Stand Against Criminalising Poverty

National and local government should be supporting those in need, not criminalising homelessness in a misguided attempt to airbrush the streets. The Vagrancy Act and Public Spaces Protection Order powers must be scrapped.
"ISSUING FINES PEOPLE CAN’T PAY IS NOT A SOLUTION TO COMPLEX SOCIAL ISSUES – IT IS A CRUEL AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WAY OF SWEEPING THEM UNDER THE CARPET BY FUNNELLING PEOPLE INTO THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. PSPOS AND THE VAGRANCY ACT MUST BE SCRAPPED."
Rosie Brighouse, Liberty

PEOPLE ARE BEING FINED, ARRESTED AND PROSECUTED UNDER BOTH A TWO-CENTURIES OLD LAW AND LUDICROUSLY BROAD LOCAL COUNCIL POWERS, SIMPLY FOR BEING HOMELESS. THE FIRST STEP TO CORRECT THIS IS TO GET RID OF THE VAGRANCY ACT – EMAIL YOUR MP TODAY.

THE VAGRANCY ACT

Police forces across England and Wales are still prosecuting people for begging and rough sleeping under the Vagrancy Act.

This law came into force in 1824 – less than 10 years after the Napoleonic Wars and a decade before the British Empire abolished slavery. It even predates the formation of the police who enforce it. It is the very definition of out-of-date.

Thousands of people are charged under the Vagrancy Act every year – but it shouldn’t be available for use at all. Homelessness is caused by complex social issues which cannot possibly be solved by criminal sanctions.

Liberty has joined forces with Crisis, Centre Point, Cymorth Cymru, Homeless Link, Shelter Cymru, St Mungo’s and The Wallich to call on the Government to finally scrap this archaic law.

The Government has already promised to review the Vagrancy Act, but this is not good enough. Until it is scrapped, homeless people will continue to suffer and be made more vulnerable instead of receiving the support they need.

Read Scrap the Act: The case for repealing the Vagrancy Act (1824)

TAKE ACTION

Email your MP today

USE OUR EMAIL YOUR MP FORM TO LOOK UP YOUR MP AND SEND THEM AN EMAIL

Tell your MP to make sure the new Government focuses on helping the most vulnerable, not criminalising them. It must scrap the Vagrancy Act.

PUBLIC SPACES PROTECTION ORDERS

Scrapping the Vagrancy Act will only partially solve this problem, as local councils up and down the country are using Public Spaces Protection Orders to criminalise rough sleeping and begging.

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, councils can make PSPOs to ban any activities they deem to have a detrimental effect on the lives of others.  At Liberty we opposed their introduction – because they are too widely drawn, with vague definitions of what can be criminalised, and carry disproportionately punitive sanctions.

We were right to do so. Several local authorities in England and Wales have introduced Orders which target rough sleeping and begging.

PSPOs carry on-the-spot fines of up to £100. If a person does not pay, they face prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court and a possible £1,000 penalty. They are blunt instruments, completely incapable of alleviating hardship, and simply fast-track people into the criminal justice system.

In December 2017, the Home Office issued guidance saying that PSPOs must not be used to target vulnerable people. This has not deterred councils. Instead they have drafted Orders more creatively, banning leaving possessions on the street, blocking doorways or lying down in public – prohibiting rough sleeping without explicitly saying so.

Guidance is not enough. The Government must scrap the power to create PSPOs once and for all.

IF SOMEBODY HAS TO BEG OR SPEND THE NIGHT IN A PUBLIC TOILET, THAT’S NOT A LIFESTYLE CHOICE OR ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR – THAT’S POVERTY.  LOCAL AND NATIONAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD FOCUS ON FINDING WAYS TO HELP THE MOST VULNERABLE – NOT CRIMINALISE THEM AND SLAP THEM WITH FINES THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY PAY.

find out more about pspos around the country