Rishi Sunak Hit By Tory Rebellion Over Plan To Criminalise The Homeless

MPs from across the party have urged the PM to ditch the policy.
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Rishi Sunak is facing a major Tory rebellion over controversial plans to criminalise the homeless.

MPs from all wings of the party have called on the prime minister to ditch the draconian policy.

The measures are contained in the Criminal Justice Bill, which was introduced by Suella Braverman when she was home secretary.

Under the draft legislation, which is set to return to the Commons later this year, police and local authorities would be given powers to tackle “nuisance rough sleeping”. That could see homeless people fined or even jailed.

The Tory rebellion against the bill is being led by Bob Blackman, who is joint-secretary of the backbench 1922 Committee.

He told The Times: “A lot of colleagues believe that the bill as it stands is completely unacceptable because it would have the effect of criminalising people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets. We are urging ministers to think again.”

A spokesman for the One Nation group of moderate Tory MPs told HuffPost UK: “Rough sleeping is not a choice nor is it a simple, clear cut issue. It is complex and must be approached with compassionate, preventative measures, including mental health support.

“Pursuing legislation that criminalises rough sleeping would be at odds with the route the UK has taken to date. Imprisoning or fining these individuals won’t get them off our streets, it will simply demonstrate a failure to address the fundamental issues that force people to put their lives at risk by sleeping rough in the first place - most prominently mental health issues and substance dependencies.”

Matt Downie, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “Rishi Sunak faces defeat in the Commons unless he backs away from criminalising homelessness. It is a cruel and counterproductive idea.

“It must not be allowed to pass. I’m hugely grateful to the MPs on all sides that have worked with us to stop it.”

Homelessness charity Shelter said: “Nobody chooses to sleep rough. But the rough sleeping measure in the government’s Criminal Justice Bill will criminalise people for not having a home.

“Parliament must not enact this legislation. Instead of punishing people for being homeless, politicians should be trying to prevent them from ending up on the streets.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the “heartless” measures “risk bringing back the Vagrancy Act by the back door.”

She said: “The government should listen to their own backbenchers and take a compassionate approach to tackling homelessness, instead of stigmatising and criminalising rough sleepers. Sleeping rough is not a lifestyle choice. Ministers should focus on tackling the root causes of this crisis, not scapegoating the victims of it.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are determined to end rough sleeping for good. That is why we have published a strategy to tackle the root causes of why people end up on the streets, backed by unprecedented £2.4 billion.

“Nobody should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live, which is why we committed to repealing the outdated Vagrancy Act, which was passed in 1824.

“We will replace this with new legislation focused on supporting people to get off the streets, while allowing local authorities and the police to address behaviour that can make the public feel unsafe, such as begging at cashpoints.”


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