing queue is almost 600,000 people, with the looming threat of homelessness, nor it offers an answer to the vision and goals of the city for 2030, where the aim is to create ‘a city without physical or social barriers’, whilst these bans aim to create in practice physical barriers for beggars and enforce already existing social prejudices.
Organizations such as Stockholm’s Stadsmission and Amnesty International have been emphatic on the fact that panhandling prohibitions do not work and do not contribute to solving the issues associated to poverty. Local bans on panhandling or homelessness only contribute to limiting the possibilities of survival for people who already at the margins of swedish society,
Approaching panhandling and more broadly, homelessness with the ‘silver bullet’ of prohibition creates scenarios where what is understood as the problem is just a symptom of broader societal issues. The banning of panhandling from certain municipalities, will only displace the issue to other administrative units, acting as spatial fix which on the short term might seem effective but meaning in the long run not just a waste of resources, but a direct blow into people’s livelihood, deepening the already chasms .