‘I’: People Want Rough-Sleeping Law Scrapped

Here’s a piece of optimistic news from today’s I. Apparently the majority of people in this great nation want the laws against rough-sleeping repealed. The paper’s brief report on page 2 runs

More than half of people think that the Government should prioritise scrapping a law that makes rough sleeping illegal, according to a survey by a homelessness charity. Crisis has described the Vagrancy Act, which also makes begging illegal in England and Wales, as an ‘antiquated law’. 

The Vagrancy Act dates, if I remember correctly, from the 16th century when a massive economic downturn threw a large section of the population out of work. This was when European society was emerging from feudalism into the modern capitalist consumer economy. Capitalism suffers from periodic crises and recessions, though this was not known to the Elizabethans, who therefore struggled to find a solution. They attempted to tackle it by setting up the first workhouses and passing laws against vagrancy, which were intended to stop beggars from becoming a burden on what support there was from the parish vestry. Since the Tories introduced austerity, local authorities have also introduced their modern versions of the Vagrancy Act against rough sleeping and begging in certain areas, like town centres. This is intended to hide the ugly reality of Tory welfare cuts and neoliberal economic policy from the public, who might be distressed by the sight.

It’s great that people want these antiquated laws scrapped, but that’s not enough to tackle homelessness. The root cause – forty years of Thatcherite economics – needs to be tackled, as well as a solid commitment to building more genuinely affordable housing.

And I don’t see either of that happening under Boris’ government, no matter what charities and a majority of the public say.

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