Campaigners have expressed frustration after the government excluded the repeal of the 19th century Vagrancy Act from the Queen’s Speech – despite saying this year it should be “consigned to history”.
In February, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the legislation, introduced in 1824 during the Napoleonic Wars, should be replaced.
But Boris Johnson’s wide-ranging legislative agenda for the new parliament made no reference to the Vagrancy Act, leading to accusations his government was “failing the homeless”.
It comes amid concerns the act, introduced to target destitute soldiers sleeping on the streets and which includes references to carts and wagons, has been used by police officers to “criminalise” homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
HuffPost UK reported how forces in England and Wales made 361 charges that led to court hearings between April and September last year using two sections of the Act that relate to begging and rough sleeping.
Last week, a letter signed by over 60 parliamentarians – including the Bishop of Manchester, and MPs and peers from five parties – urged Jenrick to include repealing the law, saying: “A failure to ensure the scrapping of the act in the next session would deal a blow to cross-party efforts to address the homelessness crisis.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, a vocal campaigner against the law, said: “The government is failing the homeless today.
“It’s still the law for rough sleepers to be arrested and prosecuted for the crime of not being able to afford a roof over their head.
“It’s a moral outrage that a Victorian-era law continues to punish those who desperately need help.
“The government are putting their crackdown on protests and draconian voter ID law over repeal of the Vagrancy Act.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “No one should be criminalised for being homeless and it is very disappointing that the UK government has not yet scrapped this appalling act.
“It does nothing to tackle rough sleeping and only drives people further away from support.
“Repealing the act has cross party support and we stand ready to support the UK government on the legislation to consign it to history.”
The government promised to repeal the act in 2018. A year later, a review was announced with the expectation a report would be published in March 2020.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The government is clear that no one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live.
“We have reviewed this issue and will update on our findings in due course.”