UK Government urged to scrap law criminalising rough sleeping

UK Government urged to scrap law criminalising rough sleeping

Jon Sparkes

Cross-party MPs and national homelessness charity Crisis are today urging the UK Government to scrap the law that criminalises rough sleeping, six months after housing secretary Robert Jenrick said it should be “consigned to history”

Already repealed in Scotland, the 19th century Vagrancy Act is still continually used across England and Wales to criminalise people for rough sleeping or begging. Anyone prosecuted under the act faces a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record. 

Repeal of the Act was not included in the Queen’s Speech in May, despite support from across parties and from Robert Jenrick, who told the House of Commons in February that the act was “antiquated legislation, whose time has been and gone”.  

Latest criminal justice statistics show there were 573 Vagrancy Act prosecutions in England and Wales during 2020, more than ten people a week.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “We all agree that the cruel, unnecessary Vagrancy Act should be scrapped but it’s still being used week in, week out with devastating consequences. 

“Fining people who already have next to nothing is pointless and just drives people further away from support, often keeping them on the streets for longer. 

“We were encouraged by Robert Jenrick’s support for repeal back in February but are disappointed that the act remains six months on, despite a cross-party commitment to support the UK government in repealing it. It is time to consign this offensive and counterproductive law to history.”   

Crisis campaigner Dayne Dougan was constantly threatened with the Vagrancy Act when he was homeless.

He said: “I was homeless from the age of about 15 to 24. Every day I would get moved on and told you need to leave this area, you need to go away. The Vagrancy Act made the police the enemy, rather than a source of help or protection. Telling people to leave town centres doesn’t make the problem go away, it just makes it worse. We can get rid of this outdated law now and make the lives of homeless people just a tiny bit better.”

Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said: “The Vagrancy Act is simply not fit for purpose. Criminalising rough sleepers only entrenches them further into an already dire situation, the far superior option is to address why they are on the street in the first place.

 “The Government seems to agree and I was grateful to receive confirmation in the House of Commons in February from Robert Jenrick, that in his view the Act should be ‘consigned to history’. The next step is working towards a timeframe for repeal and replacement.

“We should replace our current approach with a new vision that places the preservation of life at its core through assertive outreach, alongside health care and specialist support services, particularly to address mental health and addiction issues, all attached to accommodation.”

Mike Amesbury, shadow minister for housing and Weaver Vale MP, said: “The Vagrancy Act is an outdated piece of legislation, which criminalises people who have lost their home. Stable and secure housing underpins opportunities, saving lives and livelihoods. It’s in everyone’s interests that Ministers focus on ending homelessness through support, prevention and stronger legislation to protect renters. 

“After a decade in office, the Conservatives have failed on rough sleeping with twice as many rough sleepers before the pandemic than in 2010, with almost 1000 people dying last year on the streets.  The pandemic offers the chance to build a better future for all, but the government are squandering this, as their words fail to match delivery.”

Layla Moran, Oxford West and Abingdon MP, added: “Being homeless should not be a crime. We should be caring for people who end up on the streets, not fining them and locking them up.

“Now more than ever, we need a compassionate approach to homelessness, and that must include scrapping the Vagrancy Act. It is a cruel, Dickensian law that criminalises people just for sleeping rough.

“Robert Jenrick admitted six months ago that the Act needs to go. Now he must finally match his words with action.”

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