Liverpool Labour MP Kim Johnson has joined charity the Paper Cup Project in calling for the abolition of the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act which they say ‘criminalises’ homelessness. Tony McDonough reports
A Liverpool rough sleepers charity and a local MP are calling for the abolition of the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act which say they is criminalising homelessness.
The Vagrancy Act was passed in 1824 and sets out to “punish idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds”. In recent years, it has been used to target rough sleepers and those experiencing homelessness, making it a crime to sleep rough or beg.
Liverpool Riverside Labour MP Kim Johnson has joined Liverpool charity the Paper Cup Project in speaking out to abolish act, which was debated in parliament on Tuesday.
The act also carries a fine of £1,000, which is impossible for any rough sleeper to pay. During the last Royal wedding, police were able to use the powers of the act to move on rough sleepers from areas around Windsor.
Michelle Langan from the Paper Cup Project said: “Abolishing the Vagrancy Act is long overdue. It is a cruel law which punishes the most vulnerable in our society. The debate today is a chance for the Government to move forward and look at positive ways of assisting those people who fall through the crack in society instead of criminalising them.
“We hope that the act is scrapped and that our MPs in Liverpool will all be vocal in their support of repealing it. Liverpool has made great strides over the past year in tackling homelessness, and has shown that there are alternative solutions to criminalisation.”
Ms Johnson added: “Repealing this act would be a great stride towards protecting the rights of people who find themselves at the sharp edge of society. In 2021 we can do better.”
In 2018, 1,320 people were criminalised under the act – which did nothing but put further barriers up for the most vulnerable. Ms Johnson said that by making it a crime for people who lead transient lives it demonises and criminalises the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
“The answer is not in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but in the provision of authorised sites, to reduce discrimination and respect the Traveller Culture,” the MP said. “It’s time to scrap this archaic law of almost two centuries ago, and replace it with a more compassionate approach to inclusion and support the most vulnerable in our society.
“An antiquated act that criminalises people who find themselves homeless, it does nothing to address or resolve the issue. Instead, we need to focus on support for rough sleepers – not just a roof over their head but specialist support to help them lead a more stable existence.”