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10,000 people say: don’t criminalise homelessness

Two women standing in front of the Houses of Parliament holding campaign boards that say: no one shoukd be criminalised for being homeless.

Pressure mounts on the UK Government as we hand in petition signed by 10,000 people.

Today, we handed in a petition, signed by more than 10,000 people, calling on the UK Government to drop their plans for new laws that criminalise homelessness.

This sends a clear message to the UK Government that we won’t stand by and let them replicate the worst elements of the Vagrancy Act.

An incredible 10,052 people signed – an amazing response!

MPs start scrutiny of the Criminal Justice Bill on 12 December 2023, and the pressure is mounting on the UK Government to rethink their plans.

Hang on – I thought we’d seen the back of the Vagrancy Act?

Parliament voted to repeal the draconian Vagrancy Act in February last year. We thought we’d seen the back of it. But here we are, a year and a half later, and the Vagrancy Act is technically still in force.

Now the UK Government is introducing replacement legislation, via the Criminal Justice Bill, that replicates the most problematic elements of the Vagrancy Act.

The Bill includes new powers to move people on who are sleeping rough, and criminalise them if they don’t comply, with a fine of up to £2,500. This would apply in England and Wales.

This could result in worse criminalisation than under the Vagrancy Act.

We first launched this petition soon after our successful Scrap the Act campaign, when it became clear that the UK Government would seek to replace the repealed Act with new powers.

10,000 signatures later, we’re standing against any attempt to criminalise homelessness.

Watch the video below for the latest update.

How would the Bill criminalise homelessness?

Under the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill, people who are homeless could face fines for so-called ‘nuisance’ rough sleeping – a phrase that is as absurd as it is worrying.

The Bill says that someone can fall under this definition even if they haven’t slept rough – but just look like they might be or are intending to. This is introducing enforcement just because of how people look.

What’s more, the definition of ‘nuisance’ is just as worrying. The Bill says someone can be considered a ‘nuisance’ if they are sleeping in a doorway, if they have ‘excessive smell’, or use ‘insulting words’.

This completely dehumanises those of us who are forced to sleep rough and introduces ways for people to be crimialised based on opinion.

People often sleep in doorways to seek a small amount of protection against the dangers of sleeping on our streets. To criminalise someone for seeking safety is just unacceptable.

Why criminalisation doesn’t work

No one should be punished for being homeless. We know people who sleep rough already face violence and stigmatisation. If enacted, these laws would drive them further from the help they need.

Fining or moving people on who have nowhere to go does not solve homelessness. All it does is break down trust between people forced to sleep on the streets and the organisations and authorities that can provide them with support.

To ensure people aren't trapped in a cycle of being criminalised for rough sleeping, the UK Government must provide genuinely affordable housing combined with wraparound support services across England, so people can rebuild their lives.

Our policy team in Wales is also looking at how support can be improved there too. Ensuring people can get the support they need is crucial. Fining and arresting people will never be the answer.

What will happen next with the Criminal Justice Bill?

The Bill is currently undergoing scrutiny from a group of MPs – a parliamentary process known as ‘Committee Stage’.

MPs from all parties have already spoken out against the proposals. In the debate, Layla Moran MP slammed the proposed laws as ‘Vagrancy Act 2.0 on steroids’, and Tracey Crouch MP described the Bill as criminalising rough sleeping ‘by the back door’. Paula Barker MP challenged the UK Government on why these laws are even needed.

We’re working with MPs to try to amend the Bill to get rid of the elements that would criminalise homelessness.

We won the campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act thanks to the collective action of thousands of Crisis supporters, who put pressure on MPs and peers to back repeal.

We can do the same and stop these damaging proposals together.