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The government must not delay in consigning the Vagrancy Act to history

The government must not delay in consigning the Vagrancy Act to history
3 min read

"No-one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live", the Prime Minister told the House of Commons in October.

He was absolutely right, and it is a huge relief to see the archaic Vagrancy Act finally repealed by the government today. It follows dogged work by MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum, as well as the charity Crisis which has led the Scrap the Act campaign.

This offensive piece of law criminalising rough sleeping and begging has no place in any modern society. It is completely lacking in both compassion and sense to fine or arrest someone for being destitute. It is also hugely counterproductive, pushing people further away from support.

However, while we now know that the act definitely will be repealed, we still do not know when.

Unlike the Lords amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which it replaced, the government’s repeal amendment has come with no certainty over its commencement date. Instead, we have been told that repeal will only be commenced when appropriate alternative replacement legislation is in place.

The government must urgently make clear what legislation they intend to replace the Vagrancy Act with and when they plan to deliver it

We cannot afford to kick this issue into the long grass. Every day that the law remains active, people remain at risk of unnecessary criminalisation. This only serves to extend their homelessness as in practice we know that most frequently the act is just used to move people on, often into much more dangerous places and further away from the services that can help end their homelessness for good.

The government must urgently make clear what legislation they intend to replace the Vagrancy Act with and when they plan to deliver it. But we know there are much more effective ways of tackling rough sleeping than enforcement.

The Everyone In scheme showed the impact we can have by providing safe, self-contained accommodation to everyone who needs it, with over 37,000 people supported into emergency accommodation during the pandemic.

It was also really positive to see the government recently commit £174m towards move on accommodation for people rough sleeping, while the latest government annual rough sleeping snapshot for England has shown a fourth successive decrease.

If the government is to properly finish the job and meet its target of ending rough sleeping in England by 2024, that work must not be undermined by a delay in consigning the Vagrancy Act to history.

2024 would also mark the act’s 200 anniversary, something we must not allow it to get close to reaching. I will continue to press for clarity to be provided on the timeline for repeal, so that when it happens, we can all finally come together and celebrate this huge milestone away from the criminalisation of poverty as a first response, and towards practical solutions that actually help people experiencing homelessness.

 

Tracey Crouch is the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford.

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