Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn have announced that the next Labour government will repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises begging and rough sleeping.
They will say that the priority should be to support, not criminalise, those who are sleeping rough or begging.
The Georgian-era legislation is unnecessary for dealing with genuine anti-social behaviour as a number of other civil measures exist in modern legislation, including civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.
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 has vowed to end rough sleeping within five years of forming the next Labour Government, with a plan to reserve 8,000 homes for those with a history of rough sleeping.
Earlier this week, the Shadow Housing Secretary, announced plans for a £100m fund to make emergency cold weather accommodation available for every rough sleeper during winter.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said: “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.
“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.”
The announcement comes only a few days after new figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that nearly 600 rough sleepers died in 2017.
According to the statistics, 84% of homeless deaths in 2017 were men and the average age of death was just 44, compared to 76 among the general population.
Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population – 55% of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide or alcohol, also known as the diseases of despair, compared to just 3% of deaths from these causes among the general population.”
Melanie Onn MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, said: “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.”
Disclaimer: This article is based on an official press release from the Labour Party. Additional reporting and images added by Welfare Weekly.