Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn have announced that the next Labour government will repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises begging and rough sleeping.
They say the priority should be to support, not criminalise, those who are sleeping rough or begging.
The Georgian-era legislation is unnecessary for dealing with genuine anti-social behaviour as a number of other civil measures exist, including civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.
The Vagrancy Act was used to bring a criminal charge nearly 3,000 times in 2016, with offences commanding a fine of up to £1,000 and leaving those convicted with a two-year criminal record.
Labour has committed to ending rough sleeping within five years of forming the next Labour Government, with a plan to reserve 8,000 homes for those with a history of rough sleeping.
Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey has already announced plans for a £100 million fund to make emergency cold weather accommodation available for every rough sleeper during winter.
Now Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said: “It should shame us all that rough sleeping has doubled in the last eight years and nearly 600 people died while homeless last year.
“Homeless people need help, not punishment.
“The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.”
And Melanie Onn added: “It beggars belief that we still use Georgian-era laws to criminalise some of the most vulnerable in society.
“Treating rough sleepers as criminals does not solve the underlying causes of homelessness and makes it harder for them to access support to move away from the streets.
“Rather than criminalising rough sleepers Labour would support them, with 8,000 new homes available to those with a history of rough sleeping as part of a plan to eradicate rough sleeping within five years.”
The announcement has won widespread support from the Twitter commentariat:
Tonight, Labour announces that it will repeal the Vagrancy Act of 1824 once in office. It criminalises begging & rough sleeping with fines of up £1000 and a criminal record through prosecution. The ending of this Dickensian legislation is long overdue.
— Hasan Patel 🌹 (@CorbynistaTeen) December 21, 2018
The Vagrancy Act was passed in 1824. The law criminalises begging and rough sleeping, with fines of up to £1,000 or a criminal record for those prosecuted. Tonight, Labour have announced it will scrap this antiquated and disgraceful legislation when they come to power.
— Liam Young (@liamyoung) December 21, 2018
The Vagrancy Act actually dates back to 1824, possibly one of Rees-Mogg’s early votes, and we will repeal this, like any decent government should. https://t.co/3MQKDML7aj
— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) December 21, 2018
Labour to repeal nineteenth century law criminalising rough sleeping.
“Homeless people need help, not punishment..
“We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need” :
Jeremy Corbyn pic.twitter.com/UjPSvOIe24
— Michael H. (@MichaelH14) December 22, 2018
Fantastic – #Labour have announced they will repeal the vagrancy act – an outdated, heartless, piece of legislation that criminalises those who sleep rough.
The only thing that should be criminal re #RoughSleeping is that it's allowed to happen in the first place!
— Jack Duncan🔻 (@JackDunc1) December 22, 2018
And Mr Corbyn expanded on his own opinion of homelessness during a visit to a Northampton project that helps homeless people:
It is a mark of shame that rough sleeping has doubled in the last eight years. pic.twitter.com/YcuLFcOOhD
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) December 22, 2018
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