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Local MP backs student homelessness petition

The call to repeal the Vagrancy Act is due to receive a government response

Layla Moran MP has supported Oxford SU’s petition to end the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

The ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign is pressuring the government to end the nineteenth century law, which gives police the power to arrest any person found begging or sleeping rough in public.

At the time of print, the petition had almost 14,000 signatures, meaning it will receive a government response.

The Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon said: “The treatment of people homeless and sleeping rough across the UK and in Oxford is getting worse and worse, with more of an emphasis seemingly put on punitive measures and not nearly enough on support.

“We have found that not nearly enough is being done to tackle homelessness, but more than this, the money that is being spent isn’t being used effectively either.

“We need more money…that will be spent fixing the core root of the problem and looks at why people are homeless in the first place.”

The Chair of the ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, Alex Kumar, started the petition. He told Cherwell: “We appreciate of the support of the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon.

“The Vagrancy Act is an abominable law, and I am confi dent that we may build a popular front in opposition to it; within the Labour Party, past calls for its repeal have come form such disparate MPs as Jeremy Corbyn and Frank Field.

“Now is the time to rally together and force the issue. I urge all MPs who are ready to move beyond the persecutory anti-homeless laws of the nineteenth century.”

The Liberal Democrats made repealing the Vagrancy Act party policy at their Autumn 2016 conference.

They passed the ‘End to Homlessness’ motion which noted the requirement for more social and affordable housing.

Finn Conway, Treasurer of Oxford University Liberal Democrats (OULD), told Cherwell: “We’re thrilled that Layla has endorsed On Your Doorstep’s petition…we’re very happy to see this issue gaining momentum theway it is.

“The homelessness crisis in Oxford is one of the worst in the country, with the number of people sleeping rough here almost doubling in the last year alone.

“Since the City Council is failing to address [these problems] sufficiently, it falls on MPs like Layla to take these issues to a national level to get things done.

“We have utmost confidence in her ability to champion this issue and effect real change to help some of the worst off in society.”

In 2014 and 2015, 3,071 homeless people were brought before courts under the Act. The legislation also permits the police to ask the homeless to move along. The Vagrancy Act has already been repealed in Scotland and Ireland.

‘On Your Doorstep’ have also launched another petition aimed at Oxford City Council, which has now received more than 36,000 signatures.

It campaigns to change the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) so that it is activated on every night with sub-zero temperature forecasts, rather than when three consecutive nights are scheduled to be freezing.

In November of last year, 61 people were sleeping rough in Oxford, the highest recorded figure in the city’s history.

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