Rosie Downes, Campaign Manager at Crisis, introduces their work to scrap the Vagrancy Act:
“When I found out about them … arresting people for sort of like vagrancy or whatever I learnt to sleep as far out of the city centre as possible.… Some of the places I’ve slept in were terrible, you know what I mean. But at least I knew the police wouldn’t come and you wouldn’t get arrested.… I slept under bridges and all sorts.” Person sleeping rough in Leeds, 2007
The Vagrancy Act 1824 is the only piece of legislation that criminalises the act of rough sleeping. But it does nothing to help resolve and tackle the causes of homelessness. In fact, it’s far more likely to prevent someone from accessing vital services that support them to move away from the streets.
The Vagrancy Act dates back to the years following the Napoleonic wars, when the military was scaled back leaving many veterans destitute. Parliament was concerned at the time that parish constables were ineffective in controlling these ‘vagrants’. Today, the Vagrancy Act makes it a crime to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales. It’s still used widely, with figures indicating that the Act is used by the vast majority of police forces.
Crisis, along with others including Homeless Link, Cymorth Cymru, Centrepoint, St Mungo’s, Shelter Cymru and the Wallich, are calling for the Vagrancy Act to be scrapped. While using police powers – for example, those under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Act 2014 - may sometimes be necessary to tackle genuinely anti-social behaviour, this should always be a last resort and accompanied by a meaningful offer of support. Repealing the Vagrancy Act would have a significant impact in helping to shift attitudes towards providing support to help someone end their homelessness, rather than criminalising someone for their circumstances.
At Crisis, we’re looking to speak to as many people as possible about their views on the Vagrancy Act to help shape our campaign for its repeal. We’re particularly keen to hear from frontline workers who have experience of working with people who have been moved on, arrested or even charged under the Vagrancy Act, and what impact this has had on them. If you’ve worked with people who have been affected by the Vagrancy Act, please get in touch – please complete our short form or get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The evidence that frontline workers can provide is crucial - particularly right now. The UK Government will soon be reviewing the Vagrancy Act, as part of its review of homelessness and rough sleeping legislation committed to in the 2018 Rough Sleeping Strategy. So now is the time to make the case for repeal and show why the Vagrancy Act is at odds with the stated aim of the strategy – to support and rehouse all rough sleepers.