It was reported that the government blocked a bill to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act on 23 March. Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran proposed the bill, describing the act as “a Dickensian law that is no longer fit for purpose”.
The Vagrancy Act
The Vagrancy Act came into force in 1824 in response to an increase in homelessness following the Napoleonic Wars. The act states that criminal proceedings can be taken against various types of ‘rogue’ activities, including:
every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon.
According to figures released by the Liberal Democrats, the UK has prosecuted 7,688 people in the last four years for rough sleeping under the act.
Why block it?
Moran posted a video on her Twitter page in reaction to the bill being blocked. She states that the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, wrote to her arguing that some “homeless stakeholders” think the Vagrancy Act is a “good thing”; and that this is why the government does not want to repeal it.
However, the view of these “homeless stakeholders” contrasts significantly with those of major homeless charities. Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, argues that:
People shouldn’t be targeted simply for sleeping on the street. In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, and rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general public. They deserve better than to be treated as criminals simply because they have nowhere to live.
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, states that arresting homeless people is “a costly, vicious cycle” that only makes the problem worse.
The fight goes on
The Oxford University Student Union’s petition to repeal the Vagrancy Act partly prompted Moran to take action.
Alex Kumar, the chair of the ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, argues that the use of criminal tactics against homeless people “is symptomatic of a deep wound in British society”. The group remains defiant despite this setback. Kumar declared:
The campaign to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act goes on. The government can swat us away but we will keep coming back.
The Canary asked the Department of Communities and Local Government for comment. None had been received by the time of publication.
Featured image via AlexanderBaxevanis/Flickr