ARRESTING people for sleeping rough is a waste of police time and it shouldn’t be considered a crime in the first place, according to a poll carried out for Crisis.
In a survey of more than 3,000 people, carried out by DeltaPoll, the study found that 71% thought it was a waste of police time to arrest rough sleepers; over 50% felt rough sleeping should not be considered a crime at all.
Crisis commissioned the survey after a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests revealed the level of arrests made under the Vagrancy Act 1824 over the last five years. All told, police forces across the country have made over 8,500 arrests under what many regard is a archaic law.
The Act, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales, was originally brought in to make it easier for police of the time to clear the streets of destitute soldiers following the Napoleonic Wars.
Now, almost 200 years later, it is still being used but it faces criticism that it needlessly criminalises vulnerable people and does nothing to tackle the root causes of homelessness.
This feeling is echoed by the public, according to the Crisis survey, with almost three-quarters (73%) stating that criminalising people through the Vagrancy Act does nothing to help end their homelessness. Instead the overwhelming majority (76%) felt the best way to end rough sleeping was to support people into a home of their own.
The Government is currently conducting a review into the Vagrancy Act, but Crisis is calling for the act to be repealed immediately. According to the charity, it simply serves to push people further from the “vital support” they need to move away from the streets.
The survey showed the public supports this approach, as 50% would like the Government to make scrapping the act one of its priorities.
“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,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis.
“Of course, police and councils must be able to respond to the concerns of residents in cases of genuine anti-social activity but using a cruel and outdated law is not the answer, especially when all it does is further dehumanise people who desperately need support.
“What we need to do is treat people with dignity and respect. 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.”