The Labour Party has announced that they plan to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises begging and rough sleeping.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow housing minister Melanie Onn say that the priority should be to support, not criminalise, those who are sleeping rough or begging.
The Vagrancy Act was used to bring a criminal charge nearly 3,000 times in 2016 with offences under the act commanding a fine of up to £1,000 and leaving those convicted under it with a two year criminal record.
Labour insists that the nineteenth-century legislation is unnecessary for dealing with anti-social behaviour as a number of other civil measures exist in modern legislation, including civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.
‘It should shame us all that rough sleeping has doubled in the last eight years and nearly 600 people died while homeless last year. Homeless people need help, not punishment,’ said Mr Corbyn.
‘The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.’
Ms. Onn commented: ‘It beggars belief that we still use Georgian-era laws to criminalise some of the most vulnerable in society.
‘Treating rough sleepers as criminals does not solve the underlying causes of homelessness and makes it harder for them to access support to move away from the streets.
‘Rather than criminalising rough sleepers Labour would support them, with 8,000 new homes available to those with a history of rough sleeping as part of a plan to eradicate rough sleeping within five years.’
According to the homelessness charity Crisis, over 12,000 people are sleeping rough this Christmas.