A new plan will replace the criminalisation of the homeless with compassion – so of course it isn’t coming from the Conservatives.
Labour is planning to repeal the archaic Vagrancy Act of 1824, and to restrict the use of measures in other laws that have been misused to attack people living rough.
Catriona Gray of the Labour Homelessness Campaign explained on the LabourList website:
The Vagrancy Act 1824 was passed during a period of intense land privatisation to criminalise homeless people including destitute ex-soldiers and migrants. It makes it a criminal offence to sleep “in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon, not having any visible means of subsistence”. Although now entirely repealed in Scotland, the Act remains on the statute book in England and Wales as a catch-all piece of legislation still used to prosecute people for begging and rough sleeping.
As well as repealing the archaic Vagrancy Act, the motion being debated on the conference floor tomorrow opposes the use of various ‘anti-social behaviour’ measures used to control, punish and fine people experiencing homelessness.
Under the broadly drafted Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, councils can make what are termed ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ (PSPOs) to ban activities they deem to have a detrimental effect on others. PSPOs carry on-the-spot fines of £100, with a fine of up to £1,000 and potential prosecution for non-compliance. In some cases, Labour councils are utilising the powers granted under this Tory legislation to enact PSPOs which criminalise activities like ‘aggressive begging’ (broadly defined to include, for example, begging near a cashpoint) and rough sleeping.
Other measures like Criminal Behaviour Orders and Community Protection Notices function similarly to criminalise people living in public spaces. This motion makes clear that, as Labour Party members, we expect and demand that our representatives oppose the use of these counterproductive laws.
Ms Gray goes on to state that these changes should be underpinned by transformative housing policies, a humane immigration system, adequate funding for local government, and a social security system that provides a genuine safety net for all.
I would suggest a housing scheme based on the Utah model. Republican state legislators in that US state discovered that the cheapest way to tackle homelessness was simply to give homes to people who would otherwise sleep rough. This cut the cost to the state of related crime and medical care.
The motion goes before Labour’s party conference today (September 25).
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