It’s a disgrace that even one person is homeless, we must scrap the Vagrancy Act
Despite pushing the problem out of sight here in Parliament, the problem hasn’t gone away, writes Layla Moran MP.
This is the year that we must, and I believe we will, scrap the Vagrancy Act, that cruel, Dickensian law that criminalises rough sleeping.
And here’s why we’ll repeal it.
We’re currently in a political world where a sizeable number of our politicians, including many of my fellow MPs, are seriously considering spending £500,000 to make Big Ben bong for Brexit. I find it hard to believe that most real people wouldn’t rather that money was spent on tackling the homelessness crisis in this country. Or, at the very least, that if we’re willing to spend political capital raising serious cash to try to make a bell chime, then we must have the political will in Parliament and across the country to repeal a law that I believe most people think is outdated.
And then there’s the infamous entrance to Parliament from Westminster underground station. I can’t stand to look at that new gate, that was installed to push away the homeless outside of the tunnel leading to our entrance, for one second longer. In 2018 a homeless man, Gyula Remes, died in the station. He was one of over 700 homeless people who died that year, and the second to die in the station that year. Those at the centre of power must have walked past both men and yet remained content to turn a blind eye.
How did Parliament react? By erecting this new gate further down our passage between the station and the estate, pushing the homeless out of MPs’ and peers’ way. The homeless have simply moved further into the tunnel in a spot slightly more exposed to the wind. But we can still see them.
That’s another reason I firmly believe we will succeed in scrapping the Vagrancy Act this year: a growing number of parliamentarians can’t avoid seeing what’s happening on our own doorsteps, and I plan to shout from the rooftops to make them look.
Because what are we doing if we can’t even help those who are literally at our feet?
We will also repeal it this year because it’s easy to do. I don’t mean to sound crass, but I just cannot understand why an ambitious politician like Robert Jenrick (the Secretary of State whose department covers housing and homelessness) doesn’t want to make his mark and scrap the Act. A simple action that shows you’re taking homelessness seriously.
And to make it really easy for him, my Vagrancy (Repeal) Bill that I introduced in the last parliament can be brought back, with his blessing, in a heartbeat and become law. I stand ready.
So, there’s the public will, increasing political will, and it’s easy to do. Then why haven’t we scrapped the Act yet?
Because it hasn’t been a priority for the Government, who insist on waiting for the results of their review before deciding what to do, despite the incredible team at Crisis having put all the evidence together into a single report for them. Even the police in the West Midlands and the Metropolitan Police have now committed to moving away from using the Act. It’s time to go the whole hog.
This Government has said a lot in the past few months about those left behind, about the domestic agenda. Homelessness will surely be up there, a priority. Well, I hope so.
Across the country, there are almost 47,000 homes that have gone unused for over 5 years. We’re going to scrap this law because even more evidence like this is stacking up.
Solving homelessness is possible, and it must be our priority to make this happen. In 2020, it’s a disgrace that even one person is homeless.
So that’s why we’re going to make scrapping the Vagrancy Act a reality this year: the evidence is overwhelming; despite pushing the problem out of sight here in Parliament the problem hasn’t gone away from our doorsteps; and it’s a simple and easy act for a Government looking to make its mark.
And I sincerely hope they do. Let’s make it happen together.
Layla Moran is Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.
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