“What are we supposed to do?” – The Vagrancy Act must go

This draconian piece of legislature criminalises many innocent rough sleepers as the authorities continue to ignore the root causes of homelessness.

Cardiff’s Queen Street is home to numerous rough sleepers who have nowhere else to go.

The Liberal Democrats have made the nationwide campaign that aims to scrap the Vagrancy Act of 1824 as one of their flagship policies.

The campaign aims to create a discussion regarding the outdated law in both the House of Commons and the society, culminating with its revocation. The Liberal Democrats have adopted the repeal of the Vagrancy Act as their party policy.

Donna, along with her dog Millie, is a familiar face for most who walk along Cardiff’s Queen Street daily. She has been off the streets for the past two years, but she is still waiting for a license from the Council which will allow her to sell the thread bracelets that she makes.

She said, “What else are we supposed to do? It’s bull**** that people are being arrested for sleeping or begging on the streets.” She explained that there are ‘sly’ miscreants involved in drugs on the streets who might take advantage of the law if it gets scrapped.

Mark Pack, the President of the Liberal Democrats – in his blog from a week ago – said that MP Layla Moran is raising the issue and urging the government to adopt her legislation this year.

Ms. Moran said, ” It is fantastic that our campaign to repeal the Vagrancy Act continues to gain support inside and outside Parliament. It genuinely feels like there is movement in the house towards repealing this Dickensian Act.”

Pentwyn councillor Joe Carter, a Welsh Liberal Democrat, said, “In Cardiff, people do see that we have a real problem with street homelessness, but they think we should be helping people into accommodation rather than using this old Victorian law.”

In Wales, 405 people are estimated to be sleeping on the streets according to the data collected by the Welsh Government published in December 2019.

Michael, 31 said, “I know quite a few people who got arrested recently under this act.” He added that he has been sleeping on the streets for the past two years and has received no visible help from the Council as he continues to live his life shifting around Cardiff city centre.

Donna presented an animated argument against the Vagrancy Act.

The LibDems are the first political party who have particularly targeted the 195-year old law. The Labour Party has also displayed its support for a change and its members have joined hands with other campaigners to create the Labour Homelessness campaign that looks to eradicate homelessness in the UK.

Ms.Moran is one of the biggest advocates of repealing the act, but in December she revealed that despite her best efforts the government has not backed the bill to axe this particular legislation.

It’s not just political parties; Crisis UK, a charity organization have been running a campaign since last June that specifically aims at dissolving the archaic measure.

Ms. Moran told InterCardiff that a large amount of the credit must go to charities like Crisis who have been tirelessly keeping up the pressure on this issue.

More than 9000 people were prosecuted under this legislation during a period of four years – from 2014 to 2018 – according to a report by Crisis UK, sparking the sudden support against the ruling in the political and bureaucratic circles.

A Shelter Cymru spokesperson said that rough sleeping has increased due to a sustained lack of investment in the housing department which has reduced the availability of one-bed accommodation. “Shelter Cymru can see through our casework that arresting people who are sleeping rough does nothing to end their homelessness situation,” he added.

Despite the sudden increase in homelessness, Cardiff Council recently cut the funding to a large local shelter in November 2019. The council has a well-defined four-year strategy to tackle the problem, but results are not yet visible to the public.

Commenting on the council’s approach to the Vagrancy Act Mr.Carter said, “It’s not a part of that strategy cause it’s not something that the council could do. It would require legislation at Westminster.”

Charities and political parties are coordinating and calling for action against this detrimental law as the national and local governments continue to evade the uproar.

“The campaign is not over yet. Ministers should be in no doubt that the Bill can be brought back and passed in a heartbeat with their support,” said Ms. Moran. “I’m absolutely determined to make 2020 the year that we scrap the Vagrancy Act.” Donna and Michael would appreciate that.