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Campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act

A wide range of expert individuals and organisations are calling for the Vagrancy Act (1824) to be repealed, as new report from Crisis says the law criminalising begging and rough sleeping in England and Wales pushes vulnerable people further into harm. 

Politicians and police have joined Crisis and a coalition of charities including Cymorth Cymru and our members Shelter Cymru and the Wallich, as well as Centrepoint, Homeless Link, Liberty, St Mungo's and other supporters to call for the Act to be scrapped as "out of date, inhumane and unfit to deal with the modern challenges of addressing rough sleeping and begging."

The UK Government today announced a review of the Act which was created to make it easier for the streets of to be cleared of destitute soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars. Almost two hundred years later, it is still a criminal offence to 'wander abroad' or be 'in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms' in England and Wales. Police figures say that it needlessly criminalises vulnerable people.

The law is used against rough sleepers and beggars, including by South Wales Police, as new figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request from the Ministry of Justice revealed 1,320 recorded prosecutions under the Vagrancy Act in England and Wales in 2018. Rough sleeping in Wales has increased significantly in recent years, suggesting the Act is not the most effective tool for dealing with rough sleeping. 

Evidence shows that rough sleepers are often victims of informal use of the Vagrancy Act (and other powers) to move them on or challenge behaviour without formal caution or arrest, and without signposting to necessary services. This approach alienates people who may require significant support by treating their presence as a nuisance to be met with punishment and hostility - and the reasons for begging and rough sleeping behaviour, which could be linked to poverty, homelessness and trauma. People may then be pushed into more dangerous places, riskier activities, or into a criminal justice system that is not fit for purpose in many cases.

A review of existing legislation conducted as part of Crisis' report found the Act to be 'obsolete' given the modern alternatives available to police, such as the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The report makes clear that rough sleepers need support from dedicated outreach workers that's linked to stable accommodation and meaningful, long-term support.

Wales and England are two of the few countries who uphold vagrancy laws, while the Act was abolished in Scotland and Northern Ireland some time ago. Along with Crisis and other partners and supporters, we are calling for the Vagrancy Act to be repealed immediately.


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© Cymorth Cymru 2020
Company Registration No: 5093332
Charity No: 1116774