Delays In Repealing The Vagrancy Act (1824)

The Government have delayed their plan to decriminalise street homelessness and rough sleeping. Read on for more.


 

Background

Many people will be surprised to learn that being homeless and rough sleeping can be a criminal offence. In Victorian times, street homelessness was a huge social issue and the then Government attempted to deal with it by simply forbidding people from sleeping on the street and arresting them if they did. People could be fined and imprisoned for begging on the street and homeless people can be ‘moved on’ or banned from certain locations by the police.

Shockingly, this 198-year-old Vagrancy Act 1824 is still law today. In fact, in 2018 (the latest figures available), 1,320 homeless people were prosecuted under this law. The police regularly use its powers to drive homeless people away to a new place. This often cuts them off from sources of help.

Arresting homeless people and street sleepers does nothing to help them or deal with their situation. Recognising this, the House of Lords recently passed a Bill to repeal or abolish the Vagrancy Act.  The Government responded to the Bill by saying they would bring forward their own new law to repeal the Vagrancy Act, and so the House of Lords dropped their Bill.

However, the Government have now slipped out another announcement saying they won’t introduce this new legislation for up to 18 months.


 

Why Have The Government Delayed?

The Government have said that they wish to create a new law that allows them to both adequately support vulnerable people and, at the same time, provide the police with necessary power to arrest and move on rough sleepers and others when needed.

To BuDS, this doesn’t seem to be the replacement or abolition of the Vagrancy Act, but the replacement of the Act by a modern law that does the same thing. Like the Victorian government, our Ministers seem to want to deal with rough sleeping and homelessness by making poor, desperate, people into criminals. It is alarming that the Government is apparently more worried about keeping police powers to ‘clear the streets’ rather than about helping homeless people get off the streets into proper housing.


 

What Does This Mean For You?

Unfortunately, due to this delay, The Vagrancy Act 1824 will remain in place for at least another 18 months. This means that people who are homeless can still be threatened with arrest and forced to move on to new places or areas. As more and more people lose their jobs or cannot afford rent and mortgage, homelessness will increase, so thousands of people could end up being subject to these outdated powers.

BuDS urges the Government to act now and abolish the Vagrancy Act altogether. Arresting, criminalising and moving on homeless people isn’t helpful and does nothing to solve the underlying issues which make people homeless. Rather than trying to use police powers to hide and control homelessness, the Government should be making sure housing is more affordable and providing better support to groups likely to become homeless, such as ex-veterans, people with mental health issues, and ex-prisoners. In the 21st century, society should provide help instead of punishing those who suffer owing to circumstances beyond their control.


 

Finally 

This is free information from the BuDS Disability Information Service. Our expert researchers make sure we only give you accurate, reliable and tested information. This post was written by Meiyang J.

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