Matthew Steeples joins those calling for the Vagrancy Act to be urgently repealed; homeless people need help and not hate
News that a 31-year-old homeless man was found dead in sub-zero temperatures last week in Birmingham is shocking enough, but that 34% of local authorities in England and Wales are continuing to use the outdated Vagrancy Act is nothing but disgraceful.
Made law in 1824 and designed to punish “idle and disorderly persons,” the Vagrancy Act makes it an offence to sleep rough. Around 2,000 people per year are prosecuted as a result of it and responding to calls for its abolition, Jake Berry, a minister at the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, recently told the House of Commons: “The Government do not believe that anyone should be criminalised for simply sleeping rough, but equally we should not rush to a wholesale repeal of the 1824 Act without proper consideration of the consequences.”
He unsympathetically added: “[It is] sometimes the only option to get someone off the street when they have become dependent on begging income to support their drug or alcohol dependency.”
In response, Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, remarked: “The act does nothing to end homelessness and contributes to the shame and stigma associated with it.”
With nearly 600 people having died whilst homeless last year and Labour rightly calling for the repeal of this unjust law, it is time Theresa May also joined those supporting Layla Moran MP’s private member’s bill to repeal this Dickensian legislation. Genuinely homeless people need help and not hatefulness.