The Vagrancy Act is an unnecessary Georgian-era law that, in my view, criminalises some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society. I have long supported its repeal.
Treating rough sleepers as criminals does not solve the underlying causes of homelessness, it makes it harder for them to access support to move away from the streets.
The Government has acknowledged that no-one should be criminalised simply for sleeping rough and has committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act. However, Ministers opposed amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would have done just that. They claim that they will replace the Act with “more modern, fit for purpose legislation when parliamentary time allows”.
I disagree. I believe that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a perfect opportunity to deal with the Vagrancy Act 1824. I am pleased that the Government was defeated in the Lords and that the Bill has been amended to include provisions for the repeal of that Act. I will support this amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
More generally, I am concerned that the number of people sleeping rough has increased by 52% since 2010. I believe that this is a direct result of twelve years of failure on housing and I am worried that many more people risk being pushed onto the streets because of the Government’s decision to freeze local housing allowance, end the eviction ban, increase tax contributions, and cut Universal Credit – all while families face a growing cost of living crisis.
I support meaningful action to end rough sleeping and ensure that everyone has a place to call home. This must include an emphasis on the housing-first approach to offer permanent, affordable housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and giving communities the power to build the right houses, in the right places, at prices that local people can afford.
I can assure you that I will continue to urge the Government to scrap the Vagrancy Act and prioritise measures to prevent rough sleeping.