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UK Government urged to scrap law criminalising rough sleeping

Nick Ansell/PA Wire

By Aine Fox, PA

More than half of people think the Government should prioritise scrapping a law which makes rough sleeping illegal, according to a homeless charity.

Crisis has described the Vagrancy Act, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales, as an "antiquated law" and is campaigning for it to be scrapped.

The charity said most people asked in its survey think arresting homeless people for sleeping rough is a waste of police time.

The Government announced a review of the act in January last year as part of its rough sleeping strategy, and has previously said it would expect a report by March 2020.

Some 71% of adults surveyed agreed arresting rough sleepers is a waste of police time, 52% disagreed that it should be a criminal offence, and 73% of people agreed that criminalising people under the act will not end their homelessness.

Half of those asked said the Government should make scrapping the act one of its priorities - although only 7% said it should be the top priority.

A Freedom of Information request released by Crisis showed that while thousands of arrests had been made under the act between 2014 and 2018, the figure has been steadily decreasing.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: "It should be a source of national shame that people in our society continue to be criminalised for being homeless. This is not how we treat people, and it's clear that the public would like to see it stopped for good."

He said while police need to be able to address cases of anti-social behaviour the current law is "cruel and outdated".

"What we need to do is treat people with dignity and respect," he said.

"The Government is currently reviewing the Vagrancy Act as part of its rough sleeping strategy, but it must go further and scrap this antiquated law once and for all."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "The Government is clear that no-one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live and we are committed to reviewing the Vagrancy Act.

"It is unacceptable that anyone should have to face sleeping on the streets in modern Britain. This does not reflect the country we should be and why we have committed to ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament."

- Crisis commissioned DeltaPoll to conduct a survey of 3,455 adults in England and Wales.