Layla Moran will present parliament with a Bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act, a law passed in 1824 which criminalises homeless people for rough sleeping and begging. Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has said that the outbreak of Coronavirus means that “now more than ever, we need a compassionate approach to homelessness”.
The Vagrancy Act has already been repealed in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Moran’s bill will extend its repeal to England and Wales. There were 1,320 prosecutions under the Act in 2018.
Prior to the presentation of her bill, Moran said: “Rough sleepers urgently need accommodation, health checks and support in the face of Coronavirus. I am concerned that homeless people will be disproportionately affected by the detention measures in the new emergency legislation.”
“A new compassionate approach must include scrapping the Vagrancy Act. It is a cruel, Dickensian law that criminalises people just for sleeping rough. Being homeless should not be a crime. We should be caring for people who end up on the streets, not locking them up.”
Moran has also called for safe spaces to be provided for homeless and vulnerable people to self-isolate. “The government should seek to care for homeless people and set up special services for them in disused buildings or vacated offices in cities,” she said.
“These facilities should provide a sanitised place to eat, drink water and use the toilet. And, they should provide safe spaces for vulnerable people to self-isolate with dignity, as opposed to within a detention facility following arrest.”
Moran’s bill has cross-party support and is co-sponsored by six MPs, amongst them former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.